Opinion: Royal Commission must be an inquiry, not an inquisition

Source: Massey University

The Prime Minister’s announcement of a Royal Commission into the Christchurch terror attack was inevitable. The country needs to know why this attack was able to be planned, and carried out to such dreadful effect.  

There are questions about how the accused gunman’s manifesto could be compiled – its length attesting to the time taken to distil and articulate it all in writing. How did the gunman effectively radicalise himself? Why did nobody notice anything sufficiently amiss with this individual to raise concerns? These are all valid questions that an inquiry needs to consider.

However, it needs to be an inquiry, not an inquisition. To be genuinely useful, the inquiry must create an environment in which those with the knowledge of current processes, decisions and resources are free to discuss it all.  If there are gaps, they need to be found and addressed – not hidden by individuals trying to avoid liability.

The inquiry needs to be broader than it is. Before 15 March, most New Zealanders assumed there would never be a terrorist threat here. Warnings or fears expressed were commonly dismissed as paranoia. New Zealanders did not care about preparing for terrorism, and politicians did not either. 

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain terror watch-lists. These work well and in multiple countries have identified problem individuals, and intercepted them well ahead of them ever doing anything violent. The success of these preventative efforts is difficult to define, because in preventing a violent outcome, the evidence there was ever going to be any such outcome is eliminated.  

Watch-lists are a collation of individual names of people who may pose a risk because they have said, or done something to raise suspicion.  If evidence is found it will usually lead to increased surveillance and in many countries attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted this way. New Zealand has also prosecuted a small number of people for engaging with extremist material. Who will ever know if these prosecutions actually ever stopped anything? 

But watch-lists do not always work.  In August 2018, a Sydney student was arrested in possession of what appeared to be plans to undertake a terrorist attack. Subsequent investigation revealed he had been framed. Omar Mateen, who committed the Orlando shootings in June 2016, had twice been on the FBI’s watch-list, and twice removed from it. He exhibited no sign of sinister or hostile intent – and the FBI dismissed him as a threat possibility.  His attack, when it came, killed 49 people. If the Christchurch offender had been on a watch-list, it does not necessarily mean anything would have been any different.  

The problem with watch-lists is that they are composed of every person identified as potentially posing some threat – even though the vast majority of those listed never commit any violent offence. Working through such a list is not like finding a needle in a hay-stack, it’s like finding a needle in a needle-stack.  The Christchurch offender looked like you or me, lived or travelled in several countries, and did not raise any suspicion in any of them.  

Isolated, aloof, and ruthless, lone actors are very difficult to find – especially if it is only in their twisted minds that their true intent is known. That is probably why law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Australia and New Zealand missed him.

The inquiry should address the Arms Act – the subject of criticism and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 2017.  Our Parliamentarians did not recognise the possession of military style semi-automatic weapons as a risk that needed mitigation. Had they done so, the Christchurch attack may still have occurred but the toll could have been much less.  

New Zealand’s terrorism legislation has languished – its cumbersome definition of terrorism, as well as its incoherence and impracticality, have rendered it useless. Any changes in the resourcing or powers of intelligence agencies have been reluctantly made, and only then amid protest from various groups opposing intrusion into our civil rights. All of this fed into the decisions about the resourcing of the intelligence and law enforcement coal-face. 

It will be of no value to attribute blame for gaps or poor decisions without understanding the social and political context, legislative and fiscal constraints that such decisions were taken in. The inquiry must recognise that the Christchurch attack was as much about our general complacency as it was about decisions taken by agencies on the watch for those who intend do us harm.

Dr John Battersby is a Teaching Fellow in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University and a specialist on terrorism and counter-terrorism.


Opinion: Protecting religious diversity in NZ after Christchurch

Source: Massey University

On Friday night, the Prime Minister Jacinda Arden argued that the very reason that our nation was targeted by a terrorist event was because of its diversity. She noted that New Zealand has “200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and amongst that diversity we share common values.” 

The language focused solely on ethnic diversity and did not mention religion or religious diversity. This follows a general trend occurring across the country where religious diversity has been collapsed into broader discussions of bi-culturalism, ethnic diversity and superdiversity. 

