Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The war against intelligence

The following was written for Street Life, the Princes Street Labour magazine, which is really jolly good.

When the Editor of this esteemed journal asked me to contribute an item about the recent arrests of alleged terrorists, I should have listened to my conscience, which was telling me "don't touch this; pretend you have lost the ability to type; tell him you are on holiday; do anything but accept this brief."

Unfortunately, I did not listen and the inevitable has happened: I have spent a week trying to write half a page. Agreeing to write on a story of this kind is like contracting writer's block by email. The trouble is, there is no story: all we know is that some people have been arrested on firearms charges. We won't know anything more until the arrested people are tried in court. A lot has been said in the media but most of that is speculation.

So, to fill the rest of this column, here are the facts in a little more detail: several people have been arrested, on firearms charges, in three locations: Auckland, Wellington and beyond the Black Stump. The Aucklanders were based at an anarchist den in Symonds Street; the Wellingtonians were hanging out at the headquarters of the Save Happy Valley campaign, a group previously known only for its concern for the welfare of ginormous snails. The last group, supposedly the centre of the operation, were in Tuhoe country; this is somewhere inland of the Bay of Plenty, in a part of the country which is very pretty but otherwise of no interest.

Here is the speculation, or at least some of it: these people were said to be plotting together to commit acts of terrorism, including the assassinations of Helen Clerk, John Key and George Bush (for the President of the United States to be killed by people from a country he probably could not locate on a map would be an ironic, if fitting, end to his career). At the centre of it is all, we are told, is Tame Iti, who has been training an army of his Tuhoe people deep in the bush. Some say that he intended to carry out a campaign of murders to drive outsiders from the region and make it his own; this would seem superfluous, since nobody ever goes there. Supporters claim he was doing nothing of the kind; he was merely training young men in defensive techniques so they could take jobs as bodyguards.

The question we should be asking is "can we take any of this seriously?" After all, the leader of this alleged conspiracy allegedly is Tame Iti, allegedly New Zealand's most ridiculous man. Mr Iti is known to us all for his calculated acts of bombast and self-regard. He blows his nose at the feet of Government Ministers; he rides horses bareback and bare-chested, perhaps trying to imitate the Burger King girls; he struts about in a kilt and a pill-box hat, again bare-chested, obviously unaware of passing of the 19th Century. He is no stranger to controversy but obviously a stranger to Jenny Craig. He fires a gun into the air as an act of defiance, just like all those blowhards in Palestine and points east. He demands, he struts, he proclaims, he makes Brian Tamaki look modest and self-effacing. And he fancies himself as an artist, having exhibited his paintings in a Parnell gallery. Trust me on this, I'm an Art Historian: these pompous, self-important gits always think they are artists.

And what of his army? As the old saying goes, I have seen the enemy and they are idiots. Apparently they bought weapons: on TradeMe. Now, don't get me wrong; TradeMe is an excellent market for the things you need at low, low prices. But is a very public market. After you have bought a few semi-automatic rifles with your trading account, people start to notice a pattern. It's much the same with the balaclavas; apparently they made a bulk order for balaclava helmets, the kind with just holes for mouth and eyes, the kind favoured for comfort and anonymity by international terrorists in the movies. It is this kind of purchasing decision that makes people suspicious.

No doubt we will hear a lot more when the case comes to trial. No doubt what we will hear will be as much farce as tragedy. Until then, members of the protesting class will while away the time by marching, holding vigils, making demands and being outraged. The rest of us will have to content ourselves with rumours and speculation.


Psycho Milt said...

"...members of the protesting class will while away the time by marching, holding vigils, making demands and being outraged."

Hey, give 'em a break, it's their unique and not-very-useful talent, so they have to use it. Like on Family Guy when they all got super powers, and Meg's turned out to be the power to grow her fingernails at will...

Anonymous said...

Thank God(s) someone is looking at this in a sane and objective manner. I've been bombarded with emails asking me to go to all these protests, and I'm glad there's some one else who isn't in the "OMG OPPRSN POLICE STATE OMG!!11!!" or the "OMG TERRORISTS 111!!!" camp.

Anonymous said...

We just need some hearsay about flying lessons in the Tuhoe bush to send speculation into overdrive again. How about heavy vehicle driving lessons? Then the news media can get a suicide napalm truck bomb angle in. It's a jungle out there but it wasn't big enough to hide Tame Iti's fat arse.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this just a fuss about a typo? As is well known from the outcomes, George W Bush did not declare war on terrorism - anyone who watched him that dreadful on CNN would know he declared war on tourism - and he won! The New Zealand Police did not arrest 17 terrorists - the took into custody a number of humourists - Get it right people

Anonymous said...

