New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser has, appropriately,
prompted widespread outrage for inflammatory comments about
young Muslim men.
''If you are a young male, aged between, say, about 19 and
about 35, and you're a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or
you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to
travel on any of the West's airlines,'' he wrote in a
magazine article. ''Most terrorists are Muslims,'' he said.
''I will not stand by while [his daughters'] rights and
freedoms of other New Zealanders and Westerners, are
denigrated by a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from
While Mr Prosser yesterday ''apologised unreservedly'', it
was only after the storm of disapproval had burst and showed
no sign of abating. The uproar was such that his very
position as an MP has been looking shaky, and there is no
shortage of calls for him to resign. Meanwhile, the earlier
equivocation of his party leader, Winston Peters, also
disturbs. Mr Peters first condemned Mr Prosser's comment, and
then backed off somewhat. Given Mr Peters' history of
appealing to prejudice, this reaction does him no credit.
Mr Prosser's comments were not simply highly provocative but
also ignorant and plain wrong.
It might be true that Muslim young men have been involved in
more terrorist actions over the past 15 years than people
from other ideologies, genders or ages. But, first, it must
be recognised that Islam covers wide ranges of beliefs and
attitudes. Secondly, potential ''terrorist'' numbers compared
to the Muslim population of the world are minuscule.
There are, it is estimated, more than 1.6 billion Muslims and
more than 200 million of these are from Indonesia alone. The
stereotypical Middle Eastern/North African terrorist that Mr
Prosser seems to be branding make up only 20% of the tally.
In New Zealand, based on the 2006 census, the number
identifying as Muslim is 36,000, with many of these having
come from Fiji and being of Indian ethnic origin. Thirdly,
the idea that a Muslim young man could be recognised by some
visual characteristic and stopped from flying on Western
airlines was ludicrous.
It would be just as crazy and unfair as stopping all Irishmen
from entering London in the 1970s through to the early 1990s
because a few had been responsible for IRA bombings. Muslim
men come in all shapes and shades and are indistinguishable
from other young men. Mr Prosser's article, apparently
sparked after a pocket knife was taken from him at an
airport, did canvass the legitimate issue of profiling at
airports while spinning off into what he now admits was a
He now also accepts that what he could say as an individual
is unacceptable as a MP. It was this status that made the
comments take off around international media. Here was a
country's lawmaker slandering Muslims en masse. As an MP he
does have special responsibilities and, hopefully, as he
said, ''perhaps this is a catalyst for me''.
Mr Prosser lived in Lauder for six years and Alexandra for
four. He arrived in Central Otago in 1994. He stood
unsuccessfully for the Central mayoralty and stood in
Parliamentary elections for the Alliance and for Democrats
for Social Credit. He is now based in the Waimakariri
electorate, north of Christchurch, and won a mere 538
It is a black mark on MMP, and perhaps on us as voters, that
a rag-tag group of MPs can come in behind Mr Peters on the
New Zealand First list. The party has already lost Brendan
Horan, now an independent, and pressure on Mr Prosser will
not abate quickly. The whole matter must also disconcert
Labour and the Greens as potential New Zealand First allies
after the next election.
Challenging issues about immigration, race and religion will
need to be debated in this country, and sometimes
sensitivities will be aroused. To cry ''racist'' or
personally denigrate those with opposing views can be
unhelpful and unfair. Nevertheless, vehement reactions are
justified when an MP, in the cold light of print, inflames
with such blatant ignorance and prejudice.