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Anti-Fascism, Holocaust denial, Parihaka, Susan Devoy

Remember, remember, the invasion of Parihaka

Parihaka

By Arama Rata, Māori spokesperson for the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (MARRC).

In my quiet hometown, nestled at the foot of Mount Taranaki, Guy Fawkes celebrations have begun early.  Bursts of colour brighten the sky, as booming canon fire reverberates through the streets. For local Māori, these sounds reverberate through history too, reminding us of the canon that was, on this day in 1881, trained on the peaceful settlement of Parihaka during the invasion.

The contradiction that we in Taranaki should celebrate Guy Fawkes’ failed attack on centre of British imperial power, while remaining largely ignorant to atrocities committed much closer to home at Parihaka is symptomatic of larger issue faced by Indigenous peoples globally: the denial of our colonial histories and ongoing racial oppression.

2017 has in some ways been a significant year for addressing New Zealand’s ‘national amnesia’. On October the 28th, the anniversary of the signing of He Whakaputanga (The Declaration of Independence), the first official New Zealand Wars Commemoration Day was held. On that date, we at MARRC (Migrants and Refugee Rights Campaign), alongside other anti-racists, staged an aukati (blockade) to both commemorate our history and stop a march on parliament by white supremacists.  The aukati was a success. We stopped the neo-Nazis entering parliament grounds, and received good media coverage.  However, some of that coverage revealed serious issues with the way we talk about racism in New Zealand.

There is a perverse tendency here for racism to blamed on oppressed ethnic minorities themselves. Reporting of our aukati demonstrated this. We at MARRC recognise that racism – the ideology that underpinned European imperialism – continues to this day, to the detriment of Māori and all people of colour in Aotearoa, and that we can unite to stop racism. The aukati was strong show of solidarity between Māori and migrants. Yet One News chose to run with the headline “How can I be racist if I’m Māori?” quoting one of the white supremacists, who happened to identify as Māori. In this way, Māori were pitted against other people of colour as perpetrators of racism. Even more concerning than the One News headline though was an article from our Race Relations Commissioner.

On Halloween (another imported tradition with little connection to the South Pacific), children on my street donned improvised ghoulish costumes and ran amok. On that day, our Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, decided she too wanted to play pretend.  In a Spinoff article, she dressed the nation up as tolerant multicultural society with world leading race relations, all the while pitting ethnic minorities against one another, and denying our colonial history. Although Devoy responded to a genuine problem, her simplistic framing of the problem requires unpacking.

In her Spinoff article, Devoy accused Iranian diplomat Hormoz Ghahremani of anti-semitism and holocaust denial, based on a speech he gave at an Islamic centre in Auckland, earlier in the year. Devoy’s article draws much needed attention to hate crimes committed against Jewish people here in Aotearoa, detailing the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and attacks on Jewish people.  These behaviours are abhorrent, and we at MARRC commend Dame Susan Devoy for denouncing such acts.

We cannot commend, however, the divisive discourse she employed in the article, which serves to create tension rather than unity among oppressed communities in Aotearoa. Our Race Relations Commissioner has a duty to represent the interests of all who experience racism in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Yet her article firmly positions Muslims as ‘other’, as outside of the National identity, and overlooks Māori altogether.

In describing Jewish Holocaust survivors she, quite rightly, employs the term ‘Kiwi battlers’, including Jewish people in the National identity. Yet, when addressing the Islamic centre (and by extension, Muslim communities), she demands that they “…let the rest of us know… let New Zealand know that they won’t help spread hate and lies.” This makes us question whether Devoy sees Muslim communities as part of her New Zealand.

What’s even more problematic is that Dame Susan Devoy addressed the wrong Muslim.  She accused Hormoz Ghahremani of denying the Holocaust. Only he didn’t. In fact he didn’t even mention the Holocaust. The speaker who followed him, Sheikh Shafie, did. It’s unfathomable that our Race Relations Commissioner would make a public statement accusing a person of hate speech, without investigating the comments first. Of course, it’s possible that Dame Susan Devoy has conflated two entirely different Muslim individuals, with the assumption that the difference is inconsequential and that, regardless, readers won’t care enough either way. We question whether she believes all Muslims are culpable for the actions of one. Her demand that Muslim communities explain themselves for the actions of one of their members makes us think that she does indeed hold this racist view.

