If an arms uprising is being considered in New Zealand, what are the reasons and what will it mean, asks CHRIS TROTTER.
Operation Eight - the series of arms-related arrests intended to pre-empt an alleged insurrectionary conspiracy against the New Zealand state - marks a turning point in New Zealand's political history.
Its importance should not be measured by the scale of the police operations in and around Ruatoki and the Urewera National Park; the Tuhoe people have been on the receiving end of such Pakeha-led invasions at least twice before in their history.
It's only when one considers the deep crevasses opening between the moderate and radical wings of the New Zealand Left that the real importance of the events of the past 10 days becomes apparent.
These widening gaps could all-too-easily result in next year's general election slipping from the grasp of the Labour-Green-Maori "bloc" which, until last week, still seemed odds-on to win it.
As the case against the alleged conspirators unfolds, those New Zealanders who define themselves as left-wing, or, more acceptably these days, as "progressive", will be forced to pick a side.
Do they see their society, and its manifold shortcomings, as being redeemable by the normal processes of constitutional government?
Or, has New Zealand society passed beyond all hope of democratic redemption?
Members and supporters of the Labour Party will, with a handful of ineffectual exceptions, find little difficulty in affirming the constitutional path.
And if Police Commissioner Howard Broad's case for pre-emptive intervention is as strong as he says it is, then Labour people will feel no compunction in roundly condemning the tactics of the alleged insurrectionists.
Within the Greens and the Maori Party, however, determining the correct response to the arrest and subsequent trial of these individuals is likely to prove much more problematic.
Within both parties there exists a significant minority (or even, in the case of the Maori Party, a majority) of members harbouring serious doubts about both the desirability and durability of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.
In both parties, too, there is a potent strain of millenarian (and even apocalyptic) thinking: a conviction that we have entered or are about to enter a period of fundamental and irrevocable change, during which the institutions and patterns of thought and behaviour that have dominated people's lives for centuries will pass away forever.
For many environmental activists the plausibility of this "end time" scenario is bolstered by the already apparent effects of climate change.
For these "Deep Greens", global warming is increasingly viewed as a test of humanity's willingness to acknowledge its own ecological guilt and embrace the far-reaching and often painful changes in lifestyle required to undo the damage.
Nothing less than wholesale systemic change will suffice.
On the fringes of this millenarian grouping, Deep Green radicalism inevitably begins to shade into the darker hues of eco-anarchism.
If Western industrial society refuses to accept the need for massive social and economic change, then these "Partisans of the Planet" must be free to act on its behalf; defending the natural environment, in Malcolm X's immortal phrase: "By any means necessary."
To such people, the notion of hiving off into the Ureweras with "the people of the mist", to be given the "means" of protecting Mother Nature by staunch Tuhoe warriors, probably sounded like a really neat idea.
Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a prospect more likely to titillate the romantic sensibilities of the hard-line environmental activist.
If such proves to be the case (and a swift glance at the responses to Operation Eight posted on the Aotearoa Indymedia website strongly suggests that it is), then the Green Party leadership will swiftly come under intense pressure to treat the arrested environmental and Maori activists not as villains, but as heroes.
Even within the Green parliamentary caucus there are those whose youthful experiences in the Maoist and Trotskyist Left are likely to render them more sympathetic than not to a new generation of activists for whom the revolutionary incantation "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" continues to work its pernicious magic.
Apocalyptic visions of a New Heaven and a New Earth are not, of course, restricted to the radical environmental movement.
Among the defeated Maori tribes of the late 19th century, such visions provided both solace and inspiration. Indeed, it was to shut down and disperse "New Jerusalem", the millennial community created by the Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana at Maungapohatu (Tuhoe's sacred mountain) that the last great expedition of armed constabulary set off into the Ureweras in March 1916.
There will be few among the Maori Party leadership who are not aware of the prophetic traditions of Tuhoe, or unaware of that tribe's special status as the last to succumb to the ceaseless encroachment of the Pakeha state.
They will know, too, that Rua's New Jerusalem was taken only after a 30-minute gunfight between the prophet's followers and constables commanded by Police Commissioner John Cullen, the man who crushed the miners' strike at Waihi in 1912.
Maori Party historians will also recall the travesty of justice that constituted Rua's subsequent trial.
The images of up to 300 gun-toting, pistol-packing, black-helmeted and body-armoured police constables moving inexorably up the narrow river-valleys of the Ureweras to arrest yet another Tuhoe leader can only have made a deep and painful impression upon the minds of the four Maori Party MPs.