Across New Zealand universities, the study of religion has rapidly fallen into decline. This may be evidence of the decline of the humanities, or perhaps it is an assumption that secularization and the belief that religion is receding in importance becoming a dominant paradigm within our universities and views of New Zealand community? Regardless, the result has been that our university’s lack the expertise to talk to the New Zealand state and citizenry about the contemporary challenges occurring around religious diversity. My argument is that this lack of emphasis on religion is highly problematic for understanding social cohesion and healing after Christchurch. The critical study of the historical, cultural and philosophical dimensions of religions – in schools and universities – counters ignorance and helps to foster tolerance and understanding.

My longitudinal research has clearly showed over the last 50 years, that while Christian belief has generally been in decline, the diversity of religious belief has multiplied across New Zealand. Buddhist and Muslim communities have become significant features of our religious landscape and in our cities. These religious communities draw membership from a broad variety of ethnic groups drawn from across South East Asia and the Middle East. Social cohesion and interfaith dialogue across our religious groups does occur but it receives little attention. 

Data from my 2008 research still underpins the New Zealand Government’s Statement of religious diversity released in 2009. The Statement’s data has not been updated for almost 15 years. The statement of religious diversity acknowledges our nations’ religious diversity and it offers a commitment to New Zealanders, of whatever faith or ethical belief, to feel free to practice their beliefs in peace and within the law and to respect the right of others to do the same. 

Crucially, the Statement does not set out to manage religious diversity, which is what we see occurring across Europe. It assumes that our communities will live in relative harmony and any minor incidents of disharmony will be addressed through a negotiation of human rights, religious law and cultural tradition.This leads me to ask the questions, have we become complacent about our diversity?Should we reconsider the notion that the academic study of religion was a 19th and 20th century phenomenon?

In the Christchurch attack, the unifying target was religion rather than ethnicity. Islamic belief is practiced across ethnic groups and it was this belief of a broad Muslim community that was attacked. This was a far-right terror attack of hate against a religious community that was also tied into broader issues of immigration and racism. 

Last weekend, I spent two funerary days in the local Cambodian Theravada Buddhist monastery in Wellington. Across New Zealand there are religious communities who are very similar to those in Christchurch and they are very concerned about the consequences for them. Across New Zealand, these multi-cultural and religiously diverse communities will be looking to the state for reassurance and protection of their safety and participation in civil society.

Proactive approach needed to ensure religious diversity is safe

Dangerously, the Christchurch attack has two consequences for thinking about religious diversity and the relationships between religious communities and the state. Firstly, State management of religion targets a religious group that represents a set of vulnerable New Zealanders and who have carefully managed their community to not fall prey to Islamic extremism. Secondly, it sets in place a responsibility for the government to consider whether it needs to set in place structures to manage religious diversity more explicitly. If this is the case, New Zealand’s relatively laissez faireapproach of the Statement of Religious Diversity and a lack of sociological focus on religion will no longer be sufficient. 

When it comes to State management of religion, across Europe we have seen that a lack of careful understanding of religious belief and practice has led to all sorts of problems around isolation, exclusion. This has led to a variety of social challenges and the risk of radicalization –all of which might lead to future forms of social tension and violence.

Vital for healing after Christchurch will be a careful engagement with experience of managing religious diversity. It will be necessary to think about social mechanisms of reconciling religious communities to the broader society. Goodwill will need to be fostered in our streets and suburbs. 

All of our nation’s vibrant population need to feel safe. Our Government will need to be sensitive and nuanced in this religious space. Particularly, our security agencies who will be tasked with increased prevention and surveillance responsibilities after this attack. Inevitably, these agencies will be at the forefront of managing this situation, which is inherently dangerous because it securitizes the management of religion. 

A key question will be, after the decline of the study of religion in New Zealand, how will we develop a sensitive and informed discussion and language of religious diversity where increased state management and community cohesion can function together to renew our nation as a safe and harmonious place that accepts all people no matter what they belief?

