Tolerance sorely tested

This year, 2017, has been dominated globally by political upheaval, the threat of nuclear war and ongoing instability in such places as the Middle East and Africa.

Russia and Donald Trump have dominated many of the headlines, as Russian President Vladimir Putin and the United States President continue to be implicated in various theories about how Mr Trump won the US election.

In the Middle East, tensions continue to rise as Mr Trump rides roughshod over popular opinion. He declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and when the US was censured by the United Nations, he promptly cut quarter of a billion dollars from the US contribution to the organisation.

In New Zealand, there was a watershed moment when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took Labour from a likely defeat to an unlikely victory of sorts. With the support of New Zealand First, and the Green Party, Ms Ardern became New Zealand’s third female prime minister.

Her brand of stardust was welcomed by many New Zealanders, despite more than a million voting for National, a party still in denial about the election result.

Disturbingly, there was also a rise in personal attacks and criticism of anyone daring to criticise Ms Ardern, or anything associated with what New Zealand has known for many generations: the freedom of speech.It has become such a state now if people say or write their opinion freely, they face harrowing attention on social media, meaning, in some instances, they withdraw and apologise.

Lorde, one of New Zealand’s most recognisable pop stars, has abandoned her plans to sing in Israel after a vicious online campaign against her decision. It seems she is free to sing in other jurisdictions where human rights are being negated frequently, just not Israel.

Former National Party leader Don Brash decided to raise his head above the parapets and criticise Radio New Zealand’s growing use of te reo. He was vilified on and off the airways. Any questioning of anything Maori is decried as racist, without a thought to the background of why the comment was made. What has New Zealand become? Discussion about race  issues in this country has become disturbingly one-sided.

In Britain, a university is faced with taking books out of its library because some of the contents "offend" the student body. Other universities want to ban visiting speakers.

In response, the Tory Government has warned the universities they could face fines for failing to uphold free speech if their student unions do not give a platform to speakers.

Universities should be the sacrosanct areas for free speech and they should not be used to stifle open debate.

The term "generation snowflake" has now become widely used. If anyone using speech or expressing an opinion not popular with some sections of society, they are cried down.

New Zealand is being urged to take more refugees from Manus. But what of a counter view that points to evidence some of the men being held by Australian authorities are criminals?

Looking ahead to 2018, tolerance is going to be a term most tested before being discarded, if New Zealand is not careful.

Mr Trump has been blamed for the rise of hate speech, but he is not totally responsible. Everyone needs to make a decision on how they are going to act towards the beliefs and ideals of others. It is not enough to dismiss the thoughts of those you disagree with out of hand and with venom.

The very ideal of a democracy gives New Zealanders the right to have their say. But lately, intolerance of opposing views  has led to uncomfortable and intolerant rants: and this is not confined to any one particular sector of society.

The one hope we should all have for the new year is a climate where more reasonable debate is recognised as a way forward, not a step backwards.

New Zealanders all have life experiences that have shaped their views. It is important to listen carefully before leaping on to social media to issue an immediate condemnation.


This problem is particularly prevalent in the UK at the moment. The political and corporate agenda towards the creation of a federal European super state by stealth culminating in the Brexit vote to resist this. The extreme abuse towards people who voted for Brexit "fascists, nationalists, morons, racists, little Englanders etc. More latterly extreme elements in the Brexit camp trying to over ride parliamentary process and calling opposing MPs traitors etc.