Peters warns of Muslim serpents

By Kevin Taylor, Claire Harvey

Moderate Muslim groups are sheltering fundamentalists who may be plotting terror attacks on New Zealand soil, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters claimed yesterday.

In a speech directly linking "open- door immigration policies" to radical Islam, Mr Peters said the country's history of religious tolerance and free speech was threatened by Muslim migrants who "do not share our traditions".

"We cannot take our tradition of toleration for granted when we are importing fanatics for whom that tradition is alien," he said.

"In New Zealand the Muslim community has been quick to show us their more moderate face, but there is a militant underbelly here as well.

"These two groups, the moderate and militant, fit hand and glove.

"Underneath it all the agenda is to promote fundamentalist Islam - indeed these groups are like the mythical Hydra, a serpent underbelly with multiple heads, capable of striking at any time and in any direction," Mr Peters said.

His strident address, titled End of Tolerance, to Grey Power in Kaitaia drew applause and choruses of approval from his audience of 120.

Mr Peters has written to the leaders of local Islamic groups demanding they name any "radicals, troublemakers and potential dangers to our society".

"It will not be the police or intelligence services which break these plotting webs, but the communities themselves," he said.

"Such pockets of discontent are what led to the London and other bombings - and it now seems they are here, and nothing is in place to monitor these types of activities."

"You don't allow preachers of anthems of hate and violence into the country to pervert minds."

Radical Islamists - including suicide bombers and talkback callers to Islamic radio programmes - were anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti-gay, he said.

All immigrants should be required to speak English and express willingness to adopt the "fundamental New Zealand values of freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion".

He described radical Islam as "a truly awful brand of intolerance. In many parts of the world the Christian faith is under direct threat from radical Islam, and that threat is taking an extreme form - like death.

"Do we want that sort of prejudice in New Zealand?" he asked.

A chorus of "No," and "it's our country" echoed from the audience.

"I go along with what he said, I think that's all quite right," said retiree Gary Bartlett, although he did not think there were any Muslims in Kaitaia.

Retiree Dot Wild of Kaitaia echoed those thoughts: "I quite agree. We're getting too many indifferent immigrants coming into our country, we don't want them."

Prime Minister Helen Clark said terrorism was "a worldwide phenomenon" and New Zealand could not guarantee it was insulated from attacks.

"The current phase [of terrorism] is coming out of Islamic extremism, which gives the Muslim religion a taint which it does not deserve because most of its people are peace loving, law abiding people like people everywhere," Helen Clark said.

Last night Javed Khan, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand said Mr Peters comments were "totally politically motivated".

"Previously it was racially based, Asian bashing, and now you have Islamic bashing. He recognises a niche issue to sympathise with his supporters.'

 

Mr Khan said the Muslim community had been vigilant in monitoring its members.

"We have already advised leaders to keep a close eye on people and see if anyone is acting suspiciously.

"If that is the case, our intention has always been to report the matter to the authorities."

Mr Peters cited claims by Auckland University student Shahin Soltanian that Muslim groups promoting violence had sent representatives to New Zealand who were well received.

But Mr Khan said Mr Soltanian's claims were the result of a disgruntled student who "has an axe to grind with his former university colleagues".

Mr Soltanian last night disagreed with Mr Peters that there was a militant underbelly in the Muslim community, but said there were followers of doctrines that incite violence at the Auckland University Islamic Society, a claim rubbished by its president Ryan Mahmoud.

additional reporting: Derek Cheng

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