Dr William Hoverd is a Senior Lecturer at the Massey University Centre for Defence and Security Studies. A sociologist of religion by training, he is an expert in religious diversity and New Zealand national security.


Opinion: Why I support the school strike for climate

Source: Massey University

Creative activism expert Associate Professor Elspeth Tilley says school students are engaging in citizenship by marching for action on climate change.

There are amazing teachers working within our schooling system to promote critical and creative learning – but in the main, our secondary schooling system is still oriented to what is known as ‘reproductive education’. That is, success is predominantly measured by whether students can reproduce what we already know.

The problem is that following what we already know is what got us in this mess. What we need is to encourage a combination of reproductive education (so we can learn from the mistakes of the past) with critical and creative education. That means encouraging young people to ask questions, unlearn assumptions, challenge norms, take creative risks, have experiences outside the classroom and traditional curriculum, learn how to organise, collaborate, communicate, make new networks and connections, and develop skills to imagine and represent novel positions and scenarios. 

The young people taking part in this Friday’s school strike to march against climate change are doing just that – essentially, they are on a field trip in applied critical thinking and citizenship studies. This is how democracy works – if we want our young people to be engaged citizens, then we need to support and encourage their engagement with their citizenship.  

There is a mounting body of research evidence showing that unexpected and novel solutions are essential to make real social, political, environmental and economic change to our current trajectory – that is, solutions that use creativity and the imagination to envisage a completely different way of doing things.  An extensive body of research literature called ‘standpoint theory’ has shown that those who are least ingrained in a system are typically able to best imagine how to do things differently, and furthermore that those who are most disadvantaged by a system are best able to picture how to improve it, because they don’t have a vested interest in maintaining it. 

Loaded legacy the future for youth?

Young people as a global group are deeply disadvantaged by our current planetary systems. They are inheriting the legacy of toxicity, ecosystem collapse, disasters, inequality, famine and food wars that my generation will leave behind when we are dead.  They will live with it far longer than us, with the worst yet to come.  According to standpoint theory, young people are more likely than us to act selflessly and ingeniously in solving what seem daunting and intractable issues. We should be listening to, and facilitating their ideas into real channels of action and influence, not trying to silence them. Young people are a resource. They can help us win against climate change.

My experiences with young people, both over a 20-year career as a university educator and running the Create1World youth creative activism and global citizenship conference, now in its fourth year, consistently show that young people are other-focussed, innovative thinkers who dare to imagine a better world, are committed to values of inclusivity and social justice, and are willing to work hard to make the world a better place.  

And yet they have no traction for that energy, insight and courage. They cannot vote: all they have is their voice. If we silence even that – as some are doing by disparaging the march – we are utterly disempowering them.  Disempowerment is the last thing they (and we) need right now.  

Need for hope in times of fear and despair

A report by UNICEF released in 2017 showed New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. Right now, a sense of hope is crucial – while depression and mental health problems are complex, the overwhelming scope and scale of climate change contributes to a sense of powerlessness. As a young person participating in Create1World 2016 said: “The fact that older people are deciding for us how our world is going to be and we’re the ones who have to deal with the consequences, doesn’t seem very fair.”

Witnessing young people seize their right to be angry about what has been done to their future, and voicing that anger, is a sign of hope. It gives me optimism for the future in a way that none of the slow-grinding bickering of politicians is doing.  

The pace of change is not fast enough – the planet is warming faster than we are changing our ways. This is why I unreservedly support the school strike. Young people are modelling the moral imperative: do more, and do it now.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their courage and their clarity. 

Elspeth Tilley is an associate professor in Expressive Arts at Massey University’s School of English and Media Studies in Wellington, an internationally award-winning playwright of theatre about climate change, and organiser of the youth event, Create1World.


Designs on China thanks to PM Asia scholarship

Source: Massey University

Visual Communication Design student Sophie Douglas (second from left) with Massey and AUT students in Hong Kong.

Internships with companies in Mainland China’s massive fashion and clothing industry have given Massey University design students some fascinating insights into cultural aspects of the business, thanks to a Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia.

