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Terrorism: When ends justify means.

  • July 8th, 2005

Last night’s terrorism uncovered scars I’d never seen on a Chinese friend I’ve known for nearly 20 years. Trembling with rage, she repeated over and over “Muslim wild pigs”. I murmured some silly warning about stereotyping. She wasn’t listening. She was back 35 years ago, age 13, huddling terrified in the family shop cradling her 20-year-old sister who had just had a huge hole blown in her back by a shotgun. Her other sister, 18, was lying beside them in a spreading pool of blood from the shattered pelvis that has kept her in a wheel chair ever since.

No one was ever brought to justice from the mob that fanned out from the mosque to attack their Chinese neighbours.

She set me reflecting on the nature of evil. How often it is tied to high-minded rhetoric. Perhaps only small differences determine whether a theology or ideology produces violence, corruption and tyranny, or produces instead, as Tony Blair called it last night, “civilization’s” respect for the innocent. How often our leaders strive to trivialize these vital differences. How fragile are hard won principles in the face of high-minded claims of more urgent morality.

My experience at Phil Goff’s all-party briefing on the cricket tour earlier this week came to mind. All the other parties opposed the tour. Their argument was only about who should stop it and who should bear the cost, the cricketers, or the Government.

On the scale of moral blackness it is on a different planet, but they share a thread of common reasoning with the religious London murderers. They are equally indifferent to the distinction between personal or individual moral responsibility, and collective responsibility. They believe in group punishment.

Essentially the tour stoppers want to impose group punishment on Zimbabweans who have done no wrong and have no power to stop the wrong. They want to ‘send a message’ to the wrongdoer Mugabe by inflicting loss on innocent third parties. They equate those myriad individual citizens with the state, the collective, and its baboon leader. Yet many of those individuals would hate him with more reason and intensity than any calculating politician here.

In both cases the civilian innocence of those who pay the price may be an attraction. They are not collateral damage. They are the objects. Those frothing to send a message feel that their willingness to break normal moral limits to punish the innocent underscores their anger and sincerity.

The others at Mr Goff’s Beehive briefing took it as obvious that ends justify means. Sometimes they do. People unavoidably pay a collective price for the misdeeds and wrongs of their leaders. But collective punishments and using wrong means to pursue noble ends are very steep slippery slopes. At the very least there is an onus on those urging collective punishments to weigh the gains against the costs. Very dear principles are at stake.

Yet the briefing included absolutely no assessment of the practical impact of the proposed tour ban. No alternatives were compared. ACT was considered immoral for asking.

There are plenty of ways in which the cricketers could make Mugabe wish they had never come. Perhaps humiliating Zimbabwe on the pitch is too tall an order, but there are plenty of more serious and subtle ways in which television coverage could draw attention to Mugabe’s thuggery.

Mr Goff offered no evidence that the tour will support Mugabe. There is precious little evidence that boycotts are effective. Afghanistan was liberated from the Russians by force and the Moscow Olympic boycott simply damaged sport and the Los Angeles Olympics.

Freedom of association means nothing if it can be denied whenever a majority thinks it would be better to shun some people.

Touring does raise moral questions. I hope the cricketers leave Mugabe in no doubt about their feelings. But politicians have no moral right to tell cricketers to do something that political correctness has prevented them from doing themselves.

Mugabe now owes his power to Mbeki of South Africa. Instead of holding their African mates accountable, Labour politicians have continued the fawning of their anti-apartheid days, most notably at the recent Durban conference, where the Hon Margaret Wilson supported the third world hypocrisy of African countries blaming the US for the world’s ills.

For Helen Clark and Phil Goff to make this stand is like publicly boycotting a restaurant for paying mafia protection money, while privately begging to stay on the mafia’s cocktail party list.

The superficial political calculation at Mr Goff’s briefing said it all. Political relics of the 70s are fomenting a “stop the tour” wave of hysteria, glorying in the echoes of their salad days.

“Stop the thug” as a goal is too risky for them. They have flocked to be seen with Mbeki and there are too many African skeletons in the Labour closet.

Labour railed at what they termed Muldoon’s insult of Mugabe in 1981. Mugabe was demanding that the New Zealand government simply ban sports links. Muldoon excused Mugabe’s indifference to niceties like freedom of association with the comment, “when you’ve been in the jungle for a few years shooting people, it’s a bit difficult to understand”. For days international headlines condemned this rudely truthful observation.

Ironically, Muldoon was then resisting false African claims that the Commonwealth’s 1977 Gleneagles agreement obliged NZ to ban sports contacts with South Africa. We haven’t heard a thing from Africa about that precedent since Mugabe’s racism became too naked for even Labour leaders to ignore.

Instead, Labour rushed to send Chris Laidlaw to open a High Commission in Harare. It had nothing to do with the interests of New Zealand. Its job was to hand out aid that propped up Mugabe and to host streams of Labour visitors who came to fawn on him.

It continued even though they knew that Mugabe had borrowed ruthless Korean troops to murder between 5000 and 10,000 of his tribal enemies in Matabeleland. Labour howled racist at anyone who predicted exactly the disaster that has befallen the Zimbabwe people. They labeled as “colonialists” people who sought more sensitivity to human rights from freedom fighters.

At least this week Mr. Goff denounced the Maori Party’s Pita Sharples for excusing Mugabe’s actions as “ a bit of tough and tumble” while the regime which “has just been released from colonialism to find their own feet.”

Chris Trotter foams that ACT’s position is “obscene”. As I apologised for my silly soothing words to my Chinese friend this morning, I did not feel obscene. I felt superficial. But Mr Trotter has tried to whitewash the philosophies behind the greatest obscenities of the past 100 years. It is the collectivists who’ve preached that the end justifies the means.

Mr Trotter’s comrades see ACT’s focus on personal responsibility, and constraints on what rulers may do under the rule of law, as mere property owners’ quibbles. He is dead wrong. Tyrannies feed on group privileges and rights. They are defeated by individuals who take responsibility, and by protecting the rights of those individuals.

Judge the philosophies by their outcomes. By their fruits you shall know them.

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