Editorial: Comments were way off the mark

00:01, Aug 27 2012

Film-maker Barbara Sumner-Burstyn's incendiary comments about slain New Zealand soldier Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, who along with Corporal Luke Tamatea and Private Richard Harris was killed by insurgents in Afghanistan, were deeply ignorant and inappropriate.

Sumner-Burstyn took to Facebook to espouse her views on New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan, mocking a tribute about Corporal Baker's love of boxing and baking by accusing the medic of killing innocent people and having no moral compass.

These horrendously ill-timed statements soon went viral, sparking a Facebook group titled "Sumner Burstyn give back your NZ Passport!", which at one point had more than 20,000 members, before eventually being shut down.

Many people on the page strongly disagreed with the statements but some threatened to beat, rape or kill Sumner-Burstyn and her family.

Sumner-Burstyn's comments were way off the mark. Corporal Baker and her comrades were not warmongers looking to suppress the people of Afghanistan. The primary role of New Zealand soldiers in the Provincial Reconstruction Team is to help the war-torn country rebuild. Our soldiers are there to aid Afghanistan's people, and to protect them from criminals and insurgents. One of the greatest things about living in New Zealand is the freedom we have to express ourselves.

Sumner-Burstyn was well within her rights to publicly post about her views on New Zealand in Afghanistan, regardless of how we might feel about them. Likewise, people are free to criticise her views.


But it becomes a problem when these arguments are hijacked by internet trolls, who make threats while cowering behind the relative anonymity of their computers. The idea that Burstyn should relinquish her passport is based on the assumption that criticising New Zealand's foreign policy is unpatriotic.

But there is nothing more un-Kiwi than making violent and disgusting threats based on someone's opinion, so perhaps the perpetrators should start thinking about packing their bags and getting out of the country.

The soldier who started the group has since banned such vehemence on the page but there can be no pleading ignorance in this case. When you set up a group aiming to assassinate the character of an individual, you must know you are opening them up to those with a lynch-mob mentality.

To her credit, Sumner-Burstyn has apologised to Lance Corporal Baker's family for the gaffe.

She could never have known her words would cause such an outcry, but the consequences of her actions have her questioning whether she should return to New Zealand.

The saddest outcome of all would be if ex-pat Canadian Sumner-Burstyn felt too unsafe to return home.

Manawatu Standard