About 8 days ago, I got a phone call from Andrea Vance. She was looking to do a story on the government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation. Her understanding was that there would only be one week to make submissions. Well it turned out that one week is a luxury and what we got is around 24 hours. The bill was made available on Wednesday, with submissions due on Thursday. For a bill that seeks to allow huge intrusions into the lives of individuals, this is beyond ridiculous.
But I played the game. I had little hope that it would have any impact and was pretty certain that the Government’s mind was made up. Nonetheless I sat down after 9pm on Wednesday night and wrote a hurried submission, so that at least our objections would be on record. I was lucky to have a briefing paper from the Human Rights Commission and also looked at the points made at No Right Turn. I forwarded it to the head of the Islamic Women’s Council for feedback and approval. The basic details of the written submission can be found at my blog.
I was expecting (probably because I hadn’t been paying close attention to the news) that the committee would hear oral submission in a week or two. But luckily I got a call from a friend at 9am Thursday to say that the Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade Select Committee was already sitting that very day, and on Friday, to hear oral submissions. She texted me the name and phone number of the secretary of the committee, which enabled me to have a chance to present for 10 minutes on Friday.
At such short notice, it was going to be difficult to fly to Wellington and so have the impact that a face-to-face presentation would have. Taking advice from friends, I chose to present to the Committee by phone. Below is what I said, to the best of my recollection.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
The first point I would like to make to the committee is that the short time frame to present on this Bill is hugely unfair. Our organisation has not had any opportunity to consult with our community, only the executive has been consulted. We have not had the opportunity to read through the Bill properly or to consider all the ramifications. We object strongly to this time frame and ask the Committee to extend the consultation period and ensure that this legislation goes through the proper process. Other countries with higher risk ratings than ours, such as the UK and Australia, have allowed months for consultation.
Since I sent my written submission yesterday, I have consulted with other people and the following have endorsed and fully support our written submission:
- The Board of Shama (Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre)
- Poverty Action Waikato
- Douglas Pratt, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Waikato
- Rob Spedding, Service & Food Workers Union
- Janelle Fisher
- Jane Furness, University of Waikato
- Wendy Harper
[Others who were not able to contact me prior to my presentation: Louis Paulussen, Dr Neville Robertson]
The second point I would like to make is that the way this Bill has been presented in the media and public discussion on it is having a negative impact on the Muslim community. We have had talk about beheadings and fighters in Syria, we have had the Herald use the words “Jihadist Bill” in a headline. As a result of rhetoric by our politicians and the framing they have used in promoting the Bill, the negativity has flowed through to talkback radio and social media.
Muslim women have had to bear the brunt of the resulting backlash. I had an incident of abuse just last night, with someone screaming abuse from a passing car as I crossed the street. The level of harassment has increased severely in the last couple of months, and even the Race Relations Commissioner put out a press release a few weeks ago because of her concerns around the harassment faced by Muslim women and children. Our organisation is now asking Muslim women to report any incidents to us, so that we can keep a record.
Our community have been positive contributors to the country and we do not condone in any way the kind of violence perpetrated by ISIS on innocent people. If you pass and use legislation that marginalises and targets the Muslim community, you further alienate this community, and when taking into account the kinds of harassment I have mentioned above, you’re actually creating the conditions which are likely to push already disaffected individuals towards terrorism.
Instead, the Government should have made sure that our community was part of the solution. There should have been consultation and engagement with our community. In that regard, I support the submission made by the Human Rights Commission. I haven’t had time to read it in full, but it talks about the solution to terrorism being a longer term engagement with the community.
I now want to talk about specific provisions of the Bill. The first is around hijab, which is the covering of the hair and wearing of loose clothing. For the Muslim women who practice it, this is a deeply held religious belief. The only place where we remove our hijab is in our homes; our homes are our sanctuary. The notion that there could be video surveillance in our homes and that some random stranger could view this footage of us without hijab is deeply distressing and highly offensive to us. It doesn’t matter that it is happening without our knowledge, the fact that it could happen at all is enough to make us fearful in our own homes.
To know that the State can exercise this power over us without a warrant is a violation; I cannot overstate just how upsetting it is. We would therefore expect that such surveillance would not be done without firm evidence reviewed by an independent third party. We expect that there would be maximum safeguards around such an intrusion.
Moving on to the next issue. I am a trustee of Shama (Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre). This is an organisation that provides support services to victims of domestic violence from ethnic minority communities. Many of the women from our communities are migrants and refugees, and some are not financially independent. In an abusive situation, they may try to flee New Zealand back to their family overseas. The abuser’s family or an accomplice could provide false or malicious information that would stop her from leaving the country for 10 days. This would put her at extreme risk, and where would she be expected to go for those days? These women often do not have social support networks in this country, they have no family here. What could happen to them in that period of time?
This is exactly the type of unintended consequence that can happen when legislation is rushed through the house and why we need more time for consultation with the community. I am again asking the Committee to allow us more time.
More generally, there is a significant danger of malicious and false allegations. The Committee may not be aware of just how much hatred there is out in the community, and we feel particularly at risk. The effects of these intrusions and restrictions cannot be undone.
What I have raised with you are serious and grave concerns. To know that there has been talk of consultation being “chit chat” is very upsetting and does not give us confidence that this Committee is taking our concerns seriously. [Someone interrupted at this point to say that our concerns would be taken very seriously].
As we have said in our written submission, we know that the country faces security risks. We understand that there must be some surveillance undertaken to ensure public safety. We understand that the United Nations has put forward some requirement. But what we don’t understand is the need to pass this legislation with urgency. We don’t understand why we cannot be given more time to consult with our community.
At this point, I was interrupted by the Chair, and had a couple of question around harassment. I’m hoping there will at least be a Hansard record of proceedings and you can check the accuracy of the above, as I’ve worked from memory. I’ll also link to the interview I did on Checkpoint, and an article on the Stuff website.
I heard on the news today that there may be some changes to the Bill. That’s great, but it’s not good enough. The Government needs to stop, they need to make the case for each of these new measures, they need to allow adequate time for consultation. My written and oral submissions had a focus on Muslim women because it was on behalf of the Islamic Women’s Council. But the fact is that these issues affect all New Zealanders.
The Committee will report back to the House on Tuesday. We need to keep the pressure on.
Anjum Rahman. – I fit into a lot of boxes – I’m an ethnic minority (born in india), a religious minority (muslim), and a woman. I’m a mother, an accountant, a political activist and a feminist. All of these form part of my identity to a greater or lesser degree. most of all though, I’m a rebel who refuses to fit neatly into boxes or to conform to the patterns that people expect of me.