Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The implications of the Paris attacks for New Zealand

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Paris by night.

Political Roundup by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Dr Bryce Edwards.
Dr Bryce Edwards.

Will the Paris attacks have implications for New Zealand in terms of domestic security, state surveillance, political mood and further military action?

The attacks on Paris will impact us on the other side of the world. It’s still too early to see the full implications, but political questions to consider include: Will New Zealand increase its military involvement in the Middle East? Are we now less safe? Will there be increased surveillance and other clampdowns by the state? Will a more conservative and reactionary mood become stronger? And how do we deal with these changes? One of the best items on the overall lessons and implications for New Zealand of the Paris attacks is the six-minute video on TV3’s Story by Kim Vinnell – see: What can we learn from the Paris attacks?

A security clampdown in New Zealand?

The safety of New Zealanders is becoming a major focus in the wake of the Paris attacks. The Government and institutions of the state will be keen to reassure and protect the country in light of increasing concerns about security. 

The most obvious potential change in New Zealand is increased activity by the state in the name of protecting its citizens. But Jim Rolfe of the Victoria University of Wellington’s Centre for Strategic Studies makes a plea against the introduction of any hardline measures that might reduce liberties or ignite domestic tensions: “We should not, for example, inflame the situation by making generalised assertions of blame, with the implication that in New Zealand there are people who could make the same kinds of attack.  All that does is make a bad situation worse and potentially lead to some form of mob reaction.  Also, we should not make arbitrary restrictions on liberty of any kind.  If certain measures were adequate at airports before these attacks, then they are adequate after them absent any new intelligence on a specific, or even general, threat against airports.  The same point can be made for almost any area in which there might be a temptation to act ‘in the name of security’.” – see his article, Paris – What it means for us

For other warnings about increased state surveillance, see No Right Turn’s No crisis should go to waste and Anthony Robins’ Paris as an excuse for more useless surveillance.

But are we safe? The Prime Minister has responded to questions about New Zealand security by saying the country is “probably less vulnerable than most others” and detailing why – see Audrey Young’s article, Five Eyes gives NZ an advantage in fighting terrorism, says Key. In this, John Key also notes some of the problems surveillance officials might be having keeping tabs on those of concern. 

For a further discussion of security levels and whether they should be raised, particularly with some large upcoming concerts in Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland, see the Herald’s New Zealand concerts to go ahead as planned

What about the risks from potential “home-grown terrorists” in the Muslim community? According to the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, Hazim Arafeh, the community keeps strong tabs on such possibilities: “We are very vigilant – one person carrying this ideology is one person too much” – see Ruth Hill’s Paris attacks: Syrians in New Zealand fear backlash

A mob reaction against refugees and Muslims?

Are we likely to see the public mood turn against Muslims and refugees? That’s the fear of Duncan Garner, who says Target terrorists, not Muslims. He argues that the terrorists “must not be confused with the millions of law-abiding Muslims and these people must not be targeted in an alarmist response.”

Similarly, Alison Mau says that she’s been worried that the Paris attacks might produce “a reaction here in New Zealand that causes us to turn our backs on refugees from Syria” – see: Now’s the time to take more refugees, not fewer

The Syrian Solidarity group shares these concerns, and its spokesperson Ali Akil is reported as saying talkback radio is already reflecting this prejudice: “Everybody who has always been against it [accepting refugees], they’re going to utilise this event to their own agenda and start scaremongering even further, and put pressure so the likes of France stop accepting refugees” – see Ruth Hill’s Paris attacks: Syrians in New Zealand fear backlash

So far there are no overt signs of a backlash according to Islamic Council of New Zealand spokesman Abdul Nasser – see Alice Burrow’s NZ Muslims unite against Paris attackers

There will be an increased focus on Islam and its adherents. For a discussion of the differences within Islam – with an emphasis on the diversity of belief and practice – see David Farrar’s Five shades of Islam.

On Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil blog there are some typically hardline conservative statements and posts about the situation. This is best covered by Pete George in his blog post, The French attacks and gun toting Slaterites. See also, Whale Oil – pro-ISIL Islamaphobic hate site.

Conservative political parties might also seek to campaign on public concerns relating to security. According to Demelza Leslie’s report, Prime Minister says no change in fighting IS, Winston Peters has responded by again targeting immigration issues.

Will New Zealand increase its military intervention in the Middle East?

There is a possibility that New Zealand will now increase its military involvement in the Middle East. Of course New Zealand is already involved in training Iraqi soldiers, and the relationship between this and the Paris attacks are discussed in RNZ’s Paris attacks sharpen NZ troops’ focus.

On the face of it, the Government is saying that nothing has changed – see Demelza Leslie: Prime Minister says no change in fighting IS. But John Key is obviously open to sending a military reconstruction team to Iraq and Syria. Audrey Young reports that he’s not immediately dismissing such an idea, saying “I wouldn’t want to put our people out there either unless I was convinced that it was actually safe to do that reconstruction work” – see: Five Eyes gives NZ an advantage in fighting terrorism, says Key

There are plenty on the political right who are sympathetic to greater military intervention in the Middle East, with or without New Zealand involvement. Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has blogged about the issue – see: So now, where does NZ go? He says, “In the next few weeks I suspect western nations will take a more forthright approach to ISIS. It will involve “boots on the ground” even if this is mostly special forces directly supporting the Iraqi Army. New Zealand is likely to be asked to play our part”. 

