Holmes' attack on Waitangi Day unjustified

CHRIS TROTTER
Last updated 05:00 17/02/2012

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Chris Trotter

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OPINION: "Cry 'havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war!" These are the incendiary words Mark Anthony puts into the mouth of Julius Caesar's ghost as he surveys the bloody work of his assassins. Though Mark Anthony insists he's come "to bury Caesar  not to praise him", his true purpose is to turn Rome's citizens against the "honourable men" who have slain his, and Rome's, best friend.

How would a modern Mark Anthony provoke revolution?

A few years ago, Wellington's Circa Theatre staged a "modernised" version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which Mark Anthony's speech is beamed into a Roman pub. Its motley collection of patrons are at first barely interested in the live television broadcast from Caesar's funeral, but gradually, word by word, they get drawn into Mark Anthony's superbly constructed speech until, thoroughly "ruffled up", they pour onto the streets in "rage and mutiny".

Equally, a modern Mark Anthony might avail himself of talkback radio, or the columns of a mass-circulation newspaper, to capture the attention of his countrymen, ruffle their spirits.

Were he in a position to do so, a modern Mark Anthony might cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war across the whole media: television, radio, internet and press.

But to what purpose? Mark Anthony had two: to revenge Caesar's death, and to deal a death blow to the tottering Roman Republic. How better to achieve these aims than by setting the Roman mob against Brutus?

If we translate the Shakespearian drama into a contemporary New Zealand context, who best fits the description of Mark Anthony? Who has stepped forward to defend Caesar and attack his enemies? Who took advantage of a solemn civic occasion to shout in the ears of the sleeping dogs of war? Who, with carefully chosen words, has ruffled the spirits of his countrymen to rage and mutiny?

Who else but Mr Paul Holmes?

From the "bully pulpit" of his column in the weekend edition of the New Zealand Herald, was it not Mr Holmes who unleashed a storm of criticism against the whole of Maoridom? Did he not call for Waitangi Day  "a b....... day", "a day of lies"  to be abandoned, and for the Treaty to be cast aside? Was it not Mr Holmes who, in his rhetorical fury at Waitangi Day protest, suggested every person of Maori descent was guilty of "bashing their babies"? Did he not say that if the ghosts of family members who fought and died at Gallipoli, El Alamein and Cassino were somehow able to witness the event, none could be persuaded that Waitangi Day was "anything but filth"?

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In unleashing this vicious and indiscriminate attack against Waitangi Day, the Treaty and all things Maori, Mr Holmes must have known he was striking at the very heart of the relationship which binds the Maori Party to the National Party. Nor would it have escaped him that, by rousing the sleeping dogs of Pakeha racism, he was putting that relationship in danger. Given the precarious balance of political forces in the House of Representatives, why would he want to do any of these things?

Unless, Mark Anthony-like, his purpose was to assist his beleaguered friend, the Prime Minister, by toppling something that, already fatally weakened, was about to fall?

The Maori Party's concern at the damage even the partial sale of state assets could inflict on the Treaty Partnership, and its threat to withdraw from its confidence and supply agreement with the Government, have clearly been interpreted as an attack on John Key. A case of "Et tu Tariana?" Has he voiced in private, what he cannot publicly declare: that the judicially defined "Treaty Partnership" has outlived its usefulness?

Is that why Mr Holmes cried "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of Pakeha racism? Not to praise Clause 9 - but to bury it?

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