With stereotypes, timing is everything.

datePosted on 15:23, February 13th, 2013 by Pablo

Richard Prosser’s xenophobic and bigoted remarks about Muslims (which are not racist, since he was targeting a religion, not an ethnic or racial group) has rightfully met with wide-spread opprobrium. More than a comment about Muslims, his remarks say a lot about him on several levels. Let’s just leave it at this: That he was prompted to air his views by having his pocket knife confiscated at an airport security gate, then actually took the time to write out his thoughts in a magazine op-ed, make it clear that somewhere in Aotearoa a village is missing its idiot, and that idiot has been found spending lots of time in the Beehive.

However, the current repudiation of his views has not always been as wide-spread, and in fact his appeal to negative Muslim stereotypes was, if not all the rage, widely accepted just ten years ago.

Consider that when Ahmed Zaoui attempted to seek political refuge in New Zealand in late 2002, his arrival was met with official alarm and a chorus of exactly the sort of xenophobic invective that Prosser has voiced. The Fifth Labour government branded him an “Islamicst” with ties to al-Qaeda, then worked with the SIS to manufacture a “terrorist” case against him in order to justify his indefinite detention and eventual expulsion. It even changed domestic spying laws and created new anti-terrorist legislation (both still on the books and enhanced by National) so as to counter the Islamicist threat. The SIS went so far as to claim in its 2005 annual report that local jihadis and their sympathizers were a serious threat to New Zealand, only to drop the claim entirely in the 2006 report.

Zaoui was not the only Arab who got the heavy treatment. In 2006 Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, a Yemeni-Saud flight school student overstayer, was summarily deported and handed over to Saudi security officials after he was caught (apparently following a tip-off to Winston Peters from a member of the public related to Ardmore Flying School). Despite concerns about his fate once he was turned over to the Saudis, he disappeared after being placed in their custody. The Fifth Labour government, through then-Immigration Minister David Cunliffe, refused to comment on his whereabouts or well-being and did not seek assurances from the Saudis regarding his treatment. As a justification for his summary deportation under escort, the Fifth Labour government claimed that he was a threat to national security, with his alleged “crime” being that he briefly flatted and shared pilot training with one of the 9/11 hijackers. No evidence has been produced to suggest that Abdullah Ali was aware of, much less involved in, the 9/11 conspiracy. Yet in the eyes of the New Zealand authorities at the time, relying in part on disputed FBI reports, he was guilty by association.

Shortly after Zaoui’s arrival Winston Peters, who now says that there is an element of truth to Prosser’s remarks but that his choice of words was unwise, demanded that Zaoui be expelled forthwith and went on to say that the NZ Muslim community was a “hydra” with extremist cells within it. Along with NZ First, National supported Labour on the Zaoui matter. Only the Greens questioned the official narrative (and Keith Locke needs to be congratulated for his staunch defense of Zaoui’s rights). Eventually, and with the help of some steadfast supporters and a few critical media types, the courageous work of Deborah Manning, Richard McLeod and Rodney Harrison destroyed the government attempt to frame and scapegoat Mr. Zaoui. After nearly five years the case against Zaoui was withdrawn and he was set free (he now runs a kebab place on K Road). For a good documentary overview of the case, see here.

My point is that timing is everything when politicians choose to stereotype so-called “out” groups. Back then Islamophobia ran rampant and it was fine if not fashionable to Muslim-bash, which the Clark government did adroitly and with aplomb. It did so by being subtle in its talk and thorough and focused in its actions. It publicly maintained it had nothing against Muslims or Islam, yet ordered its security apparatus to increase its surveillance of Muslim males (something that is ongoing) and enacted draconian security legislation with an eye towards the purported Islamicist threat to NZ (although truth be told, it first tried to use its new anti-terrorist legislation against the Urewera 18, and we know how that turned out).

Today all of that is water under the bridge although the laws remain on the books. NZ Muslims are no more of a threat today then they were a decade ago, but with the exception of the usual right-wing fanatics ranting in the blogosphere, the public mood is largely relaxed on the issue of the danger to NZ posed by Islamic extremism. Most politicians understand that even in election years scapegoating Muslims is now a losing campaign strategy. Thus Prosser is being made to wear a hair shirt over his contemporary remarks when he would have been applauded as a non-PC realist just a few years ago.

I would simply say that more than his stupid words, his timing if off. Politics is the art of hypocrisy disguised as righteousness, but the key to a successful disguise lies in the timing of the public posture. The Fifth Labour government timed its stereotyping just right, which allowed it to curry favor with its Western security partners in the anti-Islamic crusade by strengthening its anti-terrorism laws and internal security legislation. Zaoui was the precipitant and scapegoat used to that effect.

Prosser, on the other hand, is simply an uncouth political neophyte spouting rubbish at the wrong time. Had he made his remarks ten years ago he would have fared far better in the court of public and political opinion.


13 Responses to “With stereotypes, timing is everything.”

  1. QoT on February 13th, 2013 at 16:48

    “(which are not racist, since he was targeting a religion, not an ethnic or racial group)”

    Really? I’d be fascinated to know then how he proposed we specifically target people who LOOK like Muslims.