David Farrar has blogged on the big question of what is required to defeat ISIS – see: What will countries do to stop the terrorists? As always, his analysis is interesting, but his proposals are particularly worth reading because of Farrar’s close proximity to senior National Party and Government politicians. He calls for strong action, and begins by saying “I’d start the ball rolling by saying it is time to recognise Assad as the lesser evil… It’s time to say Islamic State is a greater evil than any other we face today, and that the political will and resources are needed to commit to eliminating it”.

Farrar says that a stronger invasion is needed: “The same level of commitment and determination as the Allies had in WWII would be needed, and inevitably there would be a huge level of civilian casualties.  There could be no negotiated settlement, but like in WWII it would need to be unconditional surrender of all territory.  I imagine the death toll would be in the tens of thousands on the side of invading forces, and hundreds of thousands on the other side.” He suggests, therefore, it is better to “provide huge military resources to Muslim countries and leaders willing to fight Islamic State – Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and maybe even Iran”. This avoids the appearance of a “crusade”. 

Others on the right have also made strong calls for hardline action – see Mike Yardley’s The world must decapitate Isis and Tim Fookes’ Paris Attacks.

For a more sophisticated – yet also hardline – call from the left, see Josie Pagani’s Four things we can do after Paris.

The Herald is more sympathetic to a bigger military response after the Paris attacks: “Crimes of this kind demand an international response. It is time the civilised world said enough. All countries, including real Islamic states, should join a concerted action to remove this deadly distortion of their religion and the threat it poses to everyday life everywhere” – see: Paris terrorist acts demand joint response

On the issue of domestic state surveillance, the Herald says: “Those who scoff at precautions taken, or question the need for surveillance of individuals whose actions or associations give cause for concern, ought to note what happened in Paris.”

Calls for caution and political solutions

Could increased military intervention make the situation worse? Some commentators say that rushing into action could make ISIS stronger, and may be exactly what the terrorists are wanting. See, for example, Chris Trotter’s Islamic State’s rush to the apocalypse.

France’s quick military response has been endorsed by the Herald today – see: French strikes signal stakes have changed. But the Dominion Post criticises the French President for framing the attacks as an “act of war”, declaring this “an unhelpful way of viewing terrorism” – see: Mass terror returns to Europe. Similarly, see today’s Southland Times editorial, Paris atrocities demand pointy, but not indulgent, reckoning and the Otago Daily Times’ Combating fear, hatred, division.

Probably the strongest caution from within New Zealand comes from the University of Otago’s Robert Patman – see his Herald article, More of the same will not work against ISIS

Patman emphasises that a political solution is required: “Above all, the international struggle against terrorism must address the deeper historical, economic, and political causes that fundamentalist groups like Isis exploit and use for their own purposes.  For one thing, the developed countries must rethink their efforts, in the words of Tahir Abbas, to bring hope to the poor, disenfranchised, marginalised and disaffected people who populate the Middle East.” He also points to two key political solutions: solving the Syrian civil war and establishing a Palestinian state. 

See also Russell Brown’s blog post, Ten Thousand Maniacs. He argues “you can’t bomb hideous ideas out of existence.”

Leftwing reaction

When the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred earlier in the year, there were major differences on the political left about the issue – see my column: Polarised NZ debate about the Paris killings

This time around there is less reluctance on the left to express outright condemnation of the attacks without following up with a “but…” Nonetheless there are still reservations about the mainstream approach to the tragedy. For example, some on the New Zealand left are making anti-imperalism points in explaining the attacks. Blogger No Right Turn says that the ISIS attacks are “because France is bombing them in Iraq and Syria” – see: Paris

He elaborates: “When the citizens of France allowed their government to go to war in Iraq and Syria, they invited retaliation. And over the weekend, they received it. We’ve got used in the west to thinking that war is cost free, that the jets go out and rain down their bombs and its other people’s children who die.” And for similar points, see Martyn Bradbury’s: Post Paris – how do we fight Terrorism?

There has been some consternation over a disproportionate focus on the attacks on Paris, while other atrocities receive less reportage, outrage and grief – see, for example, Steven Cowan’s The barbarism of Paris

Chris Trotter also discusses this, suggesting that the problem leaves “many leftists in a quandary” – see: Responding to Paris: The Left must never abandon love for hate; justice for revenge.

But it’s also worth noting that one of New Zealand’s broadcasters did cover one of the so-called forgotten terrorist attacks – because she was actually there – see Rachel Smalley’s account which begins: “On Friday i was standing on a market street in Burj al-Barajneh in Beirut — it’s the suburb in the south of the city where ISIS had just detonated a series of suicide bombs” – see: The sight and smell of terror

Finally, perhaps it’s time to see the Paris attacks through a less political lens. Ever since the tragedy started unfolding, politicos have taken to social media to make pronouncements and analysis about the events, often in a way that bolsters their own worldview or political agenda. Scott Yorke lampoons this and says, You know exactly what needs to be done

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Dr Bryce Edwards is a political scientist and a lecturer in Politics.

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