The Prime Minister claims there is a growing threat from New Zealanders attracted to Islamic State and he wants to increase state powers to watch such people and take away their passports.
I believe there is a better way to discourage would-be jihadists than the state enacting measures that erode the civil liberties of all New Zealanders.
For a start, John Key seems to be overplaying the threat when he talks about a “watch list of between 30 and 40 people of concern in a foreign fighter context” and “another 30 to 40 on a list of people requiring further investigation.”
Islamic community leaders question these figures. To their knowledge there are only a handful of such potential pro-Isis jihadists. They should know, because the Islamic community in New Zealand is relatively small and anyone with an extremist bent would quickly become known.
John Key refers to the danger of “domestic attacks of the type we have seen prevented in Australia and recently take place in Canada.” That is stretching the facts. In Australia raids by 800 police resulted in one terrorism-related charge. It appears, from reports so far, that the police don’t have any evidence of a specific terrorist plot. In Canada, the New Democratic Party’s parliamentary leader, Tom Mulcair described the shooting of a soldier near parliament as criminal attack by someone with mental issues: “I think we are not in the presence of a terrorist act in the sense we would understand it.”
Certainly the risk of terrorism here is not so great as to justify the government rushing through new legislation, as it plans to do over the next month. John Key wants “the ability to cancel a passport on the grounds of national security for up to three years.” That is, in defiance of natural justice, Mr Key wants to give a Minister, in secret and with no evidence made public, the power to punish someone for what they might do in the future – such as going off to fight in Syria.
Rather than go down the punitive route, wouldn’t it be better if the government worked with a willing Islamic community to educate any youths who might be heading in an extremist direction. Punitive measures will further alienate such men and lead them to hide their plans. In other words, it will be counterproductive.
Perhaps we could learn from the mistakes the Police made in Operation 8 back in 2007. When Police detected arms training in the Ureweras, they should have delegated their iwi liaison officers chat with the Tuhoe leadership and Tame Iti’s group to find out what story was. Instead, Police instigated a major “anti-terrorist” operation which incensed a whole tribe. [To their credit, Police have recently done a good job in patching up relations with Tame Iti’s family, and with Tuhoe as a whole.]
Until the 2007 Tuhoe raids, the Police had felt a bit left out of the “war on terror”. So in a way they welcomed finding their own “terrorists” in the Ureweras and set in motion a huge operation. Similar over-the-top behavior is observable in the National government’s reaction to a handful of people possibly going overseas to join Isis. In truth, we are not in much danger and we’re unlikely to see beheadings in our city streets. Let’s not rush in new laws increasing state surveillance and interfering with our right to travel abroad, something which is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.