The targeting of entire communities based on suspicions held against a select few of its members is all too familiar for Māori. The Suppression of Rebellion Act 1863 allowed entire Māori communities to be targeted in Taranaki, just as the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002 was used to justify the inhumane treatment of Tūhoe at Rūatoki. There is potential for this same 2002 Act to be used by the State to harass Muslim communities in Aotearoa.

While Devoy is happy to attack Muslim communities, she rushes to defend her New Zealand. She writes that she is appalled that this type of hate speech could take place in New Zealand, which she positions as a world leader in race relations, and asserts that, “All of us are responsible to ensure we live in a country where hate is never normalised. We can never let our country become one where racism goes unquestioned.” The problem with this statement is that it denies the entire history of New Zealand from the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi Act in 1975, when breaches of the Treaty finally began to be explored.  Holocaust denial is salt rubbed into a painful wound for Jewish communities, as is colonial history denial for Indigenous peoples.

In June of this year, the people of Parihaka received a long overdue apology from the Crown for responding to “peace with tyranny”. This November the 5th, we remember the atrocities committed at Parihaka, which were part of relentless, systematic, colonial campaign to subjugate and dispossess Māori across Aotearoa. We reflect on the recent gains we have made in coming to terms with our Nation’s past, and look to the road ahead towards ensuring our colonial history receives proper recognition, and all communities in Aotearoa can live without fear of racial discrimination.

Anti-Fascism, Events

Event notice: Aukati – Stop Racism

October 28th is the commemoration date of the United Tribes Declaration of Independence, and the Land Wars. On this day we acknowledge the ongoing fight for tino rangatiratanga.

However, the white supremacist National Front has chosen this date for its ‘flag day’ march on parliament. The National Front deny that Māori were the first people of Aotearoa, among their other bigoted ideas. We will stop their mobilisation and reclaim this day for all who seek justice in Aotearoa.

Everyone who supports this kaupapa is welcome.

MEET PARLIAMENT GATES BY THE CENOTAPH.

11.30-12pm: Karakia by Mike Ross, followed by speakers:
Arama Rata, researcher on indigenous-migrant relationships and Māori spokesperson for the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign.
Golriz Ghahrahman, Human Rights Lawyer and the first ever refugee elected to NZ parliament.
Karam Shaar, asylum seeker and PhD student under Victoria Doctoral Scholarship.

12-1pm: Blockade/stop the National Front
Featuring live music (confirmed: Alexa Disco, Brass Razoo)

[Facebook event]

New Zealand First

Racial populism and the 2017 New Zealand General Election

winston peters immigration

By Ani White. Reprinted from fightback.org.nz

Note: This article was published on October 20th, the day the new government was announced.

It’s understandable that many leftists are celebrating. After 9 years of Tory brutality, a change of government can feel like a breath of fresh air. However, the morning after the celebrations, we must take stock and critically evaluate the makeup of the next government, so we know what battles await us in the coming years. Laurie Penny described voting as choosing which enemies you prefer – this is a valid tactic, so long as we know our enemies.

It’s unfortunate that the next Labour government will feature Winston Peters in such a prominent role. Anecdotally, some claim that Winston’s anti-immigrant scapegoating is a thing of the past. However, simply searching Winston Peters’ twitter page for the keyword ‘immigration’ reveals a long series of negative tweets (see picture). When the New Zealand Herald published an articlesaying that Asian immigration numbers have been overstated, Peters responded by pointing out the Asian heritage of the journalists. Reducing immigration was a bottom line in his post-election negotiations. Perhaps Peters’ attacks on migrants are no longer noticed because they are so predictable.

Others who admit Peters’ racism argue that compromise is necessary for the parliamentary ‘left’, with Winston holding the cards. It would be easier to sympathise with this dilemma if anti-migrant populism wasn’t already a common ground between Labour and New Zealand First. Compromise is more of a genuine dilemma for the Greens. The party dropped James Shaw’s 1% immigration cap policy after criticism from the membership, had the best refugee policy of any party, introduced the first MP of refugee background to parliament, and generally stood on the most progressive platform of any parliamentary party. For those of us who voted Green in the hope that they would offer a more progressive coalition partner than New Zealand First, this coalition deal is something of a Pyrrhic victory.

