Monday, October 13, 2014
Sledgehammers, Nuts and Terrorism
Over the years there have been numerous dangerous sects and political movements, real and imagined, that our Government and our secret service have felt the need to protect us from. Within New Zealand's borders most of those threats have been imagined ones.
When I was attending Otago University and the teachers' college in the late seventies one of my fellow college students had his passport taken from him because of his association with Ananda Marga (he was learning meditation through them). Ananda Marga was founded in India in 1955 to promote the liberation of self, pursuit of bliss and service to humanity. In 1967 its headquarters were attacked by locals who were incited by communist leaders and the organisation also ran foul of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi because of criticisms of government corruption.
Ananda Marga had grown very quickly in the 60s and, combined with its anti corruption stance, posed a perceived threat to the Indian Government (consequently no government employee could be a member). The organization was internationally denounced by the Indian Government so that its criticisms, that were probably valid, would lose credibility.
In Australia, despite the peaceful activities of Ananda Marga the Government believed it to harbour militant fanatics. Members of the organisation were blamed for the 1978 bombing of the Sydney Hilton, site of the first Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting (CHOGRM). It was later revealed that the charges were a fabrication and the original informant initially tried to impicate the Hare Krishnas but was encouraged by the police to spy on Ananda Marga instead. The three convicted Ananda Marga members have since been pardoned and have received compensation.
At the time of the Sydney bombing Ananda Marga members in New Zealand were also being spied on by our own secret service and they had their passports confiscated so that they couldn't leave the country. None had committed any offence. The member I knew was training to be a teacher and was regarded by myself and other students as a decent and thoughtful person and was no threat to anyone.
Currently Australian Government, especially the PM, are whipping up an atmosphere of fear with grossly exaggerated stories of potential terrorism and beheadings. Abbot is using the perceived threat to push through tougher laws that will allow passports to be confiscated and to spy on citizens traveling to conflict zones. John Key is talking about passing similar legislation in New Zealand with minimal evidence of risk
I am concerned that Key and his Government are following the same path of over-reaction and hysteria regarding the potential threat of those who are Muslim seeking to travel. As with members of Ananda Marga we already have an example of a Muslim convert having his passport confiscated and SIS evidence being withheld, a clear breach of human rights.
Obviously ISIS or ISIL are quite different beasts than Ananda Marga but it is clear that only a handful of New Zealanders (if any) would be looking to involve themselves in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Any legislative changes focusing on young Muslims will probably lead to innocent local people being persecuted and normal processes to prove innocence will be forgotten. Already the inflammatory behaviour of the Australian Government are seeing innocent people being targeted by members of the public who have no understanding of the complexities of the conflicts and are attacking anything and anyone believed to be connected to Islam.
I like the idea of New Zealand's Islamic community working with our Government to properly assess the real local risks and to formulate an appropriate response. We do know from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that it is difficult to get sustainable peace through escalating conflict and we definitely don't need that conflict spreading beyond the environment where it is actually occurring. We also shouldn't send forces to Iraq and Syria based on fabricated threats within our own country.