Is New Zealand discriminating against Muslims?

CHANGING TIMES: Muslims in New Zealand are reporting higher numbers of verbal attacks.

CHANGING TIMES: Muslims in New Zealand are reporting higher numbers of verbal attacks.

Is it coming to our shores soon? Not terror but its side effect, Islamophobia.

In Wellington on the last Friday of November, Anwar Ghani spoke emotionally about the effect of the Countering Foreign Fighters Bill during a select committee hearing.

The rapidly introduced bill is one of the Government's weapons in the fight against the terrorist group Islamic State (Isis) and its alleged local supporters, allowing for warrantless surveillance on private properties.

TARGETED: Federation for Islamic Associations of NZ (FIANZ) president Dr Anwar Ghani told MPs new anti-terror ...
Chris Hillock / Waikato Times

TARGETED: Federation for Islamic Associations of NZ (FIANZ) president Dr Anwar Ghani told MPs new anti-terror legislation predominantly targets Muslims.

It follows claims by Prime Minister John Key that up to 80 New Zealanders were being monitored due to links to Isis, with some fundraising for Isis or attempting to "radicalise" others.

Ghani, who is the president of the Federation of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), said that while the legislation was technically "faith-blind and colour-blind", its introduction could alienate and stigmatise the small Muslim community in New Zealand.

The idea is that the spying legislation, combined with our contribution to military action against Isis in Iraq, would create a paranoid atmosphere in which ordinary New Zealand Muslims are perceived as a threat. In short, Islamophobia.

Ghani has repeatedly said that his organisation works closely with the police and would turn in any obvious extremist. He has also said that he has been frustrated at the lack of consultation from the Government.

In his submission, Ghani said that the Muslim community here has seen the early signs of Islamophobia, citing increasing numbers of verbal attacks.

The Human Rights Commission and Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy have made the same point. While avoiding the word Islamophobia, they condemned reports of racial abuse aimed at Muslim women and children on their way to and from school.

"We urge New Zealanders to stand alongside Muslim Kiwis in peace and compassion," Devoy said in a press release. "Those people terrifying other New Zealanders are bringing the hatred we loathe into our streets and suburbs.

Ad Feedback

"When we bring the violence and the hatred we see on our television screens into our communities, when we scream hateful abuse at a woman in a veil and her children, we are the ones creating the terror."

FIANZ condemned Isis on behalf of New Zealand's Muslim community as far back as September.

Islamophobia has a longer history in Australia, where media coverage of sexual assaults in Sydney by Lebanese men and the problem of asylum seekers were tied in with the al Qaeda attacks to make the "Arab Other" the pre-eminent "folk devil" of modern times, according to a multi-author book titled Bin Laden in the Suburbs, published in 2004.

"The construction of the Arab Other as criminal incorporates the idea of Arab men as sexually violent, irrationally violent, lacking in civilised values, having a propensity toward terrorist action and so on," one of the authors, Scott Poynting, said.

Are the occasional would-be extremists who get covered in the New Zealand media, such as Aaron Tahuhu in Christchurch and Te Amorangi Kireka-Whaanga in Hastings, our versions of this Arab Other? And is New Zealand generating its own version of Islamophobia in response?

Anwar Ghani could not be reached for comment but Zain Ali, head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at Auckland University and author of Faith, Philosophy and the Reflective Muslim, doubts that we are seeing an increase in Islamophobia in New Zealand.

Is someone who harasses an Islamic woman wearing a headscarf near a school an Islamophobe or just an everyday racist, he asks.

"I think there is an issue about being a visible minority in New Zealand." Ali says.

"If you see a woman walking around in a headscarf, it may bring out those prejudices.

"It may not be necessarily about Islam or the Middle East, but just a concern about minorities 'taking over'."

Ali says that if you saw him walking down the street, you would think he is Indian but not necessarily Muslim. To be Muslim is to add an extra layer of difference on top of ethnicity.

He recently gave a talk to the University of the Third Age in Browns Bay on Auckland's North Shore. About 100 elderly people came together, motivated by very earnest concerns.

