Society is made up of lots of different family units: some are close and strong, others disjointed and alienated. My father once naïvely attempted to heal a long standing family rift by getting parties who had not spoken to each other for years together to talk, hopefully forgive and let bygones be bygones.
Airing their differences on neutral ground did not work: It simply cemented the opposing positions, despite no one recollecting the original incident inspiring a decades long grudge!
At this week’s public meeting to discuss Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism, Muslim and Jewish grievances were aired and the room was instantly polarised on a much grander scale than my father’s modest peacemaking attempt. Instead of misconceptions being cleared up, the Jewish-Muslim divide was exacerbated.
Muslims have a genuine concern about another Christchurch massacre on their minds, while the Jewish contingent’s awareness of long-standing, at times violent anti-Semitism, along with the government’s disinterest in addressing it, preyed on their minds.
NZ Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses told the crowd that leaders need to be consistent about condemning terrorism. Moses had every right to be critical of the government’s lukewarm response to the latest Gaza-Israel war. It took a week before the PM commented publicly, and when she did so, it was low key and without attaching blame to the instigators.
Likewise the tweeted response from the Minister of Foreign Affairs was slow, clumsy and so useless as to be totally ignored.
Neither Ardern or Mahuta publicly identified the instigators, giving the Jewish Council of NZ justification for anger at governmental hesitancy to represent Jewish interests. As an invited speaker, Juliet Moses took the opportunity to air a grievance and suggest a solution.
“We need to hear leaders condemn all support for terrorism and all terrorism equally whatever the source, target, and circumstances, and even when it is not politically expedient to do so.
“Hezbollah and Hamas, their military wings are proscribed terror organisations in New Zealand but we saw a rally in support of Hezbollah on Queen St in 2018.”RNZ
People not of a mind to listen to Moses interrupted her speech with cries of “Free Palestine”. Seemingly unaware of Palestinian history or politics, they mistook Moses’ criticism of Gaza’s terrorist leaders as broad criticism of every Palestinian.
The “Free Palestine” outcry was followed by a mass walkout of Muslim delegates. My dad, if he were still around, could have told the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) to abandon their meeting which was doomed from the outset.
Not only is the DPMC conflicted, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman lied, claiming the meeting was arranged for the benefit of NZ Muslims and that the anti-hate conference was “triggered by Islamophobic murder.” Ghahraman is not a politician to waste the opportunity of stirring up Jewish-Muslim discord.
Moses was perfectly justified to hold Hamas and Hezbollah to account for the historical murders of Palestinian and Jewish children because she was not just discussing the latest Gaza-Israeli conflict where Hezbollah ostensibly watched from the sidelines.
Ghahraman claimed that Moses accused Palestinian sympathisers of condoning murdering children when she slyly lumped the ordinary Palestinians in with the terrorist murderers Hamas and Hezbollah; and some at the meeting probably also took her twisted view.
“They are us” was a popular political slogan that sped around the world, anointing Ardern as the great healer of the nation after a monumental tragedy. But Ardern fails to live up the slogan she created; falling at the very first hurdle, which was the inaugural meeting, because participants seeking to counter terrorism predictably gravitated into opposing groups with some in one group leaving the building.
“They are us” is group think on steroids, doomed to fail.
Social psychologist Irving Janis claims “group think is accompanied by a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgments” as a result of group pressures towards conformity and unanimity. That may be true, but to me the biggest downside of groupthink is the rise of counter groups to clash with those they disagree with. Those clashes can very quickly turn violent, as has happened in the US.
The path to unity is to regard people as individuals. Individual responsibility is how democracy started, and it’s the place to which we need to return. In our daily interactions, we can refuse to assign people to particular groups and instead treat them as individuals. Multiply this attitude and we remove the power of groupthink from society. If we don’t disregard collectivism, more discord and violence is guaranteed.
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