It’s safe to assume that lots of politicians are incorrigible attention-seekers – if not at the start of their careers, then certainly once they figure out how the system works and how the oxygen of publicity can be exploited to their advantage.
In this respect, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is hardly unusual. But what marks her as different is the skill with which she plays the game. Although ostensibly still a political novice, she’s as media-savvy as any veteran.
She has also learned that she can exploit the sympathy of journalists who are drawn to her because she’s young and female (like many press gallery reporters) and also Green and an Iranian asylum-seeker. Looking good on camera helps too, although I shouldn’t mention that because it will be condemned as sexist.
We have seen all these attributes on full display during the past 24 hours with the disclosure that Ghahraman now has a personal security guard because of anonymous online threats against her safety.
Media coverage casts her as a victim of vile white male supremacy, a role she appears almost to relish – and why wouldn’t she, given that it neatly aligns with her portrayal of New Zealand as a country seething with poisonous white nationalism?
I’m not suggesting the threats against her are not real and alarming, or that Ghahraman has somehow contrived to create the situation for political advantage. But I do suggest that she’s milking her victim status for all it’s worth, and that the media are obligingly dancing to her tune.
All this might be bearable, at a pinch, but for one thing. Ghahraman laid the blame for the threats against her, subtly but unmistakeably, at the feet of ACT leader David Seymour, who said in a radio interview earlier this week that Ghahraman was “a real menace to freedom in this country”.
Seymour was expressing a legitimate opinion (one that I share) in the context of a debate about freedom of speech, but Ghahraman cleverly twisted his comment to imply that he was somehow inciting violence against her. She sanctimoniously suggested that post-Christchurch, “New Zealand has asked us to be different” – meaning, we can only assume, that people like Seymour should shut up.
Make no mistake, this was a master-class in the dark art of media manipulation. Winston Peters and Shane Jones must have watched with grudging admiration.
Ghahraman even managed to weave the parliamentary bullying report into her comments to reporters, saying attitudes need to change. All this serves her bigger agenda, which is to discourage free and open debate about when legitimate opinion becomes “hate speech”.
Sadly, but predictably, the media appeared to uncritically swallow Ghahraman’s line. She must have been thrilled to see reporters pursuing Seymour down a parliamentary corridor hurling accusatory questions at him.
To his great credit, he stood his ground. Would that other centre-right politicians showed similar spine when the pressure is on.
The bottom line here is that while every civilised person abhors any personal threat against Ghahraman by pathetic cowards hiding in the shadows of cyberspace, there is something deeply distasteful – you could almost say despicable – in her attempts to weaponise that threat politically.