"It wasn't Islamophobia," Ali says. "There are Muslims here. There are issues going on in the Middle East. Is it true that Islam is a violent religion?"

So he explained. He told them about the original community that formed around the prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago, how it wrestled with the treatment of children and the treatment of the elderly.

"It is really about getting people to see the values that underpin Islam. From my perspective, anyway, those values are not about beheading people."

Ali sees that there is a general lack of knowledge, which is understandable. The Muslim community has not been here in big numbers for long.

The Muslim population almost doubled between the 2001 census and the 2013 census, increasing from 23,631 to 46,149.

Just over a quarter (25.7 per cent) were born in New Zealand, while 21 per cent were born in the Pacific Islands, 26.9 per cent in Asia and 23.3 per cent in the Middle East and Africa.

It is still a new relationship and people are naturally curious. Nor it is easy to get clear answers. If you google Islam, results will range from a religion of the sword to a faith that promotes hospitality to Cat Stevens to Osama Bin Laden.

How many New Zealanders are aware that the vast majority of the Islamic world has condemned Isis, which is an abbreviation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as unIslamic?

In the Sunni tradition, which is 85-90 per cent of the Muslim world, scholarly consensus carries weight. The majority of its scholars reject Isis.

In the Shia tradition, which is 10-15 per cent of the Muslim world, an ayatollah is the authority. He too rejects Isis.

Even al Qaeda distances itself from Isis.

It takes Ali only about a minute to explain all that but it is not an easy soundbite.

As far as local militants were concerned, Ali was bemused by one who reportedly claimed to support Isis' dream of creating a caliphate but denounced its atrocities.

"How does that work? Some of the thinking is confused."

For New York-based British writer Arun Kundnani, author of The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain and The Muslims Are Coming!, the two best films ever made about terrorism are The Battle of Algiers and Four Lions.

The first was a documentary-style account of street fighting in Algeria in the 1950s. The second is a British comedy about some hapless jihadists trying to stage a terror attack.

High-profile Western converts bragging about their support of Isis on social media will often have more in common with the second of those films than the first.

They are "unsophisticated in their ideological bearings", Kundnani says, putting it politely.

Arun Kundnani has argued that too much Western discussion of terrorism focuses on the "semantic register" of religion rather than politics. Commentators in the United States will take Islam as a motivating cause but rarely consider that US foreign policy in the Middle East might have at least an equal impact.

Kundnani has also argued that some of the young men who are "radicalised" have "merely wrenched the labels of good and evil from the official war on terror discourse and inverted their positions". In other words, the official line on terror can help to create terrorists of those who want to be oppositional for any number of reasons.

Knowing that radicalised young men use Islamic language does not get us to the "why", Kundnani has said in interviews.

Unlike al Qaeda, which was at war with the West, Isis is fighting a factional war within Islam. The West is secondary at best.

"The beheadings of Westerners are best understood as acts of revenge against the US bombing campaign, as well as propaganda designed to terrify outsiders and demoralise those fighting against it," Ahmed Rashid wrote recently in the New York Review of Books.

What will change when and if New Zealand troops or military trainers get their boots on the ground in Iraq for the fight against Isis? Attacks at home could not be ruled out, Zain Ali says.

Speaking of war rhetoric, Ali has been fascinated by the sudden appearance of Anzac symbolism in the war on terror. News broke first in Australia that the forces of both Australia and New Zealand could be branded under the Anzac banner in Iraq next year, in time for the Gallipoli centenary.

"The original Anzacs were fighting Turks, who were Muslims. There is a very strong parallel."

In New Zealand and Australia, the Anzacs helped to focus an idea of national identity. But the war also had an impact on Turkey, which went from being an Islam-focused state to a secular state led by Mustafa Ataturk, who had been commander of the Turkish Army at Gallipoli.

In another historical twist, the 2015 Anzacs would probably go through Turkey to get to Iraq.