Four students from the College of Creative Arts in Wellington were part of a group of nine New Zealand design students to spend four weeks in Hong Kong and China in January. They visited design education faculties in Hong Kong before travelling to Guangzhou, (Mainland China), where they observed at close range the workings of the ‘Made in China’ clothing phenomenon.

The trip was funded through a successful joint application for the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia last year by internship company, Eden Travel International (ETI) in partnership with Massey University and AUT, to support students to complete a four-week Design Internship Programme.

Massey Visual Communication Design student Sophie Douglas says the scholarship; “opened my eyes to just how different it can be to work outside of New Zealand. I had to learn new customs, some of which were completely opposite to those I knew. 

“I was able to gain an in-depth understanding of Chinese culture and what differentiates it with New Zealand culture,” she says.

While spending time at the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Sophie was impressed by its PolyU SDWorks – a platform assisting students to launch their ideas into the real world, understanding optimization, issues with manufacturing companies and customers’ feedback, and giving them the opportunity to turn their projects into commercial products.

The PMSA students enjoying a taste of Hong Kong

Internships open doors to Asian market

Among noticeable differences with home was the presence of camping mattresses set up on the floor of the classrooms (in Hong Kong) for students to sleep when they worked through the night. “I realised later that this was reflective of the work ethic and culture in Hong Kong and China. Of course, we are sometimes working through the night, but it is always discouraged by our lecturers,” she says.

China was, she says; “a bit of a culture shock arriving and trying to navigate the station in Guangzhou with nobody speaking English.

“I believe that the most effective way to learn about the culture is to be immersed in it, and that’s what we have done,” says Sophie, who did an internship with Fotorama. She hopes this new understanding will help to open doors to work more easily in Asia in the future, adding that the experience has helped her “grow, both as a person and as a designer, more than I thought possible in such a short amount of time.”

Design and fashion students taking part in the PMSA experiencing Chinese traditional dress styles.

Mixing with the locals a key to cultural knowledge

Fynn Stevens, a fashion design student, recalls her early morning walk to an internship placement at CT (China Textile) Traders in Guangzhou. “I wanted to see the morning patterns of the people living around me. I ate locally, saw and followed trends, followed crowds, learnt what I could of the language, learnt cultural traditions as they came, asked many, many questions. 

“Locals took interest in my desire to learn more about their ways of life – they were happy to help, to translate for me, to make do with my gestures and sign language when language wasn’t an option,” she says. “I learnt about the people by observing and listening.”  

During her internship, Fynn had the chance to sit in on several meetings with a New Zealand start-up brand as they planned their first clothing launch, marketing strategies, range planning, campaign shoot, fabric sampling, and price pointing.

She says his experience in China; “definitely developed me as a global citizen. I saw I lived on a globe with many others. I saw that there are more ways of life than my own. I felt small, and yet a part of something much larger than I can imagine.” 

AUT design student Caitlin Hogan says her immersion experience in Hong Kong helped her to appreciate and understand differences “much more than just being a tourist.”

It was also “eye-opening in terms of how different cultures work, learn, live and play” – something she feels is important to realise as a designer. “Over our working lives we will be exposed to many people from different backgrounds and with the help of technology we’ll likely be working on global projects.” 

The impetus for the trip was for the students to be exposed to an international working environment as part of the Massey University Global Citizen programme, which provides a platform for international opportunities, says Craig Lyons, a Senior Advisor, Student Mobility, International Relations Office.

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Beijing trip boosts fluency for Chinese learners

Source: Massey University

Massey Chinese language students in Beijing visiting the Summer Palace

A six-week study trip to China funded by a Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia (PMSA) has given 15 Massey students a deeper appreciation that learning Mandarin is a ticket to greater cultural understanding and job opportunities in the future.

Several in the group, including a lawyer, a photographer and a finance banker, have shared their personal experiences in a video. All agree their Chinese language skills improved markedly through the immersion experience involving language classes at the prestigious Peking University (PKU), as well as field trips, cultural excursions and meeting locals during the trip last November to December.

