The Xinjiang problem that western nations must acknowledge


Xinjiang (Sinkiang) in northwest China is a high altitude area with mountain ranges and deserts. It is populated by Uighur Muslims, but also by Tibetan Xibe, Russians, Mongols, Han and other ethnicities. It has a population of about 26 million and is an autonomous region.

Unfortunately Xinjiang is being afflicted by Chinese state sanctioned human rights abuses that can draw comparisons with certain past regimes. The Chinese Government has marked the Uighur people down as a national security threat, which threatens the security of the Chinese Peoples Republic. With the utmost contempt for human rights, the Government has imprisoned over 1 million Uighur, or roughly equivalent to the population of the entire South Island in camps that are officially called retraining centres, but which bare the hall marks of concentration camps – grim, inhumane places characterized by rape, torture, murder, state sanctioned brain washing.

Where have we heard that before?

But there is more and it concerns us and our consumerist appetite. Xinjiang has significant cotton factories that are allegedly using slave labour. I cannot tell you what human rights abuses along the lines of slave labour have been alleged, but one can imagine those allegations are pretty damning and would bring China’s questionable human reputation into further disrepute. It would be lowering it to the level of the likes of Joseph Stalin and his notorious gulag system.

In order to hide the fact that somewhere between 800,000 and 2 million people have disappeared into these camps, China is relocating thousands of ethnic Han from other parts of the country into Xinjiang. It has clamped down massively on media access being granted and getting petrol from a service station or even sugar from a supermarket requires identification.

But how many western nations know about this and acknowledge that Xinjiang has been turned into one vast prison camp, never mind taking action against Chinese authorities? Many western nations actually do know of and acknowledge that China is conducting massive large scale human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. The United States and United Kingdom have both considered how to deny Chinese companies the ability to purchase western software and other products that might be used to expand the capability of the giant state security apparatus operating in Xinjiang.

New Zealand is also aware of what is happening in Xinjiang. The Government in July was one of 22 foreign nations to call on the Chinese government to stop the repression. But without doubt, our continued opposition to this will have its challenges. As the Government looks for new ways to express its concern, it will be aware of Beijing’s capacity for an angry response. It is an interesting and tricky tightrope to walk if one thinks about this. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

I support New Zealand trying to find new ways to show its concern. As we go forward towards the 2020 election I hope New Zealanders think about how we want to be viewed by the world on this. I would not want to think that we are complicit in the abuses that are going on in Xinjiang province by way of the products we purchase. I would hope that New Zealanders ask their Government irrespective of who is in office at the end of next year to remember economic prosperity cannot come at the expense of human rights.

 

Ending a discriminatory and improper policy


It has been announced that the Government is about to wind up a policy instituted by National in 2009, which meant that refugees north African and Middle East origin were not encouraged to settle in New Zealand. As a consequence New Zealand struggled to meet its refugee quota which earned numerous rebukes including at least one from the United Nations.

As an Amnesty International member I welcome the ending of this policy. Racist, discriminatory and ultimately not beneficial to New Zealand, it makes me wonder how many more we might have been able to take had their origins not been brought into question.

It was also richly hypocritical. American foreign policy implemented by client states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel has displaced millions of people across the Middle East through wars. Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen was made possible by aircraft and munitions supplied by the United States and Britain. Turkish offensives against Kurds in Kurdistan were made possible through the same mechanisms. And the New Zealand National Party thought America was doing right.

The hypocrisy lies in whilst thinking of New Zealand as a humanitarian country that does its best to help refugees and make them feel welcome, refugees from an entire geographic region were being blocked. Despite them having fled war and persecution by state actors that America helped to arm and being separated from family, apparently settling in New Zealand and having safety often for the first time ever, was a total no-no. A country with a party that thought American foreign policy was on the right track was refusing to accept the consequences of that not so right foreign policy. By refusing to accept that by being in countries like Afghanistan in wars we should have had no role in, New Zealand was being part of the problem and not the solution.

So, now, with this racist, discriminatory and hypocritical policy on the way out, hopefully future New Zealand National Party-led Governments will see the wrongs of their ways.

 

The fine line between free speech and hate speech


Speech is one of the most artful modes of communication and also the most fundamental. It can happen in many different ways, through body language, through oral or visual actions or other medians. It is also, in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, as we try to understand “hate speech” and separate it from “free speech”, a mode that is being subject down to a very personal level.

There is a fine line between free speech, which to me is the honest expression of ones opinion or ideas and hate speech. To me the latter is the overt and deliberate attempt to discriminate and/or degrade an ethnicity, nationality and so forth.

On the side of free speech there are those with sincerely held views that might come across as offensive and possibly discriminatory. I have met people who sincerely believe it is not proper for a man to be in a relationship with another man. They did not go so far as to suggest that those engaging in such conduct should be killed or otherwise persecuted, but their upbringing had taught them that it should be frowned upon.

Another example of an offensive, yet honestly held view was when I was at the New Zealand First Convention in 2010. A gentleman from Dunedin South during a general Q+A session stood up and commented that Muslims should be put on a plane and sent home. The general chorus of disgust shut him down promptly and he was not heard from again for the rest of the conference.

So, where does freedom of speech transition into hate speech? Where does a personal dislike of a particular grouping in society become a hatred?

In terms of graphic content such as video, photography and so forth, the line is blurred. But the slope is slippery and down hill in nature. In terms of personal behaviour, simple things such as crossing the street when someone of different skin colour comes towards you, refusing to visit certain stores because of the ethnicity of the owners/operators suggest intolerance. However, in terms of wording I believe on the freedom of speech side, certain key phrases or terms denote the boundary. For example a derogatory comment might be made out of disgust, or in the heat of a situation and not be intentional. However discriminatory and degrading comments about a subject are intended to hurt and cause harm. The latter two are low level hate speech. Where it becomes graphic and is used in conjunction with descriptions of harm, violence or destruction it becomes high level hate speech.