For Ali, the long-term question is what getting into wars like these does to our values. That applies whether you are a Muslim New Zealander, a Christian New Zealander or an atheist New Zealander.

 - The Press


Ad Feedback
special offers

Home detention for crash teen

Danyon Haile Hati appealed his sentence for dangerous driving causing death in the High Court at Whangarei.

Unlicensed teen driver accelerated through a stop sign and killed a truck driver, but court rules jail sentence too harsh.

Chef to MPI: 'Burger off'

Duke of Marlborough restaurant manager Kelsey Benefield tucks into a Governor's Burger - before it's cut from the menu.

New red tape will kill signature hamburger at NZ's oldest licensed restaurant, says chef.

Mannering backs rookie Roache

The Warriors have confidence in young backup hooker Nathaniel Roache, veteran Simon Mannering says.

The Warriors are confident an 18-game rookie could replace their injured test hooker.

Beach warning after man drowns

Auckland's rugged Muriwai beach, where a kitesurfer drowned on Saturday afternoon.

"Very dangerous" beach where kitesurfer died only for the experienced, experts say.


$30m roaring into town

An estimated $30 million is expected to be pumped into the Wellington regional economy during the week-long stay of The ...

About $30m is expected to be pumped into Wellington during the British and Irish Lions games.

More mayors demand bag levy

Nearly half of New Zealand mayors have now signed an open letter to  Associate Environment Minister Scott Simpson, ...

Mayors from 28 towns and regions around the country have called for a plastic bag charge

Two in hospital 

A Lower Hutt party ended with two people in hospital with knife wounds on Sunday morning.

Two men are in hospital with knife wounds after a party in Wainuiomata on Sunday morning.

Behind the scenes at the Bolton video

Bolton Hotel Wellington

The beds are made and the bar is stocked as hundreds of Lions fans take up residence in 5-star luxury.


Priceless bonsai theft video

Three priceless bonsai maple trees were stolen from Jay van Lent's garden on Tuesday night.

The trees, grown by a late bonsai master, were stolen in a brazen backyard burglary.

Car fled 'on its rims'

Police arrested a 19-year-old man after an early-morning car chase.

Residents woke early Sunday to police chase through Sydenham and Papanui.

Fire guts abandoned hospital

Five fire crews battled a blaze at the abandoned Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital.

Former psychiatric hospital goes up in flames for second time in seven months.

'Guaranteed' grad jobs

Southern region manager Scott Miller says CPP's graduate job offer provides students the end-game support other tertiary ...

IT school offers job in industry within three months of graduation; or your money back.


Little support for Easter trading

Hamilton City Council asked people what they thought about shops opening on Easter Sunday. Most oppose it.

It's not what most Hamiltonians want, according to submissions to council.

Man dies in river

Emergency services are at the river mouth where the body was found.

Fisherman found dead at the entrance to the Kaituna River in the western Bay of Plenty.

Girl injured in crash

The girl was transported by ambulance to Waikato Hospital.

A 13-year-old girl was taken to Waikato Hospital after a crash in Chartwell.

Missing man found

Louis de Quaasteniet was last seen walking from his home at Chapel Hill, Rototuna at 9am on Sunday. If you see him call ...

Louis de Quaasteniet has been found after earlier going missing.


New dawn welcomed

24062017 News Photo ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ.   Sir Maui Pomare day held at Owae Marae in Waitara.  L to R Nikai ...

Speakers from across the political spectrum found common ground at Sir Maui Pomare Day celebrations.

Top shops revealed

Calvin and Fiona Nicholson have won a Top Shop award for the second year running.

These are the best spots to get some good old retail therapy in Taranaki.

Community has role to play

Victoria University lecturer Chris Bowden said everyone had a part to play to combat the high rate of suicides among men.

Instead of telling them to toughen up, Chris Bowden reckons society should be supporting men.

Defending champs take top spot

24062017 News Photo ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ.   Taranaki premier grade club rugby, Tukapa V Clifton at Sanders Park in ...

No semifinals for Old Boys or Inglewood.


