I’m getting pretty sick of the politics of division in this country. The latest example was yesterday’s comments from NZ First leader Winston Peters having a good go in the House at driving up fear and loathing towards people of the Islamic faith.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in London the NZ First leader used his time in the House to offer his condolences to the people of London to suggest that Islamic communities in New Zealand are “communities apart.” He also highlighted his anti-immigration stance by pointing out that two of the perpetrators of the London terrorism had not been born in that country.
Mr Peter’s comments are designed to bring out the basest responses from ordinary New Zealanders. The President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ, Hazem Arafeh said yesterday that they sometimes get labelled as terrorists by the wider community and have been victims of anti-Muslim sentiment.
Peters’ comments provoke Islamaphobia and normalise fear and hatred of minority groups. It’s election year so he has ramped up his racist rhetoric which is simply designed to attract votes.
To be fair Peters in not the only politician doing the divide and conquer thing. The National government has made an art form of it. Prime Minister English once said of asylum seeker Ahmed Zaoui that we “didn’t need leftovers from Middle East terrorist regions.”
It’s now common to hear (or read) comments that pit middle income earners against low paid workers, low paid workers against other low paid migrant workers, and low paid workers against the unemployed. We see millennials unable to afford to buy a house pitted against the baby boomers and once again we see the Dickensian notion of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.
The narrative blames others for every ill in society and migrants are singled out as the most obvious scapegoats – blamed for everything from high rentals and house prices to low wages, and congested roads and hospitals and schools in Auckland. But let’s be clear; blaming migrants lets the government off the hook who have failed to invest in infrastructure like public transport, state housing, schools, the health system and also exploitative employers who rip off migrant workers.
The only way to create safe and inclusive societies is to reject this narrative and open our hearts and minds. We are all in this together and together we can fix the problems caused by the neglect of this government and minimise the hate generated by dog-whistling politicians. But we have to do it together. We have to change the government.