Editorial : Ruatoki in the spotlight

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 43, Advent 2007

Next to the loss at the rugby world cup, no social issue has so dominated New Zealand media in recent times as the police raids on the tiny Maori settlement of Ruatoki and the claim by police that they were exposing terrorist training camps in the Ureweras. The raids, which were conducted simultaneously also in other centres – Tauranga, Taupo, Lower Hutt, Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland – and involved several hundred police, also netted Pakeha activists as well as Maori and it seems targeted those interested in environmental change as much as those interested in Maori sovereignty.

Passionate advocates from both sides of the debate filled the airways and news space for weeks after the event. Many claimed that all the issues could have been dealt with under current law and did not need to invoke the new terrorism legislation.

An issue uncanvassed in media reports concerns the role of resistance in this country and what form it might take. New Zealand has a long history of resistance to undue state intrusion. It does not necessarily involve a full-on frontal confrontation with state forces but can take many other forms. Subsequent to the Treaty of Waitangi Maori often tried to resist the coercive efforts of the government of the day in resisting power the state had taken to itself. Tuhoe have remained at the centre of this resistance. Through the 1850s and 1860s to the time of the Parihaka invasion in 1881, Maori attempted to hold the colonising power at bay and retain what they had both in terms of culture and resources. The result often was massive state overkill. This resistance has lasted more than 150 years. Ultimately the Waitangi Tribunal was established to redress injustices inflicted by the Crown.

But many Pakeha too have often attempted to resist state injustice. The conscientious objectors and pacifists who refused to fight in foreign wars in 1914 and 1939 and were imprisoned are one clear example. Those who resisted the waterfront lockout in 1951 were another. There are many others. But resistance can take various forms. Many have formed alternative communities to arrest the advance of consumerism and take a stance against global capitalism, war and oppression, which threatens to engulf the planet. They attempt to live an alternative set of values and praxis to the mainstream. It is a form of resistance.

Here at the Catholic Worker we attempt, however feebly, to do just that. Based on how we believe Christ’s teachings should be lived, we believe non-violent resistance to the prevailing culture is an imperative. While we live within a consumer culture based on material greed and structural violence, we stand for an ecological conversion as John Paul II called it, a more just distribution of current resources, for racial equality and respect and for non-violence in our dealings with one another. As such, we are resistors within the dominant culture. In terms of ideals, that has us standing alongside many of those arrested in the police raids.

It certainly seemed to us that police procedures were clumsy and unnecessary. It was also extremely embarrassing to see SAS-type armed police going through their paces in full view of the cameras. This was not a TV programme. This also is not the US, the UK nor any other European country. We do not suggest that New Zealand is immune to what is going on internationally in relation to security. But we do need to take a measured and controlled approach to such issues and not react to some overseas blueprint. Indeed, if we have learnt anything in watching overseas blueprints unfold, we should be avoiding them at any cost. More state violence is not an answer to government insecurities. The people of Ruatoki now have yet another example of undue state force to add to their history of such actions.

We would have no truck with anyone preparing for armed struggle or actions of terror in this country or elsewhere. As yet all such allegations remain totally unproven. They have come from secret sources, including the SIS. By definition, secret usually means unaccountable and non-transparent. In the past, such sources have often proved to be strong on imagination, weak on sustainable evidence.

The struggle for peace and justice is one that belongs to everyone, not just so-called activists. Activists are simply people who take the command of Jesus ‘to love thy neighbour’ more seriously than most, and to quote Peter Maurin, ‘seek to build a new world within the shell of the old’.

The decision by the Solicitor General not to prosecute under the 2002 terrorism legislation is a clear vindication of those who protested the police raids. That the police were clearly testing the terrorism laws is now clear. That they were wrong to do so is also clear. The police don’t help build a better society when they hype up their actions and play out these TV-type dramas in real life.

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