    Yes, people with basic general knowledge know that Islam isn’t limited to one ethnic group, but that’s neither here nor there with Richard Prosser.

  2. George D on February 13th, 2013 at 17:02

    Yes, to echo QoT, he was not to my knowledge suggesting preventing Tim Groser from getting on a plane.

    Most who condemn Islam and seek to stir the pot of hatred are much more clever than Prosser, and only reveal the racial character of their attacks in private. Prosser’s mistake was confusing the friendly ground of Investigate – which has consistently backed NZ First and hosted anti-Islamic speech, for a safely private forum.

    Like you, I’ve been heartened by the response. Though it could have been much stronger in many quarters and Shearer’s weak response was a disappointment to Labour’s base, there was almost universal condemnation, and that’s a quiet comfort. Things have changed dramatically in a decade.

  3. Pablo on February 13th, 2013 at 17:08

    QoT: I see. He is even thicker than I thought.

    George D: I also was surprised by Shearer’s rather shamefully tepid response. This seemed like a no-brainer.

  4. George D on February 13th, 2013 at 19:31

    Yes. Even if he was intending to play clever politics by not alienating the reactionary constituency that NZF regularly soaks up from Labour and National, he failed.

    At the last census 9.6% of the population registered as Asian. These people aren’t often seen on the national stage (in fact, NZ erases them for the most part). But they do form an increasing part of the electorate, and if they don’t already outnumber the reactionary part of the population, they soon will. This years census will give us a fairly clear picture. Neither major party has a firm grasp on their loyalty, though both have made clear efforts. The Greens have had a fairly low level of engagement so far, though I’ve seen them try.

    A strong comment wouldn’t swing many votes, but it would underline anything that has been built through engagement.

  5. Hugh on February 14th, 2013 at 00:42

    @George D: “Asian” and “Reactionary” are not opposites. A large part of that 9.6% are locks for the National and ACT parties.

  6. Hugh on February 14th, 2013 at 01:34

    Oh and seconding QoT – while Muslims do not make up a race, a lot of anti-Muslim bigotry is essentially conceptualised as racism.

  7. DeepRed on February 15th, 2013 at 00:35

    George D & Hugh: David Do, in wearing his Asian and gay rights hats, pointed out the presence of theo-conservative Asians & Islanders during the gay marriage debate.

    I’d say Prosser’s not so much racist as he is ‘civilisationist’ in the Samuel Huntington mould. A lot of individuals and political parties round the world are rebranding themselves as such, and often take a ‘house negro’ approach to ethnic matters where they used to be racially purist.

    Nonetheless, during the 2005 Cronulla riots, non-Arabs like Greco and Jewish Australians got punched out even if they merely looked Arab. Some people were too drunk or too stupid to tell the difference at the time.

    It’s looking increasingly like an echo of the medieval Crusades in a way, as opposed to the classical Fascism-racism doctrine of 1930s Europe or the slave-era US South.

  8. Badchefi on February 20th, 2013 at 18:39

    The whole Prosser thing was to distract from the poor negotiating Mr. Key did with Gillard regarding the boat people – the PM’s Pr machine at work.

  9. Amolwan on February 21st, 2013 at 19:47

    Pablo says
    “In 2006 Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, a Yemeni-Saud flight school student overstayer, was summarily deported and handed over to Saudi security officials after he was caught
    Despite concerns about his fate once he was turned over to the Saudis, he disappeared after being placed in their custody. The Fifth Labour government, through then-Immigration Minister David Cunliffe, refused to comment on his whereabouts or well-being and did not seek assurances from the Saudis regarding his treatment.”

    So here we had a trainee terrorist learning how to fly suicide aeroplanes and Pablo thinks if you look like a terrorist you act like a terrorist, you train with terrorists you are not a terrorist at all and maybe we should have fed him tea and cakes and given him GPS to Government house .

  10. Pablo on February 21st, 2013 at 20:42


    I will leave your comment up although it is incredibly stupid. That way other readers can get a sense of some of the rubbish we have to put up with from ignorant fools like yourself.

    No one–not the US government, the NZ government, or any other government–has claimed that Ali was a “terrorist in training.” The best the US could come up with was his 9/11 flatmate and fellow pilot trainee and the fact that both attended a mosque in Phoenix where radical sermons were alleged to have been given. His associates in the US and Yemen, as well as the people he associated with in NZ, all noted that his interest in becoming a commercial pilot was sincere. He was charged with no criminal offenses anywhere and was deported from NZ for overstaying.

    The fact that he was learning to land as well as take off is a hint that he may have sincerely wanted to be a real pilot.

    Now go away and do not come back until you have something rational to say, or at least until you have sobered up.

  11. Amolwan on February 21st, 2013 at 20:55

    gosh Pablo, no censorship , strange and wonderful from you arrogant

  12. Pablo on February 22nd, 2013 at 17:09

    Gosh Amolwan, fully incoherent now. Sleep it off.

  13. Saulius on March 3rd, 2013 at 21:32

    it was very interesting post, thank you

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