Hone versus Brash: good argument, bad analogy
When it comes to pseudohistory and pseudoscholarship, I've always tried to be an equal opportunity offender - I managed to wind up a few Greens with my criticism of Jeanette Fitzsimons' Trooferism, and one of Hone's staffers got pretty grumpy about my objections to his use of nineteenth century pseudo-science last year - but I might as well acknowledge, yet again, that the left as well as the right can be guilty of making crude connections between different political ideas, and between different historical situations.
I'm in many ways a supporter of Hone Harawira and his new party, but I think that Hone's recent comparison of Don Brash with Adolf Hitler was as lazy as the comparisons of the Mana Party and Pol Pot on Kiwiblog. During a televised debate with Brash , Harawira told the Act leader that 'When you target Maori, it's very much like Hitler targetting the Jews'.
The debate between Hone and Brash laid bare the very different interpretations of New Zealand history held by the two men. Hone used the debate to argue that the Treaty of Waitangi was intended to guarantee the national self-determination of Maori, and to establish a partnership between Maori and Pakeha. Hone believes that, by waging war on Maori, confiscating large areas of Maori land, and suppressing Maori culture, Pakeha governments have ignored the words about partnership in the Treaty. He wants to establish a bicultural and binational state in New Zealand to turn the Treaty's promise of partnership into reality.
During his debate with Hone, Brash repeatedly insisted that the Treaty was 'not about partnership'. Brash regards the third article of the English version of the Treaty, with its talk about 'Natives of New Zealand' having 'Rights and Privileges of British Subjects', as proof that the document was intended to cede Maori sovereignty to the British Crown, and later to Pakeha governments, and not to establish a partnership between Maori and Pakeha nations.
Brash's interpretation of the Treaty is problematic. He reduces the meaning of the entire document to a single sentence which the vast majority of its Maori signatories would have been unable to read. The Maori version of the Treaty promised the chiefs who signed it 'te tino rangatiratanga', or sovereignty over their lands.
Armed with his reductive and tendentious interpretation of the Treaty, Brash leaps over the entire messy history of New Zealand - the wars of the nineteenth century, the confiscations and repression of Maori culture which followed them, and the long struggle by Maori for justice in the twentieth century - and claims that Maori have no right to think of themselves today as a distinct people, and to demand their own political institutions.
Hone's exasperation at Brash's tendentious reading of the Treaty of Waitangi and refusal to consider the real history of New Zealand is understandable, but his comparison of the Act leader to Hitler can only do the Mana Party harm. Hone's analogy is not only hyperbolic - Brash, for all his sins, is not about to open any concentration camps - but fundamentally inaccurate.
Jews were part of the mainstream of German life in the early twentieth century, but Hitler used rhetoric and later enacted laws which made them into a dangerous 'other' which had to be isolated and ultimately destroyed. Hitler took a socially assimilated cultural minority and pushed them out of German life.
Unlike Germany's Jews, Maori are a national minority, with a history of asserting their national rights and creating their own political institutions. Brash denies the right of Maori to maintain their separate national identity and their separate national institutions. He cynically invokes universalism and democracy when he says that institutions like Maori seats are incompatible with 'equal rights' for other New Zealanders.
Where Hitler hated and wanted to reverse the integration of Jews into German life, Brash, like virtually all mainstream Pakeha politicians fifty or sixty years ago, wants to forcibly assimilate Maori, by making them abandon their own institutions for ones created and dominated by Pakeha. Brash promotes racism, but he does so under the guise of universalism.
In this respect Brash should be compared not to Hitler but to politicians like Pauline Hanson in Australia, who attacks state funding for institutions which represent Aborigines, and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who criticises Israel's Arab minority for asserting its own national identity and creating its own national political institutions.
It is no coincidence that, like Hanson and Lieberman, Brash is hostile to discussion of the colonial history of his country, and the wars of conquest, enclosures, and attempts at forced assimilation which were such features of this history. If he were to acknowledge the colonialist origins of New Zealand, then Brash would have to acknowledge that the state and other leading institutions of present-day New Zealand are not as neutral and just as he claims, but rather the creations of a coloniser nation.
Hone made a just argument against Brash, but chose a bad analogy to illustrate his argument. Just as the right does real political debate a disservice when it tries to conflate the Mana Party with the Khmer Rouge, so Hone damages the cause of the left when he tries to present Act's leader as a neo-Nazi.