John Key’s deliberately murky statements about New Zealanders who want to be “foreign fighters” and who are sympathetic to ISIS in late September have now led to a Cabinet briefing today suggesting legislative changes that will put us more in line with our allies and will no doubt lead to Key’s signposted decision to join the fight with USA against ISIS.
Amongst the suggested new offences would be making it an offence for New Zealanders to join foreign wars. Obviously the details are yet to be clarified, but in Australia it has led to Syria becoming a no-go zone for travel for any purpose and people who return from war zones are at risk of prosecution. At first blush this sounds strong and sensible. But in using Parliament’s broadbrush to deal with one distasteful, hateful, medieval group, we put at risk the freedom of conscience and the right to be stupidly, idiotically wrong in our views that has been our historical legacy.
After all, New Zealanders have a long history of joining foreign wars as matter of conscience, convenience and financial reward.
On 8 November 1936, Griff Maclaurin and Steve Yates arrived at Madrid, Spain. They were the first of perhaps 20 New Zealanders to serve with the Republican forces against Franco’s Nationalist army. They and four other New Zealanders would die in Spain. Yet New Zealand’s offical position was non-interventionist and aligned with Britain and the other major European powers.
In 1978, Donna Awatere (who went on the become an MP for ACT!), Rebecca Evans, and seven Socialist Unity Party members went to Cuba, where Awatere and Evans met with the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership for the first time. Evans says that she learnt there that 400,000 Maori people could take on 3,000,000 “whites”. Intelligence papers suggest they also inquired about arms from the PLO.
On 4 April 1987, Mangu Awarau and Benny Dalton and two others were booked to fly to Libya, a then terrorist state ruled by Muammar Gaddafi. They didn’t go, but it was the aborted end in an interest in acquiring arms and explosives; thankfully cooler heads ruled the day.
Since the beginning of the second Iraq war (remember those Weapons of Mass Destruction that Hussein had there?) “dozens” of New Zealanders have traveled there as military contractors with NZ organisations like NavSec Group and Out Forces (suprisingly, it’s not a lobby group for the rights of LGBTI in our armed forces) to provide security services that include using their military skills to violently defend their clients.
Some of these examples will be conflicts you disagree with involving people whose decision making you may question. Some had the potential to bring armed conflict back to New Zealand (a minimal risk according to security anaylsts with ISIS). All and any risks were managed and were manageable within our current justice system. Let me repeat: we have the legislation and the authorities to manage any risk from people being involved in foreign wars.
ISIS is an opportunity for Key and his government to gain a Security Council seat. I’ll go so far as to hazard this guess: none of the Cabinet seriously regard ISIS and people sympathetic to it as a genuine risk to New Zealand. However, they do regard sitting out as a risk to New Zealand’s geopolitical aspirations.
As Professor Ziemke from Massey suggests, we could be an honest broker in this conflict. When we make our decision, “Mr. Key must also carefully weigh the implications for New Zealand’s democratic institutions and national values while “preventing activities aimed at undermining or overturning government institutions, principles and values that underpin New Zealand society.”
But John Key and government will not weigh those implications because John Key and government are not honest brokers.
The suggested changes to our legislation are an unnecessary imposition on us so that our government can be seen to be a good pet for the USA and secure a seat on the Security Council. The suggested changes will not make us safer as a country because ISIS is not a threat to our country. The suggested changes will put an unfair and negative spotlight on our Syrian, Iraqi and Muslim communities. The suggested changes are a foolish, cynical geopolitical exercise.