Trump anti-Muslim tweets no help to religious tensions

Last week United States President Donald Trump was looking at videos from Britain First, an anti-immigrant hard line nationalist group in Britain of alleged Muslim offences. One was of a boy being attacked. Another was of a statue being desecrated and a third one was allegedly of a Muslim attacking a Dutch boy on crutches. Then he retweeted them, to the horror of British Prime Minister Theresa May.

By retweeting the videos of a known nationalist hate group, Mr Trump sent a signal to Muslims that he does not view them or their religion in the same light as he does other religions. He has in effect condoned hatred on a religion and its members when most of all the West should be seeking to understand the Islamic world better.

Mr Trump’s rebuttal of Mrs May’s criticism potentially harms the British-American relationship. Mrs May was right to point out that the retweets were highly and unnecessarily inflammatory. And this has given Mrs May and her Government some unlikely allies in places she might not thought them to possibly exist.

I am no fan of Mrs May who I think of as the “Maybot”, because she was perceived to have the empathy of a robot to the victims of the Grenfell apartment block fire. However, Mrs May was quite right to rebuke Mr Trump for retweeting those videos.

Mr Trump made two significant mistakes in his response:

  1. He was too lazy to find her proper Prime Ministerial Twitter handle and sent it to another person called who also just happened to be called Theresa May
  2. His put down of Mrs May would have spoken volumes about how Mr Trump views his relationship with Britain – being able and willing to put down America’s nearest and dearest ally, which is sometimes referred to as the 51st State of the U.S. is a hugely problematic indictment on him

American diplomats will be wondering how to undo the damage. For them such a slap in the face of the senior official of their most loyal ally will be staggering. America and Britain will survive this, but the reverberations will continue for awhile yet.

This should concern every other nation wanting peaceful rapproachment with the Islamic world. The so-called leader of the free world showing contempt for a perfectly valid warning about Britain First shows how little understanding Mr Trump has of diplomatic relations.

Or cares.


Gloriavale needs to be accountable about Prayer Ready’s death

Gloriavale is a Christian community on the West Coast of the South Island near Lake Haupiri. It was established by a Christian man named Hopeful Christian (Neville Cooper), who runs the sect. Since its inception it has been in the news numerous times regarding concerns about its management, the conduct of Mr Cooper and the well being of the children there.

The community has about 600 people living there and is set on several acres of land. It has been certified as of an acceptable standard in terms of its facilities. All food there is grown or made. It has several business ventures including dairying and sphagnum moss exports. The school teaches its own curriculum, which has been certified as acceptable by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Prayer Ready had down syndrome. Because of her medical condition she had trouble chewing and swallowing. The day she died the meat portion of her dinner meal had not been cut down to sufficiently small bits that she could manage. Thus she began to choke on a piece. Someone went to get help but the door handle had been removed so no one could get and no one could get out – a common practice until then at Gloriavale’s “isolation” units (a room in each hostel), where those who were ill were sent to keep the illness isolated from the rest of the people in the community.

I respect Gloriavale Christian Community do not want a misleading impression created. Except that the impression being created is far from misleading. The one that the public of New Zealand increasingly have is that there are some serious child well being issues not consistent with the expectations of New Zealand society and contrary to New Zealand law.

However Lilia Tarawa left Gloriavale with her family. Her Mother was the Mother Superior of the community and the leader of all of the women. Her father was responsible for running their sphagnum moss export business. The family was highly regarded within the community. After Ms Tarawa left, she adjusted to life outside of the camp taking advantage of the broad range of practical skills she had developed – sewing, cooking, reading music, knitting among others. She also wrote a book about life inside Gloriavale and what prompted her family to leave.

Ms Tarawa’s book backgrounds issues in the community that raise some serious doubts about the credibility of the story that the Gloriavale management told the Coroner when it investigated Ms Ready’s death. The release of the Coroners findings will do nothing to silence the speculation about what really went on. It is time that Gloriavale told the truth. It will hurt the community, but I think not telling the truth might in the end destroy Gloriavale.

Of chocolate and bunnies

So, how many people’s waist lines are going to grow at Easter with a chocolate overload? My guess is quite a few given how many people, despite it being in their final hour of trading for the day, I saw at Countdown last night with chocolate in their trollies. I would further guess that all of this is good if you are looking forward to seeing whether or not a suggested shortage of chocolate materializes.

Yes, it is true. Demand for cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate is at an all time high. The suppliers in the tropical parts of the world cannot keep pace, and in some countries that export cocoa, the suppliers are even resorting to illegal clearance of forest that is protected and clearing those parts for cocoa crops. People cry foul over palm oil, but I do not hear very much screaming over cocoa.

Three years ago there was a shortage of cocoa to make chocolate with. People were talking about “Chocogeddon” as a shortage fuelled by unprecedented demand on the crop in Africa threatened to choke supplies. Three later, there is a glut in Africa and demand is at lows not seen for years. The rampant consumerism that goes with it at this time of year and at Christmas is completely counter to what both occasions are supposed to be about – and why I almost delight in being happy when either Easter or Christmas are done for another year.

So, will I have any Easter chocolate this year? I have had Easter eggs this year, but probably not many more, mainly for weight loss reasons than any particular desire to cut back on chocolate consumption.

I imagine it must be a pretty tough weekend to be a member of Save Animals From Exploitation, which I seem to recall a couple of Easters ago chiding farmers for the huge numbers of rabbits they shot dead in Alexandra’s annual bunny hunt. I found S.A.F.E.’s ignorance hilarious on one hand and disturbing on the other. Anyone familiar with why rabbit shooting is so widespread in New Zealand would know that rabbits are a noxious pest under the Resource Management Act because of their high breeding rates, the fact that they were introduced and compete with grazing animals for vegetation. In doing so they expose the surface of the surface, which allows an all smothering mat of a weed called Hieracium to cover the ground. Hieracium is nearly impossible to get rid of and therefore poses a major problem on grazing land. It is also a noxious pest under the National Pest Plant Accord, which makes it illegal to sell, distribute or develop Hieracium.