Peters is a racial populist, both his in long-standing tendency to blame immigrants for all social problems and his opposition to ‘special rights’ for Māori (although thankfully, his opposition to Māori seats has not been adopted). Although certain elements of New Zealand First policy can be mistaken for left-wing – particularly the economic nationalism – both his economic and social policy seek to wind back the clock 50 years. Coming originally from National, Peters essentially advocates something like the National Party of the 1960s-1980s, during the heyday of both social democracy and conservative assimilationism. This is far from a forward-thinking programme for liberation today.

Ironically rural Māori are a significant section of Winston’s voter base. This reflects an international trend where isolated rural regions, with few migrants, tend to be more anti-migrant. Additionally, many Māori likely support his economic policies. Conversely, support in the Māori seats dropped from 12-14% in 2014 to 7-9% in 2017, likely due to Winston campaigning against Māori seats.

Racial populism often adopts egalitarian rhetoric.  The coupling of racism with economic populism is in some ways even more insidious than neoliberalism, as Indian Marxist Jairus Banaji explained in a commentary on India’s Hindu chauvinist ‘communalist’ movement:

Neo-liberalism disarms the working class economically, destroying its cohesion in an industrial, economic sense. Racism, communalism and nationalism… do the same in more insidious ways, destroying the possibility of the working class ever acquiring a sense of its own solidarity and of what it really is.

Racial populism diverts attention from the capitalist class who control resources, towards racialised targets.

recent Spinoff article on New Zealand First’s national conference noted that much of the membership consider themselves anti-neoliberal, not consciously racist. Bluntly, those who support New Zealand First for economic rather than cultural reasons are being led down a dangerous blind alley. A Jacobin article by the same author asserted that a surge for New Zealand First would be a “significant realignment.” However, New Zealand First’s support has dropped since reaching up to 18% in the 1990s, so their popularity is nothing new.

The party’s determining role in New Zealand politics is less a sign of the times than a continuation of Winston Peters’ long-standing manipulation of MMP, with a similar scenario playing out as far back as 1996 (where the formation of the government took seven weeks). Whereas the similar-sized Greens clearly orientate themselves towards Labour, Peters makes a point of not deciding until one of the major parties offers him a good deal, clearly enjoying the prestige that comes with this role.

Although Winston’s manipulative ‘kingmaker’ game is nothing new for New Zealand politics, it’s particularly important that leftists give New Zealand First no quarter in the age of Trump. Left softness on racist right-wing populists is an example of Conservative Leftism, a tendency which throws oppressed people under the bus for the sake of simplistic anti-neoliberalism (see Daphne Lawless’ Against Conservative Leftism).

You cannot challenge capitalism while excusing racism. Capitalism is racialised; the dispossession of Māori was necessary to establishing capitalism in Aotearoa, and attacks on new (brown) migrants undermine working class unity. Winston Peters’ populism undermines the internationalist alliances needed for a truly liberating politics.

Labour ran on cutting immigration in the tens of thousands. This policy was nonsensical – Labour proposed to cut students and ‘low-skilled’ workers, citing strains on infrastructure – yet students and poor workers are unlikely to use motorways or buy houses. Most likely the policy was less motivated by rational policy considerations than a pathetic attempt to chase the anti-migrant vote, which New Zealand First already has on lockdown.

Policies of cutting immigration face opposition from business, which is unfortunately more influential than opposition from migrant workers and their advocates. Business leaders oppose immigration cuts for the wrong reasons – hoping to access cheap labour – whereas we say that migrants must have the rights of any worker, including the right to union representation.

Even if these nonsensical poll-chasing policies are not implemented, they widen the ‘Overton window’ – the range of acceptable political discourse. They make attacks on migrants more socially acceptable, and pro-migrant reforms less likely.

