Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Character assassination

Since releasing Ali Panah yesterday, Minister of Immigration David Cunliffe has embarked on a systematic campaign of character assassination, hinting darkly whenever interviewed that there is something bad in Panah's past but then retreating under cover of the Immigration Act and saying that he is legally forbidden from discussing the details of a particular case. However, while Cunliffe is so bound, the media aren't, and details of Panah's appeals before the RSAA have been openly discussed in the Herald, on Radio New Zealand, and in a piece in Salient yesterday. The long and the short of it is that the RSAA believed that Panah's conversion in South Korea was not genuine, and that (as a result of this finding) his subsequent religious activity in New Zealand were "calculated for the sole purpose of advancing his refugee claim".

This may help the Minister feel morally superior, but it's quite irrelevant. Even if we accept the RSAA's original findings (and I'm not sure that we should), what matters in assessing the danger Ali Panah faces if returned to Iran is not his religious beliefs then, but his religious beliefs now. And on this, the evidence is quite clear: Panah is a committed Christian. His friends think so, his church thinks so, the Archbishop of New Zealand thinks so. He talks about his god, goes to church (which is more than most New Zealand Christians ever do), and tries to convert people. If this evidence was described to us about any other person, we'd have no trouble saying that "yes, they're a Christian". But because Panah is a refugee claimant, he must be just "making it up". There's a word for that attitude, and it is "racism".