Richard Prosser after 'Wogistan'
Putting the 'mental' back into environmental'PHILIP MATTHEWS
He's noted for his bullish opinions but Richard Prosser made international headlines for all the wrong reasons last month. PHILIP MATTHEWS catches up with the chastened Christchurch-based NZ First MP.
For about 72 hours, NZ First MP Richard Prosser was the most ridiculed and reviled man in New Zealand.
Every columnist and satirist took a crack at him. Newspaper editorials expected his resignation. Mindful that they might need his party after the next election, other politicians were less condemnatory. No-one anywhere seemed to agree with him.
Seventy-two hours of ignominy and then it all went quiet. Now what happens to Richard Prosser?
His crime was to write, in his regular column in Investigate magazine, that all young Muslim men - or those who "look" Muslim - should be barred from flying on Western airlines. This was not "unreasonable". The rights of New Zealanders were being "denigrated by a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan".
Muslims should ride a camel instead.
There were other racist overtones. He was concerned only with aviation security in the "West" and "Christendom" but not elsewhere in the world. Citing the story of virgins awaiting martyrs in Muslim paradise, he wrote "the only virgins of any interest to me are my babies [his two young daughters], who I will protect until death, so that they may grow up to be the confident, powerful, equal citizens that their Norse and Celtic lineage, and New Zealand's egalitarian laws, have destined them to be".
There was sentence after sentence of this, an outpouring prompted after his pocket knife was confiscated at Christchurch Airport. Was this an over- reaction? As columnist Paul Little put it, "I had a pocket knife taken off me when I was 10 and I felt pretty stink about it, too. But I didn't take it out on one of the world's major faiths."
About 24 hours into his 72 hours in the public eye, Prosser apologised, on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon. He said his opinions lacked "balance". He cancelled a public meeting in Wellington and laid low.
Did Prosser want to talk to The Press and update the public on the two weeks since everyone heard his name? He was available then he was unavailable. He was going to be in Christchurch but then he suddenly needed to be in Wellington.
Eventually we get 20 minutes on the phone.
Prosser talks quietly and his answers are brief. He says that he has been having "dialogue" with the Muslim community. That means he had dinner with an Auckland couple who wrote an open letter after the "Wogistan" story broke.
"I will carry on dealing with them and they've got contact with a mosque in Ranui, which is where I was born, so I will meet some other people at some stage," he says.
He is to meet another group in Christchurch this week and has more waiting. Some, like the Auckland couple, came forward. Others were sought out.
Labour MP and former Race Relations Conciliator Rajen Prasad offered his services as a facilitator.
"He wants to help and I'm grateful for the help," Prosser says.
Another side-effect is that Prosser has given up his column, "Eyes Right", which has run in Investigate since 2002.
"I've tried to be two things at once, taking two different approaches to effect change and it hasn't worked," he says. "The two roles have become increasingly disparate. You discover you've got two hats and only one head. You've got to get rid of the hat that doesn't fit any more."
NZ First, including leader Winston Peters, was clearly upset by the "Wogistan" column. But the party knew Prosser was a provocative columnist and he "imagines" that they would have read all of his columns going back 10 years. Indeed, for a time he was on the party's board of directors.
"I imagine what I was saying was well known to a fair chunk of the membership and board."
The greater question is whether Prosser is truly sorry, and what exactly he is sorry for. His line is still that his comments lacked "balance" but his column has always been just one person's opinion.
"When I say it lacked balance, it wasn't complete. I only touched on the point that I was lumping all Muslims in together. I should have gone to greater lengths to say we're only talking about the small minority. But my opinion regarding terrorists has not changed."
But lack of "balance" does not cover the racist language that upset so many: Wogistan, troglodytes, stone-age religion.
"That [language] isn't a constructive way to go forward," he says. "My references to a stone- age religion is that I don't have any time for institutions that denigrate women or suppress human rights. That's where I should have left it. Even as a shock jock, those comments were not helpful."
In short, he still endorses the sentiments in his column but not necessarily the language.
"I believe in women's rights and I believe in human rights."
The image of Prosser as a women's rights campaigner might surprise those familiar with earlier columns. In 2006, he wrote that New Zealand had been taken over by a conspiracy of "Silly Little Girls". These "girls" were not named but they were in schools, media, public service, judiciary and Cabinet.
Of course, in 2006, we had a woman Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and a woman chief justice, Sian Elias. Prosser was worried that women - women teachers especially - were undermining "the foundations of masculinity which have underpinned the construction and development of our very civilisation".
"That was a viewpoint I held then," Prosser says. "There were a number of people in positions who were behaving in ways that I felt needed to be called out in that manner." ? ? ? In a way, Investigate editor Ian Wishart set Prosser up. When Prosser got into Parliament in November 2011, a small controversy erupted over a column that called for a ban of the Muslim burqa in New Zealand.
Wishart opportunistically rushed out a book of Prosser columns, titled Uncommon Dissent. In his introduction, Wishart wrote that if people were going to look for quotes to "beat Richard Prosser with", the least he could do was make their job easier by publishing a book of them.
The book appeared to little acclaim in early 2012. A year later, Prosser is finished as a columnist and both men have made excuses. Prosser has said that he wrote the "Wogistan" column while jet- lagged. Wishart has said he didn't read it closely enough before publication.
Generally speaking, Prosser stands by the opinions collected in Uncommon Dissent.
"Those are things I said then in the context in which they were written. It's part of the journey that's got me to where I am. There are some things I have changed my views on, and that's reflected in some articles which have different takes on the same subject."