Because of statutory requirements to keep pest levels at a predetermined level, farmers have two choices. They can either do the control work themselves or let a Regional Council pest control do it and send them the bill. To this end, the Great Alexandra Bunny Shoot in some respects is also an attempt at pest control.

Anyway, happy rabbit shooting.

Understanding Islam

Islam is a religion whose tapestry fascinates as much as it repels. It is a religion whose followers total more than 20% of the global human population on this planet. It covers a vast area through northern Africa, into the Middle East, up into Russia, the former Soviet Republics and southeast through Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia.

There is a nauseating hatred about Islam as a religion and the 1.5 billion Muslims who consider Allah to be their higher being that spews forth from some parts of the internet. It is fanned by some of the largest media establishments and personalities in the world, who use their vast resources to ensure that there shall remain a portion of the population who believe Islam wants to take over the world and that every Muslim is a potential suicide bomber.

How many people have met, or know people of the Muslim faith? Where are the people that you met from and what Islamic events did they observe?

I have met several from countries across the Islamic world. An Iranian gentleman was a tutor for one of my courses at University of Canterbury. Recently I met another Iranian born person, a lady who has set up a small business in Christchurch and is a regular commentator in The Press. At various Amnesty International meetings I have met refugees from different parts of the Middle East, most recently Syrian refugees at the New Zealand section Annual Meeting in May 2015.

Do I profess to know enough to say that they are all safe? Of course not, but no more than anyone reading this can say that they are all dangerous. Do I want to see them all vetted? Absolutely.

The world does not understand Islam nearly as well as it needs to. And that includes New Zealand where despite growing economic and political relations with countries of the Islamic faith, the Government decided that there should not be any funding for Islamic research at the University of Canterbury, on the grounds that it wanted to promote the development of science – a decision that becomes more glaring when one considers what is happening in the Middle East. This is not to say that we should pray five times a day in the direction of Mecca. This is not to say that burqa’s should be encouraged for women. When in New Zealand people should obey New Zealand customs and laws.

I can be encouraged however by the refusal of many people to buy into the anti-Islamic/anti-refugee/anti-immigrant sentiments that get stirred up by the xenophobic elements of society. The way people embraced Muslims in the street and turned out to solidarity events in the immediate wake of the Paris attacks both in January (Charlie Hebdo)and last week, gives me hope. These events need to continue and common ties established so that when the haters surface, society is ready.

Degrees of religious indoctrination

Have you ever had a representative of a religious group come to your door or approach you in public and try to spread their chosen message? How did you deal with them? Were they pushy or combative, or friendly and polite? The recent debate in the media about religious studies at school and whether or not it is appropriate has made me wonder about the degrees of religious indoctrination, and where to draw the line.

There are degrees of indoctrination. Gloriavale, the West Coast sect near Greymouth, which has recently featured in the media for the indoctrination of their residents who are led to believe that the rest of the world is evil is at one end of the spectrum. Gloriavale, it has to be said, has actually met Ministry of Education standards for curricula being taught – they get taught science, mathematics, English and so forth; are self sufficient. On one hand they are keen for the world to see how Gloriavale function, but on the other hand when members have fled for a better life, they have been systematically cut off from any family that they might have had in the sect and told they are sinning against God. Those brave enough to attempt to visit their families have been barred from entry, or met at the gate by members who appear to be devoid of personality.

There are degrees of inappropriateness – regardless of how one looks at it – too. The best example I can think of was that of a pair of Jehovah’s Witness members turning up on someones door step with a young boy who cannot have been more than five years old and trying to impart their message to the shocked householders who later said they should have called the Police. The suggestion that the householders should have called the Police might have been a bit extreme, but a boy of that age – I assume his parents knew what he was doing – should have been at school, at home or playing with his friends.

And then there are degrees of legal wrong doing, sometimes with violent results. It is worthwhile pointing out at this stage, that the wrong doing could be the sort of common crimes such as sexual violence/incest that Gloriavale leader Hopeful Christian was convicted for in 1994. But it could also involve more sinister elements with the potential for armed violence. With the exception of a couple of isolated cases in New Zealand where sects have had to be raided/shut down by the police on grounds of criminal activity, this country has been free from cases of religious violence. ┬áThese belong to the militant sects who believe some sort of apocalypse is coming, or that the Government is out to destroy their religion and only an armed stand will enable them to continue. Two notable cases come to mind: that of Ruby Ridge where a right-wing U.S. family took an armed stand against the U.S. Federal Government that ended in violence – notably the F.B.I. thinks one of the highest risks to the United States in terms of domestic terrorism is from religious fundamentalists. The other is the Tokyo subway attack by Aum Shinrikyo a Japanese apocalyptic sect that released sarin into a subway, killing 12 people. As the latter committed an act of violence against people and property, Aum Shinrikyo was designated a terrorist organization.

But the very vast majority of people who adhere to a particular faith, are perfectly normal people trying to go about their lives like you the reader and I the author of this article are. When they go to their place of prayer, they do so out of an honest belief in a higher being. Whether it is Mass or afternoon prayers at the Mosque; whether it is Sunday service or simply for reflection, it is entirely their right. They mean no harm to the world and no suspicion should be held against them. They might be colleagues of yours or friends or even family. Nothing wrong with that.