Thursday, August 26, 2004

We don't need your "civil war"

So, Professor Margaret Mutu makes some stupid remarks about warnings of "civil war" over the foreshore and seabed bill "not being hyperbole", and the far north being wracked by "the sorts of things... that happen in Palestine and Israel", and the right is frothing about it. National's Wayne Mapp immediately brayed "treason!", while ACT has seemingly joined them in calling for Professor Mutu to be fired from her position at the University of Auckland. This is a telling reminder of the ugly authoritarian attitude towards political dissent underlying National and ACT's brand of "freedom" (for wealthy supporters of the status quo only), and frankly paying Mutu far more attention than she deserves. As David Farrar said,

It is rather sad that a so called academic has so little substance in their submission, they have to rely on threats instead of rational persuasion.

The thing is, in the long term, Mutu is right. If we cannot live together with mutual respect for one another, and if one side continually uses its political advantage to reinforce its own privilege while seeking to reinforce the inequalities produced by disposession, then there is no option but to return to the Hobbesean war of all against all. But even with the current dispute over the foreshore, we're a long, long way from that. It is to the great credit of Maori that despite all that was done to them, they have consistently eschewed such tactics, instead preferring a strategy of tireless, patient advocacy. They have argued their cases before the courts, the Waitangi Tribunal, Parliament, and even the monarch, often over the course of decades and in the face of conscious foot-dragging by successive governments (one case took fourteen years for a single reserved decision to be released - during which many of the original claimants had died). That's far more patience than most societies get, and far more than I think we have any right to expect.

Fortunately, the tide is flowing very much against Mutu and those threatening violence. While it may not look that way, the process of settling historical Treaty claims is well on the way to completion; talk of ten of fifteen years is almost certainly an overestimate, and one informed person I've talked to expects it to all be wrapped up by the end of the decade. Absent that source of historical grievance (which will disappear if the truth is told and the settlements are just), there's not nearly as much to fight over.