Labour’s capitulation to xenophobia follows an unfortunate international trend. The UK’s Jeremy Corbyn may have more Social Democratic substance than Jacinda Ardern, but he has unfortunately pandered to anti-immigrant politics (see Daphne Lawless’ article here).

After Labour’s sudden leadership shakeup, Jacinda Ardern’s campaign did not depart in substance from Andrew Little’s rather conservative campaign. She stuck to the policy of cutting immigration, and failed to stand with Metiria Turei against beneficiary-bashing. Despite superficially criticising ‘neoliberalism’, she did not commit to departing from neoliberal fundamentals when challenged. Similarly she talked up the threat of climate change but made no significant commitments to address it.

However, a relatively young, rhetorically sophisticated woman in the leadership was a welcome relief from the pale, stale male brigade that has dominated the Labour leadership for nearly a decade, attracting young liberals to the party. Conversely, Bill English lacked the personality appeal of John Key, leading National to defeat for the second time in his life.

A Labour government is usually slightly better than a National government. Except for the Fourth Labour government, Labour tends to spend more on social services than National, and work more closely with unions, among other social concessions. While this difference is marginal at a macro-level, we can’t totally deny any difference that results in fewer deaths by economic violence. For the anti-capitalist left however, no deaths by economic violence are acceptable, so a Labour-led government is not our horizon of possibility. Even the Greens remain limited to that horizon. Additionally, with Winston in the government, we can expect renewed attacks on migrants.

Ultimately, the parliamentary parties are all committed to managing capitalism. The left cliché that only collective direct action can stop the racist, capitalist juggernaut remains true. How to put this truth into practice in a principled, effective way remains the question.

Fightback’s election activity: Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign

Fightback did not endorse any political party in 2017, instead supporting the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (MARRC) alongside other groups.

MARRC ran an independent candidate in Wellington Central: Gayaal Iddamalgoda, a Legal Organiser for FIRST Union. Gayaal ran on the platform that “what’s best for migrants and refugees is best for everyone.”

Gayaal’s campaign offered a relatively mainstream platform to challenge electoral scapegoating of migrants and refugees. The campaign regularly cranked out press releases (see marrc.org.nz/blog), criticising every party, and receiving coverage in mainstream newspapers.

Candidates’ meetings offered an opportunity to publicly challenge the major parties. In an electorate with Green Party leader James Shaw and high-ranking Labour MP Grant Robertson standing, we were able to challenge Labour and the Greens from the left.

One Labour MP, Hutt South’s Chris Hipkins, criticised his party’s policy when challenged by a member of the campaign at a candidates’ meeting.

The Rainbow Forum was the liveliest, with the audience asking challenging questions, shutting down the Conservative and ACT candidates without mercy, and wildly applauded Gayaal for outlining the intersection of queer and migrant rights.

The infamous Aro Valley candidates’ forum was also energetic, as children sprayed candidates with water pistols. Gayaal in the words of the Dominion Post “won cheers from the inner-city crowd with his message of welcoming migrants and ending capitalism.”

MARRC also organised a Migrant and Refugee Rights Forum with Gayaal speaking alongside other candidates. Around 100 attended. Emcee Murdoch Stephens (of the Double the Quota campaign) challenged candidates on the refugee quota, on proposed immigration cuts, and on a Living Wage for migrant workers.

Sponsored Facebook posts received significant interactions, including a campaign video that was viewed over 3,600 times. Unfortunately, the Facebook page also received waves of racist comments, which admins did not tolerate.

Gayaal passed 150 votes, beating the other independents and the ACT Party candidate, a modest victory in a campaign more intended for propaganda than parliamentary purposes. Victoria University’s polling booth had the most votes for Gayaal, confirming international poll results that show youth tend to be more pro-migrant.

We are in discussions about how to carry the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign through to 2018. If you would like to be involved or updated, please email us at marrc.aotearoa@gmail.com

Gayaal for Wellington Central

Closing statement: Gayaal for Wellington Central

G4Wgtn doorknocking

Gayaal Iddamalgoda, Wellington Central candidate for the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign, says that a vote for him will send a pro-migrant signal to the major parties.

“I’m standing to oppose the use of migrants as a political football, and to say that what’s good for migrant workers is good for all New Zealand workers,” says Gayaal.

