Peace and the Human Rights Commissioner

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Federation of Islamic Associations have issued a joint statement.

The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand issued a joint statement tonight with the NZ Human Rights Commission in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in France and Lebanon.

“We stand alongside all innocent victims of terrorism in peace, solidarity and humanity,” said Hazim Arafeh, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand.

“The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand condemns all terrorist attacks and joins the rest of the world in deep sorrow as we mourn men, women and children murdered by terrorists and extremists.”

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy urged New Zealanders to recognise “that terrorism has no religion and that Muslim Kiwis unreservedly and wholeheartedly condemn extremism and violence.”

“The Human Rights Commission stands alongside Muslim New Zealanders in their continued and uncompromising call for peace,” said Dame Susan.

“Hate starts small but so too does hope. Terrorism has no religion and neither does humanity: we urge Kiwis to stand together in humanity.”

While the brief comment from the Federation of Islamic Associations is welcome, it is still a little troubling.  The first concern is that it “stands alongside”  “innocent” victims.  Do they mean to imply that some of the victims are not innocent?   Perhaps it was just an ill-worded attempt to stress that the victims were in fact innocent, but it would have been more reassuring without the qualifier.  But second –  along with President Obama in his initial statement, the BBC (in their coverage last night) and no doubt some other media –  the Islamic authorities do not even address the fact that the terrorists were Muslims and they acted as part of a religiously inspired movement.  I’m not necessarily suggesting that ISIS is a dominant strand within Islam, but it is a strand.  Again, all readers will know that terrorists were Islamic –  after all, ISIS has claimed responsibility –  but wouldn’t it have been better for the Federation to have confronted the fact directly?  To have said something along the lines of “The attackers claim to have been operating according to the precepts of the Muslim faith.  There have been, and are, too many such attackers by such people.  True Islam has no part of such evil, and we will be working to root out these tendencies from within our faith traditions”.

Who knows why they didn’t include a statement along those lines.  One hopes it was not because they felt unable to honestly make such a statement.  (UPDATE: This statement from last year is better, and might usefully have been referenced.)

As it is, it has the feeling of a statement the Federation was coerced into making by the Commissioner.  I hope that was not true, and that the Federation has been in touch with the local media of its own initiative even before this joint statement was put out.

But the comments of the Human Rights Commissioner are perhaps at least as concerning.  First, why did she feel the need to put out such a statement?  Second, what qualifies her to make it?  And third, what does she even mean by it?

Was the Commissioner aware of any threats by the rest of the population to New Zealand Muslims.  If so, she should tell us about them, and encourage those threatened to report the matter to the Police?  If not, why weigh in to try to influence how New Zealanders react to the ISIS attacks in Paris?    Do we need nannying?

The Commissioner claims that “terrorism has no religion”.  But as she well knows, a grossly disproportionate share of terrorist attacks in the West over the last 20 years or more have been carried out by people acting in the name of Islam/Allah.  I’m not suggesting most Muslims endorsed those attacks, but terrorism has been a Muslim phenomenon, not a Christian or agnostic one.  To deal with the issues, we all need to recognise that fact, and the Muslim community needs to confront it.  Dame Susan appears not to want to.  Similarly, it is practising Muslims, with widespread support in Muslim communities, who endorse a policy of, for example, driving Israel into the sea.  I’m sure Dame Susan knows this, but wants to ignore it.    And is the final part of her first sentence even true: I’m sure most Muslim New Zealanders do condemn terrorism, and the leaders of the community also do, but her assertion is that all do.  And our security services suggest that is most unlikely to be true.

Perhaps more worrying is Dame Susan’s second sentence, “The Human Rights Commission stands alongside Muslim New Zealanders in their continued and uncompromising call for peace”.  Does she not realise that “Islam” itself derives from the word used for both “peace” and “submission” –  of man to God, but also of non-Muslims to Muslims.   Her definition of “peace” is unlikely to be the traditional Islamic one, and the latter poses a serious threat in much of the world.  Even ISIS often lets non-Muslims live if they submit to Islam, pay additional tax etc.  Is that the vision of peace/submission Dame Susan has in mind?

The final sentences are mostly vacuous, or just a lie.  Sure there are terrorists who act in other causes than Islamic ones, but a large number of terrorists act in name of Islam.  That terrorism clearly does have a religion, and other adherents of that religion have been too ready to make excuses for those terrorist acts, or to run one line to Western media  and do-gooding officials, and another in their own communities.  And does humanity have a religion?  Well, maybe not, but recall that our country was built by those influenced over hundreds of years by one whose path to redemption led through his own sacrificial death on the cross, and who commanded Peter to put down his sword.  Contrast that to the example of Muhammed the warrior.  Christianity was founded in divine self-sacrifice.  Islam in aggressive war.

None of this is to suggest that Christian communities and people have been without fault, either now or in the past.  People have done evil, and will no doubt do so again, claiming the warrant of Christ and the gospel for their actions.  Should, heaven forbid, some terrorist group claiming to be Christians launch similar attacks in the capital of a majority Islamic country –  in what would, after all, be an isolated event not part of an established pattern of behaviour –  I would hope and expect much stronger, consistent, and uncompromising statements than what we have from the Islamic Federation this weekend.

Dame Susan seems both naïve and dangerous; perhaps even a threat to true religion.  Serious religion makes serious and exclusive claims.    It matters, both now and in the age to come.   But Dame Susan, with little serious analysis of Islam or of the geopolitical situation, seems to want us to believe that diverse religions are just some appealingly different outward garments covering common aspirations, values etc.

It is more forcefully, and secularly, expressed than I would, but this column of Mark Steyn’s is a more bracing and realistic take than Dame Susan offers.

(As, in fact, are Barack Obama’s more recent comments.)

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