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Inflicting te reo on the entire population is contemptuous, writes Dave Witherow.
Maori Language Week, now a permanent annual fixture, is one of those occasions when our determination to give no offence blossoms into the urge to grovel. This year was the best yet, with media apologists the length and breadth of the land prostrating themselves before the holy altar of te reo. Radio New Zealand took the prize, in a seven-day fiesta of cringing servility that, were Billy T. James still with us, would have provided him with material forever.
For the last couple of years, of course, RNZ has been ahead of the pack in obsequiousness. Everything indigenous is sacrosanct, and even formerly redoubtable interviewers now shrink from the slightest demur when boring bigots drone on about the mana of all things native.
The whole business has become surreal. One morning, for example, a couple of Maori snowflakes were banging on about the terrible grief they were suffering from the mispronunciation of their names. Not only were they themselves being insulted by this, but so were their ancestors, the whole tribal boiling of them, right back to the first canoe.
I just about choked on my coffee. Come on presenters, I thought, tell them to get a life. Switch off the mikes and boot them out of the studio. But oh no, nothing like that. Not the slightest suggestion that perhaps the agony being suffered by these sad sacks was not quite the end of the world.
There was a time, as recently as a couple of years ago, when booting was a possibility, but not since the passage of the Maori Language Act of 2016.
Radio New Zealand - the New Zealand equivalent of the BBC - is supposed to be free of political meddling. Yet now it has been hijacked, and its hapless staff obliged to dispense their daily dose of te reo. There were just a few words to begin with. Then longer sentences which have kept on growing until the keener young grovellers now begin and end their spiels with expansive swatches of a lingo understood by only a minuscule proportion of their audience.
English is our daily language. It is spoken by every New Zealander, and is a passport to access and understanding all around the world. Those who prefer te reo have a right to their choice, but not to insist on inflicting it on the English-speaking majority.
The uncertain fate of the Maori tongue is hardly our most urgent problem. Homeless people sleep in our streets, and our demoralised youth are killing themselves as never before. Everything we own is up for sale on the international markets, and our once egalitarian country is advertised as a bolthole for the mega-rich. Our hospitals are failing for want of money, and many of our children (Maori especially) live in a poverty that should shame us all.
It is not that te reo has been neglected. There are already 21 Maori radio stations and a television channel, funded by the general taxpayer and dedicated to the furtherance of indigenous language and culture. There are innumerable other initiatives, all similarly funded, and in a less than perfect world this might be considered adequate.
The right-thinkers, of course, will never agree. Caught in the toils of their self-assumed guilt, their lives are one long grovel. We must respect the native culture, they will ooze. We must respect te reo.
And so we should. But respect should cut both ways.
The new rules at RNZ were imposed without notice or public discussion, and they show, yet again, that no aspect of New Zealand life or culture is immune from the separatist commissars and their spineless friends in government. No-one campaigned for these impositions. They are the consequence of a back-room deal.
We are lectured much about respect - especially by the grovelling classes. But respect, to mean anything, should involve a willingness to consider points of view other than one's own, and maybe a recognition that, throughout the history of these islands, no race or culture has held a monopoly on virtue.
Such recognition has never been forthcoming. Instead, with each concession have come further demands - on the assumption, it would seem, that the tolerance of the majority of New Zealanders will never be exhausted, whatever the provocation, and that the politics of insolence will continue to yield rewards indefinitely.
This myopic strategy can have no happy outcome. Without respect there will eventually be no goodwill, and contempt in the end will yield contempt in return.
After that there will be no winners.
-Dave Witherow lives in Dunedin.