“Internationally, both the left and the right have pitted the ‘white working class’ and migrant labour against each-other. We totally refuse this racist divide-and-rule strategy.

“Migrants must be welcomed into the country, and into the trade union movement, to combine with other workers and fight for better conditions.

“Too much of the broad left approaches migrant exploitation backwards. To address exploitation you must go after the exploiters, not the exploited.

“Clearly migrants do not want to be underpaid, but the threat of deportation makes it easier for employers to brutally exploit them. Exclusion and exploitation reinforce eachother.

“With greater freedom to move and associate, migrants and locals would be enabled to challenge this super-exploitation.”

Gayaal says that a vote for him will send a signal to the major parties, that migrants will not be taken for granted and Wellingtonians will not tolerate xenophobia.G4Wgtn doorknocking

Events, National Party, New Zealand First

National Party and New Zealand First no-shows at migrant and refugee rights forum

MARRC forum

Nicola Willis of the National Party and Andy Foster of New Zealand first both snubbed a migrant and refugee rights forum having previously indicated that they would attend. The forum held at 19 Tory St on Saturday the 26th of August featured speakers Iain Lees Galloway (Labour Party), Teall Crossen (Green Party), Jessica Hammond Doube (The Opportunities Party) and Gayaal Iddamalgoda (Migrant & Refugee Rights Campaign), emceed by Murdoch Stephens of the Doing Our Bit – Double the Quota campaign. Around 80 people attended.

“We received a last-minute email apology from Nicola Willis of National, and no apology at all from Andy Foster of New Zealand First,” says Gayaal.

“We can understand that candidates have busy schedules. However, candidates from the Green Party and the Labour Party who were unavailable sent other representatives. The fact that the ruling party could not send a single representative does not send a positive message.”

“New Zealand First has a particularly bad record of xenophobic scapegoating. This no-show, with no apologies, from a speaker who had indicated he would attend, shows a continuing lack of willingness to take migrant and refugee concerns seriously.”

The event also saw debate over Labour’s immigration policy, with Gayaal criticising proposed immigration cuts as unacceptable scapegoating.

Anti-Fascism, USA

Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign stands with Charlottesville anti-fascists

Heather_Heyer_tout

The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign stands in solidarity with those who opposed fascism in Charlottesville USA, and those grieving Heather Heyer, the counter-protester who was killed.

“The killing in Charlottesville is appalling,” says Gayaal Iddamalgoda, spokesperson for the campaign. “We stand with those fighting fascism, in the USA and elsewhere.”

“Thankfully, the Neo-Nazi movement in New Zealand is marginal. However, we must be on guard in an international situation where racist populism is surging.”

“Xenophobic scapegoating has an unfortunate foothold in New Zealand electoral politics, and we oppose all attempts to blame social minorities for political and economic problems. Mainstream racism plants the seeds that fascism grows from, as we are seeing in the UK and USA.”

Housing crisis, National Party

Racist obfuscation of the slumlord problem

slumlords

Tertiary Education Minister Paul Goldsmith’s comment about Indians owning multiple properties is a racist obfuscation of the slumlord problem, says Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign spokesperson Gayaal Iddamalgoda. Goldsmith made the comment in response to 25-year old Thomas Maharaj, who correctly pointed out that many National MPs own multiple properties.

“Goldsmith’s comment is not only racist, it also evades the real issues driving the housing crisis,” says Gayaal.

“According to information released in late 2016, 80 of our 121 MPs have an interest in more than one property,” Gayaal continues. “The three MPs who own the most property are in the National Party, and 2 out of 3 are European-descended, yet no MP stereotypes Europeans as the cause of the housing crisis.”

“Young students like Maharaj aren’t likely to own property – in fact Goldsmith is a much likelier face of the slumlord problem in this country, as a European-descended National Party MP in his 40s.”

“This continues an alarming trend where the causes of the housing crisis are racialised, whether by blaming Chinese or Indian buyers.”

“If we’re serious about addressing the problem, we need to understand it’s a problem caused by slumlords and other profiteers – regardless of their surnames or the colour of their skin.”