Bachelor of Arts student Haluk Gokcen, who is majoring in Chinese, and also studying Spanish and French to fulfil his dream to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, says when he arrived in Beijing he could “hardly hold a conversation. Now, I can write text messages and speak to locals without having to use a translation app.” 

Kate Parkinson, who works in finance banking for a major bank following her Bachelor of Business Studies at Massey’s School of Business and is now completing a Graduate Diploma in Arts majoring in Chinese, says the scholarship trip “really helped to grow my confidence in using the language and understanding the social norms.”

Ukraine-born New Zealander Victoria Kirichuk, who speaks four other languages, says that as well as benefiting her Chinese language ability through the immersive experience, the trip gave her the chance to “get to know the real China.” She says the scholarship encourages people wanting to invest time in language learning and cultural engagement, so they can bring that knowledge back to New Zealand to their own communities; “and become bridge-builders between China and New Zealand.”

The scholarship, worth $112k, was awarded to the School of Humanities’ Chinese language programme, led by Dr Michael Li at the Auckland campus. He accompanied the group of mostly distance students, including some part-time students enrolled in a Humanities 200-level Special Topics course, themed around language, culture and industrial experience to count as an elective credit towards their degree study.

Massey Chinese language students (from left) Llorne Howell, Tim Cammell, Dillon Anderson and Kate Parkinson visiting the Great Wall of China.

Cultural and language exchange bodes well for future

Dr Li says there is a need for more New Zealanders to communicate and understand China in a cultural context due to the growth in trade and business connections between the two countries. “Stronger cultural, language and linguistic ties – ties that sow the seeds for long-term trade and collaborative opportunities between New Zealanders and Chinese – need to be established through language and cultural exchange and business experiences,” Dr Li says. 

Massey’s Bridging NZ and China by language learning and business experiences scholarship application provided such opportunities for New Zealand students to engage with China, he says. “For any New Zealander wishing to undertake business and cultural activities, the acquisition of Chinese Mandarin will be vital to their success. At a time when the study of languages across the university sector is in decline, Massey University sees the Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia programme as integral in highlighting Chinese language acquisition in New Zealand.”

The students’ programme included classes in the School of Chinese as a Second Language at Peking University, as well as cultural activities and field trips to the Great Wall of China, a tour of the Forbidden City and Olympic Centre in Beijing, Tiananmen Square, the Summer and Winter Palaces, as well as visits to Chinese dairy group Sanyuan Dairy factory and China Hi-Tech Group, which is involved in the provision of educational technology.

Associate Professor Kerry Taylor, head of the School of Humanities, says that for many decades, Massey has recognised the importance of establishing academic and commercial partnerships with key countries in Asia, particularly in the Agriculture and Environment area. In the last few years, the Institute of Agriculture and Environment of Massey has established collaborative relations with two Chinese universities – Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanzhou University in Western China – through the New Zealand-China Tripartite Fund. In 2015, a humanities perspective was added. 

“Since that link in 2015 the School of Humanities has taken a leading role in the Massey engagement with China,” he says. “We’ve established a Joint Research Centre with Beijing Language and Culture University. This involves a major ongoing research project on Chinese language teaching mediated through technology, led by Professor Cynthia White and co-hosting a major annual conference in China on Chinese as a second language.”

The School of Humanities has also taken up a three-year commitment to teach a New Zealand history and culture paper at Peking University, and has engaged actively with its New Zealand Centre. In addition, the School has hosted two visiting Peking University professors, while three Massey staff have taken up research fellowships at Peking University. 

“The PMSA group is another important element on growing mutually beneficial links between New Zealand and China, and part of our ongoing engagement with PKU, which is generally regarded as the top university in China,” Dr Taylor says.

New Zealand statistics indicate that the trade with China has nearly tripled over the past decade, with two-way trade rising from $8.2b in the year ended June 2007 to $23b by June 2016. Annual exports to China have quadrupled while annual imports from China have doubled since June 2007.  

To find out more about studying Chinese language: https://bit.ly/2S8Z9Rn

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