Prosser talk of the town

19:43, Feb 13 2013

The inspiring rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln (in the Gettysburg Address) and Sir Winston Church (during World War II) has a lineage that can be traced back to Pericles, a Greek statesman, general and orator. The words spoken by both men at times of crisis, according to one historian, "have had a profound and lasting impact on their respective nations".

Lesser politicians can make memorable observations, too. Lamentably, they may be remembered for saying something inflammatory or gauche, glaringly bereft of any nobility of purpose. Most New Zealanders at times have been offended, perhaps outraged, by MPs' intemperate remarks.

Former Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson more than once caused offence with statements about Muslims and homosexuality. He made no secret of his sexism. And Prime Minister John Key, his leader, once described something he said as "distasteful".

New Zealand First list MP Richard Prosser apparently aspires to pick up where Mr Clarkson left off. He has triggered a furore by writing a column on terrorism for Investigate magazine.

This seems innocent enough, but he advocated that young Muslims be barred by Western airlines.

Most Muslims are not terrorists, Mr Prosser acknowledged, but he said it was undeniable that most terrorists are Muslims. Anyone who might be a Muslim, therefore, would be covered by an air-travel ban which would apply to Muslim males aged between about 19 and 35, people who look like Muslims, and people from Muslim countries (a bit of an irritant for the Christians and others who happen to live there too).

Party leaders have expressed their abhorrence, including (eventually) NZ First leader Winston Peters, who said Mr Prosser had "wrongfully impugned millions of law-abiding, peaceful Muslims" and the article did not represent the views of NZ First.

Amid demands that Mr Prosser be disciplined or muzzled, Mana Party leader Hone Harawira made a sensible observation. A fellow with his own track record for causing offence, he disagreed that people are best not to openly express provocative views. When people hold views as extreme as Mr Prosser's, Mr Harawira said, "it's best that we hear them". He's right. Otherwise, they conceal what they really think.