This is a fairly petty, unpleasant post.

It manages to avoid two of the biggest issues of the protests of the past fortnight - the disgraceful behaviour of the police who invaded Ruatoki North, and the nature of the Suppression of Terrorism Act, which with its vague language and sweeping powers arguably makes possible all sorts of insidious practices by the police and governments.

But why focus on such trivialities when you can make fun of a Maori?

As an art historian you should know how to view images in their proper context. Many of the gestures of Tame Iti's that you ridicule are not personal affectations, but expresisons of protest and contempt which have a well-established meaning within Maoridom. You might disagree with Tame Iti's choice of targets, but to mock him for his symbolism, as though it were inherently ridiculous, is to mock a culture. It would be too much, obviously, for you to actually investigate and comment upon the real issues he has raised over the years, with the support of the Tuhoe people. Far better to play to the white folks who like to snigger at silly brownies.

As for the tired old right-wing talkback line about professional protesters - do you really think that the people of Ruatoki, Whakatane, and Rotorua, who have protested in such large numbers, fit your stereotype, which was never even fair when applied to liberal Pakeha activsts?

I like the bit about sitting around cynically and waiting and seeing, though. That seems to fit the attitude of the few people who still join the Labour Party down to a tee. I remember the Princes St branch boys saying much the same thing when we were protesting against the invasion of Afghanistan, and later the racist seabed and foreshore legislation.
It's no wonder that the Labour Party has lost so much of its brown-skinned support, and its branches are largely the preserve of middle class careerists.

Christiaan said...

Yeah, what Anonymous said.

Rich said...

"Palestine and points east"

New Zealand is actually east of Palestine itself. By quite a long way.

Unless you adhere to a belief that the world is doughnut shaped and we are in fact somewhere adjacent to the British Isles.

Psycho Milt said...

Rich: Cyprus is also east of Palestine, if you want to get pointlessly pedantic about it.

Anonymous 2(can't you guys give yourselves a name?): you've only got one big issue there - the suppression of terrorism act, which is indeed a gross breach of our civil liberties. Your other "big issue" will only become an issue if it turns out the cops had no good reason to suspect these podgy blowhards were actually planning violence.

So far we don't have the evidence to decide whether the raid on Ruatoki was justified or not. If it turns out it wasn't (ie, not simply that Iti and his fellow blusterers weren't actually planning violence, but that the cops had no good reason to suspect them of it, which is a different thing), then sure, get out on the streets. But in the absence of that information, all you're doing is making yourselves look foolish.

Here's the thing: if some smash-the-state buffoons actually start planning concrete actions in that respect, eg by scoring military equipment and stockpiling explosives or molotov cocktails, most of us would like the cops to find out about it and deal to them fairly thoroughly before we find the molotov cocktails, napalm or nail bombs being used in our immediate vicinity. So, until we find out whether the cops have prevented such an event, or just fucked over some people they don't like, we're going to withhold judgement. Sorry, but that's the best you're going to get - consider it petty and unpleasant if you like.

Rich said...

I'm not sure what it has to do with the price of cheese, but Cyprus is *west* of Palestine.

You are right in that I was being pedantic for fun, but there is a serious point. Pretending that NZ is a "western" country, apart from being geographically illiterate, is part of denying the non-European parts of our heritage. Which leads to the Australian/American attitude that they live in a nation created by white people on an empty land.

Stephen said...

To be fair to Paul, I think you've misconstrued him.

I read "Palestine and points east" as merely referring to Palestine, and those countries to the east OF PALESTINE. You are reading "points east" as a generic term assuming a UK point of reference, but I think it's more likely that Palestine is the intended point of reference.

As to "can we take any of this seriously?"

Yes. I take the refusal of bail, the surveillance, the pending legislation, and much else seriously. There IS a darkly comic aspect to it all but way too much unfortunate fact for me to find it very funny.

Paul said...

Don't be so aotearoacentric. Like Stephen said, I was referring to places east of Palestine.

Anonymous said...

Two years of heavy surveillance (reading emails, text messages, buggin phone calls) of the "smash the state bufoons" (civil rights activists), and no evidence to prosecute under anti-terrorism laws?

Surely there's another issue here - one related to police behaviour and attitudes to members of the community who are responsible enough to take action over the things that they care about.

Thats two years of survellance of a free bicycle repair shop and the center of the "save the happy valley snails".

There's another issue about police behaviour too: when there wasn't enouhg evidence to prosecute under terrorism laws, the police sought to smear all the suspects by heavily leaking selected parts of the evidence to the media. Sure, it looks like they've found a nutjob or two, but every single suspect now suffers both guilt by association and trial by media because the evidence was insufficient for a real trial.