Bid to put religious bigotry out to pasture

Ken Baker says religious bigotry can be ''put to bed''.

I join many who were incensed by New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser's statement a couple of months ago that Muslim men or anybody looking like a Muslim should be denied travel on Western airlines.

The overwhelming response from New Zealanders has been abhorrence that a public figure purporting to be serving the good interests of New Zealanders could make such an outrageous suggestion.

It is a statement that impinges so directly on a number of good New Zealand citizens, let alone the impression overseas people pick up about us from reports on Mr Prosser in their own news media.

The Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group (representing Jews, Muslims and Christians) at a recent meeting received feedback from the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand pointing out the nature of our interconnected world, and that the Muslim community in this country is itself made up of about 60 different ethnic groups including Maori and Pakeha - hence the call to reject such ignorant remarks.

The federation hoped this incident might serve to further remind us of the need to respect and appreciate each other's differences while building a better future for us all.

A breakthrough has occurred for Mr Prosser. In accepting an invitation for hospitality from a Muslim family, he has experienced openness and a desire for inter-human learning and reconciliation.

He also plans to attend the annual Peace Lecture in Dunedin on August 19. The address this year will be given by Dr Ingrid Mattson from the University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Dr Mattson is a renowned woman Muslim scholar and communicator. This will further help a critique of Muslim faith and action.

The Dunedin Abrahamic group was formed more than 11 years ago after the 9/11 terrorist bombing in the United States. The motivation was to seek to understand each other better in the face of a reaction that might see all Muslims as suicide bombers.

It is not surprising to learn that Islam is fundamentally just as grounded on principles of peacemaking and the call to open hospitality as is Christianity or Judaism.

In Dunedin, the annual August Peace Lecture (first addressed by the late David Lange) continues to be a forum building on mutual respect and understanding. The invited presenters are consecutively Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

Such opportunities to move beyond racially based tensions need to be applauded. I am encouraged by the way Mr Prosser is prepared to relook at the basis on which he made his initial statement ostracising all Muslim men. Progress is being made.

Bigotry can continue to be ''put to bed''!

Ken Baker is a member of the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group and a retired Presbyterian minister.

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