Carnival hit by ethnic row over pictures

By Lincoln Tan

Javed Khan, senior vice-president for the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. Photo / The Aucklander
Javed Khan, senior vice-president for the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. Photo / The Aucklander

A government office promoting ethnic diversity has pulled support from a multi-ethnic carnival over pictures it deemed offensive to Muslims - without apparently consulting Islamic groups.

The Office of Ethnic Affairs said "highly inappropriate" pictures on the website of the Auckland International Carnival, including scantily clad Cook Islands and Brazilian dancers, would upset Muslims and called for the office's logo to be removed from promotional material.

The organisers say the order could cost them tens of thousands of dollars.

The carnival, featuring a street parade, food stalls, sheep racing and a carnival after-party, will be at Ellerslie Racecourse this weekend.

The Federation of Islamic Associations said it had not received any complaints from members about the pictures, and was unaware of any consultation with Muslims.

The office had earlier agreed for its logo to be used for the carnival but says it now wants nothing to do with it after being informed that "inappropriate pictures" had been used on the carnival website.

"It has since come to our attention that there are what our stakeholders, particularly those in the Muslim community, may consider to be highly inappropriate pictures on the carnival website. Consequently, OEA has reconsidered our involvement with the event," OEA director Mervin Singham said in a letter to the organisers.

"Therefore we respectfully request that the OEA logo is immediately removed from your website and any promotional material."

OEA acting director Berlinda Chin yesterday said she could not comment but had acted on instructions from Wellington to stop the carnival organisers from using the logo.

Mr Singham was overseas and could not be contacted.

The Islamic federation said the office had appeared to reach its decision without consultation.

Javed Khan, the federation's senior vice-president, said such pictures might be viewed as inappropriate but many Muslims also would respect that the way the dancers were dressed "was part of their culture".

"We have not made any complaints, and I am not aware of any Muslim groups who did," Mr Khan said.

A director of the company behind the festival, Patrick Iwobi, said the organisers were deeply disappointed "that officials at a Government agency, meant to support ethnic people in New Zealand, is hell-bent on destroying the reputation of those who are trying to put together an ethnic event".

Mr Iwobi said the idea of a carnival came about because Auckland lacked an event that brought different cultures together in a party atmosphere.

"We have the Chinese lantern festival, Diwali festival and Pasifika, but it's all separate.

"What our event will do is bring all these people and more together in celebration, where they can parade in their costumes, enjoy the different food and dance to different music."

Carnival organiser Jocelyn Sasa says dealing with the Office of Ethnic Affairs had been "a nightmare", but there was no plan to remove its logo.

"It will cost us $20,000 to replace all the promotional materials. We just don't have that kind of money and the OEA says they will not pay the cost, so their logo stays."

- NZ Herald

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