Monday, December 08, 2008

Swearing in Samoan II

Labour MP Su'a William Sio's request to be sworn in in Samoan has brought out the worst in the kiwi blogosphere. Over on KKKblog, DPF panders to his redneck audience, while on Tumeke it also brings out Tim Selwyn's racist streak. While both would disagree violently about the exact definition, both are clear in viewing Sio's request as a threat to New Zealand's (and more importantly, their) national identity, which they view in exclusivist terms. But I just can't see it that way.

New Zealand is a diverse nation, encompassing many cultures [PDF]. Not just Maori and Pakeha, but also Samoan, Chinese, Indian, Cook Islanders, and Tongans (to name the top few). And all of those cultures are compatible with being a New Zealander. To the people like DPF or Tim Selwyn or Chris Trotter, who view identity in exclusivist terms, and claim that you must be Samoan or a New Zealander, Maori or a New Zealander (but curiously never "you can be Irish or a New Zealander, Scots or a New Zealander"), I say "no, you can be both". And that's a fact proven every day by New Zealanders all over the world.

Allowing people to use their preferred language in something like a swearing in ceremony is an important way of recognising this. It sends a clear message on what sort of country we are: a tolerant, inclusive, liberal democracy where everyone can belong. It also sends a clear message to the constituents of MP's like Sio: "you belong". Refusing it sends an equally clear message: "you don't". Tim and DPF might want to send that message. I don't.