Holmes' strange ally
Enraged by the protesters who disrupted John Key's visit to Te Tii marae on Waitangi Day, Paul Holmes used his column in last Saturday's New Zealand Herald to condemn Maori as 'hateful', 'greedy', and 'neurotic' people who live on the dole, beat up their kids, and in their spare time think up new ways to 'bamboozle' hard-working white folk into giving them money. Holmes called for the abolition of the Treaty of Waitangi, and suggested that white New Zealanders should shun Maori until they change their ways.
Holmes' Waitangi Day column is only the latest in a series of attacks he has made on people with the wrong skin colour. In 2003 he won international attention after characterising Kofi Annan as 'a cheeky darkie'. Annan had disagreed with George Bush's invasion of Iraq, but Holmes insisted that, as a mere African, the Secretary General of the United Nations had no right to try to argue with a white man. In 2004 Holmes attacked the tens of thousands of Maori marching against Labour's Seabed and Foreshore Bill as 'losers' and 'bludgers' who had no right to participate in the political process.
I might have decided to treat it as a joke, but Holmes' text has made many Maori very angry. Complaints have flowed in to the Race Relations Conciliator, discussion forums at Maori websites are full of criticism of Holmes, and a protest is being organised against the New Zealand Herald. Political commentator Morgan Godfery spoke for many Pakeha as well as Maori when he called Paul Holmes 'morally repugnant and deeply racist'.
But Paul Holmes has had one unexpected defender - the left-wing political scientist and commentator Bryce Edwards.
Near the beginning of his summary of the Holmes controversy for Monday's New Zealand Herald, Edwards seems to concede that the veteran journalist's column was racist. Edwards notes that Holmes 'paints all Maori with the same brush' when he characterises them as hateful, greedy child abusers.
Instead of endorsing Morgan Godfery's calls for protests, though, Edwards claims that Holmes has raised 'important points', and is expressing a 'legitimate perspective'. Rather than condemn Holmes, Edwards chides the man's critics, suggesting that they want to 'clamp down' on 'debate about ethnicity and politics'.
Edwards argues that other prominent commentators have expressed 'similar views' to Holmes, and in support of this assertion he cites columns about Waitangi Day by the Dominion Post's Sean Plunket and the Herald's John Roughan.
But while Roughan and Plunket are both hostile to the protesters who gathered at Te Tii marae on Waitangi Day, their columns express views of Maori and of the Treaty qualitatively different from those of Holmes. Where Holmes calls for the abrogation of the Treaty of Waitangi, John Roughan expresses his 'love' for the document and for the day that commemorates its signing. He contests the interpretation of the Treaty put forward by Waitangi Day protesters like Hone Harawira, but not the Treaty itself.
In his column, Sean Plunket contrasts the confrontations between police and protesters at Te Tii marae with the goodwill between races which he found at Wellington's Lyall Bay on Waitangi Day. Where Paul Holmes presents Maori hatred and greed as a dire threat to race relations in New Zealand, Plunket asserts that, away from the hot spot of Te Tii, Maori and Pakeha get along very well.
To link Plunket and Roughan's columns with Holmes' rant is to confuse rational conservatism with demented racism.
The real parallels with Holmes' column can be found on the discussion threads of right-wing New Zealand blogs, where commenters have echoed his view of Maori as a depraved and dangerous people, and called for a race war in New Zealand.
At David Farrar's Kiwiblog, for instance, a regular commenter who uses the name Johnboy said that whites should 'burn the bloody treaty' and start 'a holy war' against the 'dark forces' of Maoridom. Another Kiwiblog commenter, who calls himself Griff, called for the mass hanging of Maori. Comments like these can be found amongst Holmes' supporters at many other blogs, and in the lengthy discussion thread under Holmes' column at the New Zealand Herald's website. Bryce Edwards ought to be able to understand that a rational debate about New Zealand history and race relations cannot grow from Holmes' bigoted outbursts, any more than flowers can grow out of stone.
[posted by Maps/Scott]