Michael Laws: There's no place for old hatreds in NZ

Last updated 21:54 17/01/2009

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IF THERE IS one great virtue that our founding fathers gifted New Zealand it was the rejection of a state religion. And the eschewing of all the doctrinal disputes that plagued their old homeland.

This is not to suggest that there was not sectarian conflict in this new land because there was. Nor that God necessarily took a backseat in Godzone.

But they were minor influences compared to the Old Country. As a rule, the distance loosened their old religious prejudices. Faith gradually became a private affair, and was not allowed to intrude upon the daily business of policy-making.

The embodiment of this brilliance was the Education Act of 1877 delivering schooling that was compulsory, free and secular. The latter was crucial.

Sure, there were the extremists. Catholic Bishop Moran who established the separatist Catholic school system was one. So too, the Protestant Political Association of the 1920s with their anti-Papist activity. Even into the 1960s, the idea of a Catholic-Protestant marriage had its societal impediments.

So maybe we could be patient with the outflow of Muslim support for the moronic decision of Turkish cafe owner Mustafa Tekinkaya to refuse service to two Israeli sisters in Invercargill ostensibly because their country is at war with the fundamentalist Hamas organisation. Except that, in this case, tolerance would be weakness.

Because the nature of this culinary discrimination signalled that the immigration doors have admitted more than just different peoples from different lands these past two decades. They have also admitted age-old loathings and ancient animosities which have no place in this new land.

One might also think that Tekinkaya's refusal was about the conflict in Gaza. It is not. This Turkish Muslim and his fellow kebab shop supporters must have disliked Israelis for a long, long time. You don't suddenly expel Israelis from your shop because their government has done something you don't like. Confronted with this country's human rights legislation, Tekinkaya said that he did not care. Neither did his supporters, who phoned into my radio show last week. All were migrants, all self-identified as Muslims and all loathed Israel. They saw no problem with his actions whatsoever. The dreaded Jews were massacring their Palestinian brothers and sisters in Gaza; ipso facto, all Israelis are bad and must be refused even the most menial of service.

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Then let's consider the women involved. Not Israeli tourists on some grave scouting expedition but one sister married to a Kiwi, with two children aged four and two, and her visiting sister from the home country.

Similarly, the discriminators: Kiwis. Turkish-Kiwis, but Kiwis. Resident in this country, and trying to raise both a business and a family in deepest, darkest Southland.

Meanwhile, Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres made all the right noises in declaiming the cafe owners' actions but his next actions will be the more important. Formal complaints have been laid and a prima facie case established. Given his public utterances, there will be no possibility of a rapprochement between Mustafa and his Israeli clientele. So where next?

Dear lord, the racist cafe owner assembled every Turk and kebab seller within hailing distance in Southland all three of them to be photographed in support. These are not the actions of a contrite man. Unless the law falls on Mustafa from a great height and repeatedly nothing will permeate his thick Turkish skull.

Which is a shame. Because I rather like the Turks. Thoroughly decent at Gallipoli, and founder Ataturk's words about our war dead was poetry and compassion combined. They're desperate to be part of Europe rather than part of the Arab world, and equally desperate to resist the deadly embrace of Islamic fundamentalism. And they make lovely desserts.

But then I suspect Mustafa Tekinkaya and his kebab-mates, including the Friends of Palestine, are not big on compassion. They care not that Hamas loosed no fewer than 6000 (yes, six thousand) rockets on Israel after that country withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Or that Hamas deliberately hide behind innocents to carry out their outrages. Or that Hamas are Muslim madmen.

The truth is that Islamic fundamentalism exists in this country. It has arrived with the migrants and refugees and it is as evil and myopic here as it was over there.

So a word to Mustafa Tekinkaya: if you don't like the idea that your prejudice cannot be allowed to flourish in New Zealand, then do us all a favour. Leave. And take your racist mates with you.

- Sunday Star Times

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