I see Guled Mire was back in the media last week,
complaining again about what a racist place New Zealand is.
It’s a recurring theme from Mire, but this time he
came up with a slightly different slant. Invited to speak at a forum on Wellington’s future, the Somalian refugee and Black Lives Matter activist
suggested Wellington was missing out economically by not tapping into the potential
of its migrant communities.
That might be a valid argument as far as it goes, if
it’s true. But Mire typically took it a step further by implying that this was
due to racism.
He recalled moving from Auckland to Wellington and
how he “struggled for the longest time to feel that this was home”. Wellington,
he said, felt like a “very white city”.
“I just would walk around and I’d be like, ‘Oh my
God, I’ve never felt so black in my life before.” Apparently we’re supposed to
accept his personal feeling of alienation as proof that Wellington is a racist
Mire went on to talk about the economic case for
addressing racism, apparently without offering any evidence (other than feeling
black in a predominantly white city) that immigrants were somehow being
prevented from contributing economically.
To reinforce his point, he tweeted a picture of
himself with some of the other speakers at the forum with the caption: “As
always just adding some much-needed colour to the room.” Witty, or snide? You be the judge, but he doesn't strike me as the jokey type.
I’ll be honest about my feelings toward Mire. He irritates
me intensely. Even more irritating is the fact that the media obligingly
provide a platform for his tiresome discourses.
Mire has been a regular fixture in the news since
the March 15 massacres. His comments in the aftermath of that event, when he
claimed New Zealand was in denial of the racist hatred that supposedly exists
here, was conspicuously at odds with the conciliatory tone struck by
members of the Christchurch Muslim community.
He sounded a similarly discordant note three months
ago when the mosques shooter (who, it bears repeating, was not a New Zealander
and as far as we know, acted alone) was sentenced. On that occasion we saw Muslims
and Pakeha police embracing outside the court. The TV news showed a member of
the Muslim community kissing a New Zealand flag. We heard praise from Muslim
leaders for the comments made by the New Zealand judge who put the murderer
away for life, and we again saw ordinary New Zealanders placing flowers at the
scenes of the killings.
But when Mire was invited onto Morning Report the day after the sentencing, he preferred (with plenty
of encouragement from interviewer Susie Ferguson) to talk about the racism and white supremacy that he claimed was being swept under the carpet.
This is the country that gave Mire and his family –
a mother and eight siblings, refugees from a violent, oppressive, corrupt society
– a fresh start (and in his case, enabled him to go to university and win a
Fulbright award). You’d think that might count for something, but all he can
talk about is how racist we are. Mire is the person who’s invited to dinner and
spends the evening complaining about the food and criticising the furniture.
His is not the language of acceptance and
inclusiveness. It is the language of divisiveness and polarisation. Far from
fostering harmony, Mire’s rhetoric emphasises and exacerbates points of difference
– and the danger is that in the warped minds of the tiny, subterranean
right-wing extremist fringe that very likely does exist in New Zealand, it will
be taken as an invitation to crank up the race war.
I welcome cultural diversity and I welcome Muslim
immigration. We are all immigrants here, Maori included, and it would be wrong
if those of us who benefit from being New Zealanders were to deny that same opportunity
to others – though always with the important proviso that immigration must be carefully
managed so as not to destabilise the host society, as has happened with
disastrous consequences in Europe.
That said, I object when, having taken advantage of the
freedom and opportunity this country offers, people such as Mire use their right
of free speech – a right not available in the countries they came from – to bad-mouth
the place that gave them sanctuary.
I object too to the politicisation of religion. We
no longer tolerate the Catholic Church exercising political influence as it
once did. And when Don Brash, then leader of the National Party, held secret
meetings with members of the Exclusive Brethren who wanted to promote a clandestine
campaign against Labour, he was rightly excoriated.
The same rules should apply to Islam. Muslims must
be free to practise their faith without discrimination or harassment, but this
is still a secular society. It’s possible to deplore the despicable bigotry and racial
hatred that resulted in the mosques massacres while simultaneously objecting to attempts
by Muslim activists to exploit that atrocity for political leverage, as Mire and
the Islamic Women’s Council seek to do.
It would be pointless to deny racism exists in New
Zealand; you don’t need to be a “person of colour” (to use the fashionable
phrase) to realise that. But that doesn’t make this a racist country. This is a
crucial distinction that the activists and promoters of identity politics
prefer to ignore.
People emigrate because they see something of worth
in the country they’re moving to – typically, something not available to them
in the place of their birth, such as freedom, prosperity and opportunity. This
is true of virtually everyone who has settled here, right back to the
Polynesian voyagers who first discovered the place.
But there’s never any acknowledgement from Mire that
New Zealand has been good for him, and rarely any concession that New Zealand’s
race relations are anything less than shameful. When there is, as when he
briefly acknowledged the aroha that prevailed post March 15, he quickly reverts
to his central theme, which is that New Zealand is a racist society.
Moreover, he gives the impression of believing the
onus is on New Zealand to reshape itself to meet his particular needs rather
than on him to adapt to the society that welcomed him, as immigrants worldwide
have done through history.
Note his apparent indignation at Wellington being a “white”
city. Well, hello; we’re dealing with the world as it is, not as Mire might
prefer it to be. Wellington doesn’t exist for his personal gratification. Adjusting and adapting to a society in which you’re a minority is part of every immigrant’s experience;
it’s not a symptom of repression or discrimination.
Yes, Wellington’s a predominantly white city, just
as Mogadishu is black. White people would probably feel just as out of place in
the Somalian capital as Mire apparently does here (and very likely a lot less
safe than Mire when he strolls down Lambton Quay). If he went to Guangdong, he’d
probably feel just as conspicuous there. I guess that means China’s a racist
By a striking coincidence, the day after Mire made
his comments at that Wellington forum, Stuff
published an interview with Mohamed Hassan, an Egyptian-born poet who
emigrated to New Zealand with his family when he was eight.
The article quotes Hassan as saying that while the
transition from Cairo to Auckland was difficult, moving to New Zealand was the
best decision his parents could have made. “We got the opportunity to grow up
in this really beautiful, caring country and it’s obviously shaped everything
Later he talks of his feeling that he has a responsibility
to “feed this place the same way it has fed me”. Make of that what you will.