OPINION: Here's a question for NZ First leader Winston Peters as he ponders the fallout from colleague Richard Prosser's anti-Muslim diatribe: Does he think, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, that airline passengers are happy to travel in the company of other passengers carrying sharp instruments that could be used to hijack aircraft.
The answer should guide how Mr Peters deals with Mr Prosser. Because, stripped of its offensive and puerile arguments, that is what Mr Prosser's call for young Muslim men to be banned from Western airlines is all about.
The NZ First MP's petulant outburst was provoked by security staff at Christchurch Airport confiscating the pocketknife he was carrying, in contravention of airline rules, before he boarded a flight to Wellington.
To avoid future inconvenience and embarrassment, Mr Prosser could have decided to leave his pocketknife at home. Knives are, after all, available in Wellington, too. However, he had what he thought was a better idea. Ban all young Muslim men, ban all young men from Muslim countries and ban all young men who looked like Muslims.
Presumably, by the last, he meant people of a particular complexion. White folk can be trusted not to engage in terrorist activity, can't they? Well no, actually, they can't.
The extreme Right winger who detonated a truck bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma killing 168 people was white. So were the terrorists who bombed, shot and maimed in the name of independence for Northern Ireland and so were the Baader-Meinhof loons who embarked on a wave of killing across Western Europe in the 1970s and 80s.
Mr Prosser's argument does not withstand a moment's scrutiny. At different times in human history, different groups of different ethnicity have misguidedly concluded that the only cure for their woes is to engage in mindless bursts of killing.
They are not distinguishable by the colour of their skin or their religion, but by their fanaticism and intolerance of other ways of life and points of view.
Mr Prosser knows that. He is not an idiot, as his belated apology shows. He understands it is not fair, practical or logical to penalise all Muslims for the sins of a few. He just chooses to pretend he does not for the sake of pandering to the simple-minded who think good and bad are only skin-deep.
The question for Mr Peters is, is he prepared to provide a harbour for such cynical and damaging politicking. Leadership is about more than looking noble and put upon at the same time.
Unfortunately, nothing in Mr Peters' political past suggests he is about to take a principled position. Populism and pandering to the ignorant are his stock and trade. It is not that long ago that he was alarming his followers with talk of an Asian invasion.
Mr Prosser's cynical scapegoating of a religious minority runs counter to the New Zealand ethos of fairness and tolerance. He is not a fit representative of either the community or the country.
NZ First should kick him out of the party. Whether they do or not will show whether they condone their colleague's descent into the political gutter.
- The Dominion Post