Borrows: left, right, out

Chester Borrows will soon be vacating his office. Twelve years in Parliament is enough, the Whanganui MP says.

A Left-leaning member of the National Party is preparing to say goodbye to politics.

Dairy robbery arrest

Palmerston North's West End Store was robbed on the evening of June 21.

Police say she assaulted the store owner, then left the scene on a bicycle.

Fun in town and untruths in court

A Palmerston North postcard of 1901.

MEMORY LANE: Two days of news, in the Palmerston North of 1900.

Drug-resistant dogs

Antibiotics are not just helpful for humans. Dogs can benefit, too.

PAWS AND CLAWS: Antibiotics are useful, but dogs can be resistant to them.


Conversations in virtual reality


Scott Cardwell of ImmerseMe with Nelson College for Girls year 10 ...

What if you could practice foreign languages in school while talking to real people, in real situations?

Fire guts Ngawhatu

Five fire crews battled a blaze at the abandoned Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital.

Former psychiatric hospital goes up in flames for second time in seven months.

Who killed Kevin O'Loughlin?

Kevin O'Loughlin, 30, who was stabbed to death on the corner of a Nelson carpark on May 2, 1993. His murder has not been ...

Who was the man behind one of Nelson's only unsolved murders?

No winging it with public speaking

Cellphones - every speaker's worst enemy.

Public speaking continues to be a bit of a challenge for middle-aged man Stu Hunt


Rescued, but no boat

Peter McLean (left) aboard Jungle, the yacht that struck a reef in the Pacific Ocean.

The Blenheim man whose yacht beached on a reef near Fiji is bound for Suva, but his boat has been left to the sea.

Blenheim's bug motel

Faalelei Sioveata, 7, Angel Quinton, 9, and PhilipJunior Fodow, 7, have created a bug-friendly motel.

There's a new motel in town, and it's full of creepy crawlies.

Patrol vessel blessed for success

MPI chief compliance officer Anthony Little, left, with Archdeacon Andy Joseph while he blesses the new MPI fisheries ...

Longer, faster and harder to evade - The new fisheries patrol vessel in the top of the south is blessed and ready for action.

Timaru too strong for MBC

Marlborough Boys' College midfielder Nigel Satherley takes on the Timaru Boys' High School defence in Blenheim on Saturday.

Marlborough Boys' College's push towards the top of the rugby championship table was derailed by a tough opponent.

South Canterbury

Ski season shaping up well

Timaru woke to a fresh coating of snow on the Hunter Hills on Sunday. South Canterbury skifields are optimistic about ...

South Canterbury skifields enjoy snowfall, good conditions in the lead up to opening day.

Seniors sick of tiles

Timaru's Senior Citizen's Association has urged the council to address the issue of slippery tiles in the CBD.

Timaru's senior citizens are sick of the town's slippery tiles and want action.

Connecting schools and businesses

Aoraki Development chief executive Nigel Davenport (left) visits Timaru Boys' High School last year. Davenport said a ...

Strategy to bridge gap between schools and employers to be launched.

Schools press ahead with zones

Gleniti School principal Steve Zonnevylle

Gleniti and Highfield schools look to school zones in attempt to tackle roll growth.


Strip and dip at Winter Fest video

A bright orange birdman leaps from the wharf on Queenstown's lakefront.

Scene of unseasonal jollity unfolds on Queenstown's lakefront as near-nude men and women fall over one another and rafts lose crew.

Pet dog shot dead

Max's owner found his body on Friday evening near the front gate of their property.

"Playful, friendly" labrador found dead at home with a bullet in his chest.

He Tauaa make it five

Jaavan Fa'amoe-Ioane was part of He Tauaa's 2017 grand final victory over Cowboys.

He Tauaa has won their fifth Southland club rugby league title in a row.

3 generations, 1 rugby team video

Grandfather Mackie Thompson, his son Colin, and grandson Cullen.

Grandad plays in the loose forwards, his son's at halfback and grandson is in the outside backs.

Ad Feedback