The party's co-leader, Dr Pita Sharples, speaking from a restorative justice conference in Brisbane, characterised the Ruatoki raid of October 15 as an event that would "put race relations in New Zealand back one hundred years".
Coming on top of the staunch defence of Tuhoe mounted by the region's Maori MP, Te Ururoa Flavel, Sharples' comments make it clear the Maori Party will not lightly abandon Tame Iti and his followers to their judicial fate.
We must, therefore, expect Iti and the other persons arrested in Operation Eight to replace Ahmed Zaoui as the cause celebre of at least a substantial minority of the New Zealand progressive community.
"Free Tame Iti!" T-shirts have already been printed, and embarrassing questions (such as: "What possible reason could vegan pacifists have for allegedly possessing semi-automatic weapons and Molotov cocktails?") are being brushed aside as the accused are presented to the news media as innocent victims of a repressive, racist, post-9/11 state, hell-bent on flexing its anti-terrorist muscles in the legislature, the courts and on the streets.
And, so far, this particular framing exercise appears to be working.
A surprisingly large number of media outlets have simply refused to be persuaded that Iti and his eco-anarchist allies constitute any kind of serious threat to either the state or the public.
Partly this is attributable to "colonial cringe": the idea New Zealand couldn't possibly produce a "real" terrorist threat that sort of thing only happens overseas.
Partly it is a reflection of the repeated failure of the police and security forces in places such as Britain, the US and Australia to come up with "the goods" after scaring their respective societies witless for days on end with banner headlines such as "Terror Plot Uncovered" and "Police Swoop on Terror Suspects".
Mostly, however, it stems from a mixture of profound ignorance and lofty condescension.
Knowing next to nothing about the history of Maori resistance, understanding little of the Maori sovereignty debate that has raged for more than 20 years, and accustomed to portraying people on the left as figures of fun, the idea that what the police allege to have been occurring in the Ureweras might turn out to something more than yet another blunder by our "Keystone Kops" is prima facie preposterous to most news editors.
Tragically, however, the essence of the police allegations: that Tuhoe separatists and eco-anarchists have come together in some sort of insurrectionary folie a deux is all-too-plausible.
Historically, the resort to arms by political movements arises out of two quite distinct contexts.
The first is when peaceful and democratic protest is answered with massive state violence. This happened at Sharpeville in 1960, when 69 people were shot by the South African police for protesting against the apartheid Pass Laws.
It happened in Londonderry, in 1972, when 14 unarmed Catholic civil-rights marchers were killed by soldiers of the British Parachute Regiment.
After those events both the African National Congress and the Provisional IRA moved swiftly to embrace the "armed struggle".
The second context, into which New Zealand seems to fit, involves a society in which the extreme demands of a minority group fails to attract a substantive following among the wider population, and is, therefore, unable to make any appreciable progress politically.
In these circumstances, those who don't simply abandon the fight and sink back into passivity tend to become increasingly alienated from their fellow citizens.
A vicious spiral can then set in whereby the indifference of the wider society provokes ever more aggressive assertions of the group's political rectitude, which, in turn, increases its members' sense of social isolation, and, worse still, brings them increasingly under the surveillance of the authorities.
This increased attention from the police and security forces further marginalises the extremists, convincing them not only that their cause is of real significance (why else would the police be persecuting them?), but also that the wider society's indifference to their fate is proof of its culpable moral degeneracy.
That being the case, it is entirely justifiable both ethically and politically to attack and seek to destroy the repressive society by which they are persecuted and oppressed.
More chillingly, they argue that none of those who, by their silence and inaction, are seen to endorse society's evils should be deemed guiltless. And if everyone is guilty then everyone is a potential target.
This is the sort of thinking that spawned the Weathermen and the Baader-Meinhof terrorist organisations of the 1960s and 1970s.
It also produced the Symbionese Liberation Army, the murderous abductors of Patty Hearst.
Couldn't happen here? Let's pray that it hasn't and doesn't. But let's also consider these lines, penned by an anonymous poet "from the North" about "things to come" and posted on the Aotearoa Indymedia website:
"We're only human in these front lines And only lucky soldiers can choose their sides.
So, brothers, please forgive me, Because every last round is for you.
So I'm praying that some Holy Angel has your back.
Just do what you must, we all bleed the same.
So, if your eyes meet mine, across this bloodstained street,
Brother, know this:Yeah, I love you, but I'm not gunna miss."
- The Independent