A good move, maybe

The NZ Herald reports that Helen Clark has “ordered greater Government activity on religious and cultural diversity issues to avoid New Zealand developing the sort of extremism seen in immigrant communities in Britain.”

This is a vitally important issue. Extremism, and let’s be blunt we are talking Islamic extremism, amongst some immigrants is the biggest issue in Europe at the moment, and will be for decades to come.

However I have concerns that this review of religious and cultural diversity by the Ministry of Social Development will at best lead to platitudes and at worse be an attack on free speech.

“And once here, we want people to be able to settle in a way that is respectful of them and their beliefs and to have a reasonable belief that they will be accepted and included,”

Three things about this quote from the PM ring small alarm bells. The first is that it only talks about New Zealanders being respectful of the beliefs of those who move here, and absolutely nothing at all about the need for those moving here to also be respectful of the beliefs and rights of those already here. Country after country in Europe is making clear there are obligations both ways. We need to do the same.

The second is there is a difference between respecting the choice someone makes with their beliefs and respecting their beliefs. I don’t respect the beliefs of Scientology but if a friend of mine was a scientologist I’d respect his or her right to believe in it, and wouldn’t hassle them over it so long as they respected my rights to watch Southpark!

The third is does respecting beliefs mean banning criticism of a religion through hate speech type laws? The PM has already shown with the Danish cartoons that her regard for freedom of speech is low. Ironically the person who has most demonised a religious minority in recent times has been Helen with the Exclusive Brethren!

In summary it is good the Government is recognising that there have been significant problems overseas, and it would be undesirable to have the same problems here. However their solutions could make things worse, not better.

The really good thing though is that New Zealand is perhaps the only Western country which doesn’t have a significant extremist faction in its local Islamic community. The leadership of the NZ Islamic community have time and time again shown wisdom and responsibility in their reactions to events like the Danish cartoons. Not that I agree with them, just that they expressed their opposition responsibly.

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