But the key is both are hate speech examples and if the commentator has achieved low level hate speech, then the commentator is capable of high level hate speech as well.

Lesser, yet deliberately provocative hate speech, that puts down a particular group with irrational and often ill founded claims – “they’ve come to take our jobs; our land our homes”; “they have diseases; they don’t know how to parent” – can be heard being used by some fringe politicians. Former Australian Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, has been frequently criticized for his views on asylum seekers and refugees, in particular those from Africa and the Middle East.

A good example of hate speech was the incitement of Hutu’s to kill Tutsi’s during the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. To get Hutu militiamen into the frame of mind necessary to kill their Tutsi neighbours or any Tutsi’s they saw, radio stations would broadcast incendiary content particularly aimed at degrading Tutsi’s and encouraging their murder. 800,000 Tutsi’s were killed, often with machete’s and often in places of worship where they thought they might be safe in a bit more than 100 days.

 

Stop dragging the chain on asylum seekers and refugees


On Tuesday Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters said that no commitment to raising the quota on refugees had been made.

Mr Peters seems to forget comments he made in May 2015. New Zealand needs to stop dragging the chain on asylum seekers and refugees. New Zealand has an official annual quota of 750 refugees, but some years does not even take that many.

Critics of taking refugees are being hypocritical as many of them did not flee by choice to other countries. Some would have admittedly left because the economic situation did not offer them a future. But many have left because the domestic situation in the country they were fleeing from was too dangerous to stay – might have known Government secrets; be from a persecuted group that was actively being attacked, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar who are being relentlessly persecuted by the military there. The hypocrisy lies in them not wanting any fears of internal destabilization to be realized in New Zealand from accepting refugees, yet often supporting Governments that have turned a blind eye to or even supported such activities in the countries the refugees are coming from.

Yes, there will be the odd one here and there who are not going to integrate. But this is why New Zealand has one of the most comprehensive refugee screening programmes in the first world. A refugee cannot simply just walk off a ship or plane and expect to immediately become an official asylum seeker, though that will not stop them trying. The refugees that come here have all passed through the Mangere facility where refugees must spend several weeks being conditioned for life in New Zealand. Before even that happens, customs and immigration will have looked through their histories for evidence of criminal activity, potential risks posed to New Zealand’s security.

It is also not entirely true that refugees take jobs, drive up house prices and refuse to integrate. Again, there will be a few who will not integrate. There will be a few who commit crime and people will rightfully wonder why we let them in, but they are the minority rather than the majority. The vast majority if the examples I am going to post below, and which there have been more mentioned in the newspapers recently, are anything to go by will be profoundly grateful for being given a second chance and will be determined to show their value in New Zealand.

The understanding of what is a refugee leaves a lot to be desired among people. The idea for example that Middle East nations take no refugees is completely wrong. Some of them have refugee populations larger than the total human population in Wellington. The total number of refugees thought to be internally displaced in Middle East countries is comparable with the population of Seattle (3.5 million people).

Let us double the quota. 1,500 people is still only 0.25% of the SYRIAN refugee population in Jordan. Let us not support any country that wants to continue waging war there. And let us stop believing those who seem to think that one refugee behaving badly represents all.

There are many grateful refugees in New Zealand from a range of countries: Laos, Somalia, among others, and they have been highly successful.

 

Body scanners coming to New Zealand: Overkill or good?


After a trial that has been conducted at Wellington Airport, Advanced Imaging Technology (A.I.T.) is going to be rolled out at key airports across New Zealand.

The civil libertarian in me has some concerns about how invasive the imaging will be. Will it pick up full body contours, or will it pick up just an outline of ones body and mark on it anything that appears suspect? Will the imagery be erased once the person going through the scanner is dealt with, or will it be kept on record somehow?

I personally find it frustrating that other countries are somehow dictated too by Federal Aviation Authority rules. When one reads signage on aircraft, even in New Zealand it will often refer to the F.A.A. To me the F.A.A.’s jurisdiction starts/ends at the United States border and that the authority I should be answering to is our own Civil Aviation Authority.

Yes, I realize that aviation has not been the same since 11 September 2001. Yes I realize that peoples perceptions of safety as well as airlines perceptions of safety were never going to be the same after that day. But why should other nations succumb to America’s paranoid obsession with all things “security” in the context of national security, especially when so many of America’s national security issues are of their own making?

But okay. The flip side of the coin is somewhat different if the supposed benefits can be proven. And Aviation Security (AVSEC) are meant to keep our airports as safe as they reasonably can. If the images detect narcotics, guns that police officers forgot to take off their belt when they went through, the plastic knife that may have been put in for some other reason and completely forgotten about, and so on then, yes they are doing their job.

If it means someone who planned to enter the waiting lounge and shoot the place up, is stopped, then the scanners have paid their way.

Perhaps I should be more lenient. New Zealand customs and AVSEC officers are not like their Canadian and American counterparts. Generally New Zealand border and airport security are much more friendly, polite and helpful. They don’t hiss like snakes, which I experienced in Los Angeles last year. If an AVSEC officer is over zealous, his/her colleagues are more likely to pick up on the problem and perhaps rein their wayward colleague in.

So, the question I pose is quite a simple, yet fundamental one in the context of border security:

Is it over kill to have full body scanners at New Zealand airports? If yes, why? If not, why not?

Let the debate begin.