It was Helen Clark who pushed Prosser into public life. He was upset when Labour scrapped the combat wing of the Air Force and he became obsessed by that decision and Clark generally. The Government's wrongs were personified in Clark and the "wets and pacifists" and "socialist control freaks" who supported Labour's "evil urban liberalism".
He saw a nanny state forcing him to register guns, fence swimming pools and wear bike helmets. Such rules were an assault on maleness and Western values. "This is not how the Empire was forged," he wrote. "The West was not won by men who needed a permit to break wind."
He wrote many letters to newspapers. A letter to the Southland Times in 2003 expressed disbelief that Paul Holmes had to apologise for his "cheeky darkie" comments. In another, he wanted Helen Clark to apologise to "the English-speaking heterosexual taxpayers of New Zealand".
Investigate rewarded his efforts with a column. The language was always over the top. In one example, an anti-apartheid protest from the 1980s was remembered as "several hundred scruffy, unwashed, long-haired retards from Rent-a-Mob".
Prosser ran for office, standing for Democrats for Social Credit in Otago in 2005. He described himself as a "winemaker, viticulturist, vineyard contractor, freelance journalist, Investigate magazine columnist, engineer, Reiki master, truck driver, hunter, dog owner, author and poet".
He got 133 votes, coming seventh in a field of eight. He was also convincingly beaten in local body elections in Central Otago two years later. He told the Southland Times that he was hoping to restart the South Island Party. Instead, he moved to Canterbury and fell in with NZ First after an inspirational Winston Peters speech at the Rangiora RSA.
NZ First put him fourth on the party list in 2011. He stood in Waimakariri and got 588 votes, coming last in a field of five. But the Peters surge brought seven NZ First MPs into Parliament.
Almost from day one, Prosser was seen as a liability. "He will have to be careful in the way he expresses his views," warned journalist Anthony Hubbard. At the end of 2012, the Trans Tasman political newsletter said that Prosser "was picked by many to be the most likely MP to embarrass his party" but he "didn't crash and burn as expected, which was disappointing".
Only one month later, he did. There are now two ways forward - redemption or oblivion. Which will it be for Prosser?
While Peters refused to kick Prosser out of the party, there have been suggestions that Prosser will be moved so far down the list in 2014 as to be unelectable. Prosser says the party has not had conversations about this with him and he believes that redemption is not only possible but likely.
"Two years is a long time in politics. People are pragmatic and they are also fair. If you've made a mistake, admitted it, apologised for it and taken some steps to counteract some of the negative effects, people will give you a fair go."
But then, how wrong was he? While it seemed that no-one backed him in public, in Prosser's world there was a groundswell of support.
"I copped a fair bit of flak," he agrees. "But I got quite a lot of support messages as well."
Support came "from all sorts, from all over the country, all walks of life".
Does he think that a large minority of New Zealanders agree with his comments on Islam and terrorism?
"I don't know how that would pan out across the whole population. Of the communications I had, it would be running at about 50-50. For everybody who called me a so-and- so, somebody else said 'Good on you'."
Or you can look up one of his Investigate columns from only three years ago to get more forthright comments on apologies.
"One of the best things about being a conservative, no-nonsense, right-wing nationalist social and political commentator is never having to say you're sorry," he wrote in March 2010.
"It doesn't matter if you upset anyone, because the only people who are likely to be offended by your unabashed dissertations of truth and common sense are pinkos and liberals and other whingeing minorities whose opinions don't count anyway.
"And get offended they certainly do!"
Some of the more outrageous Prosser-isms include:
"I don't like liberals pinching the term liberal any more than I like queers pinching the word gay. I mean, if people want to be weak, stupid, effeminate, erectile dysfunctional, naive, apologist, namby-pamby, thumb-sucking, lefty pinko fantasy-land morons, let them find their own word for themselves, and leave 'liberal' for us genuine freedom-loving, gonad- equipped, libertarian go-getters."
"Do I want the country filled up with Muslims? No. I don't particularly want the influence of Islam here at all . . . We can get all the immigrants we need from 'traditional source countries' and still leave people in the queue."
"I do think the Chinese are coming, and I do think it blindingly obvious that we need to resurrect and maintain effective combat forces and reliable military alliances."
"Our society, New Zealand society, Western society in general, has been hijacked by a conspiracy of Silly Little Girls. They're everywhere; in the schools, in the media, in the public service, in the judiciary, even in Cabinet."
"The hand-wringers and bleeding hearts can say what they like; until society abandons its liberal guilt mentality and demonstrates that it is prepared to get tough, until we are prepared to put the rights of decent folk above those of thieves and low-lifes, the criminal menace will remain."
ON THE NANNY STATE
"Could dog control merely be an excuse to perfect the technology of micro-chipping, to allow its future use on . . . people?"
"I don't like part-Maori hypocrites demanding compensation for injustices that weren't done to them . . . They're wanting me to compulsorily learn to speak Maori. Why? What for? So I can communicate with people in other Maori-speaking countries?"
"Welfare needs to be a safety net . . . not a hammock for generations of those who cannot be bothered."
ON SOUTH AFRICA
"The majority of New Zealand can only watch in despair as the South Africa we knew fades inexorably into the twilight of civilisation. The best we can offer is a new home to her refugees . . . South Africans and Rhodesians were always New Zealand's closest cousins."
"If I decide to smack my kids, then that is no concern of other people, particularly those who have never had kids."
ON THE GREEN PARTY
"The Green Party, putting the 'mental' back into 'environmental' since 1990."
ON WINSTON PETERS
"What cracks me up most of all is Winston Peters. No matter what happens, or what he gets up to, we keep forgetting what he's done, and we keep forgiving him."
All quotes from Uncommon Dissent by Richard Prosser.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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