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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Hone's sideshow ignores the brutal truth

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Hone Harawira. Photo / Chris Loufte
Hone Harawira. Photo / Chris Loufte

The ending was as satisfying as that of a good thriller - after years on the run, the evil genius is tracked to his secret lair and dispatched with righteous ruthlessness.

But hang on a minute. Perhaps we got this all wrong. Maybe Osama bin Laden wasn't a mass murderer driven by deranged ambition and a pathological hatred of anyone who didn't embrace his nightmarish vision. Maybe he was a freedom fighter.

That's what Hone Harawira reckoned - for 24 hours anyway. He then distanced himself from himself.

Harawira told Maori Television that bin Laden "fought for the rights, the land and the freedom of his people."

He was supported by Professor Ranginui Walker, fresh from trying to impose Maori protocol on TV cooking shows, who likened bin Laden to the 19th century Maori prophet Te Kooti Rikirangi.

So which land would that be? After being expelled from his native Saudi Arabia in 1992, bin Laden meddled in countries from Chechnya to East Timor, invariably at a terrible cost to their citizens.

In Iraq, for instance, many thousands of Shiite Muslims were murdered by al-Qaeda, the organisation he created in his own image. So extravagant was the slaughter that in the end even the Sunni militias couldn't stomach it any longer and turned against him.

In making his political, territorial and ideological claims, bin Laden wasn't constrained by history any more than by geography.

A key aim was the restoration of the Caliphate, the unified, imperial Islamic federation which was formally wound up with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, but which had ceased to exercise real power centuries earlier.

Although the Caliphate's shifting boundaries extended as far north as Crimea and as far south as India, Spain was a jewel in the crown.

Bin Laden singled out Spaniards as particularly worthwhile targets because of what he called "the tragedy of Andalusia," the overthrow of the Muslim kingdom of Granada which ended Moorish rule in Spain. This took place in 1492.

And who are these people whose rights and freedoms mattered so much to bin Laden? They certainly didn't include women or gays because in his scheme of things they don't have any rights or freedoms.

When his allies and soul-mates the Taleban gained control of Afghanistan, violent misogyny was enshrined as state policy. Women accused of adultery were stoned to death and those who exposed an ankle were whipped. Even now, in Taleban-controlled areas, women who choose to work run the risk of having their children beheaded.

Last month in Pakistan, where bin Laden appears to have enjoyed a comfortable existence for the past few years despite being the most wanted man on earth, an appeal court acquitted or upheld the acquittals of 13 of the 14 men who gang-raped Mukhtaran Mai in 2002 on the orders of village elders.

Her crime was to be the sister of a youth who'd offended a powerful clan by having an affair with one of "their" women.

According to Harawira, it's Maori custom "to honour and mourn the deceased. So I acknowledge [bin Laden] and bid him farewell."

One wonders whether he went through the same process on behalf of the 2600 who died in the attack on the World Trade Centre, or the hundreds who boarded commercial airliners that day only to find them transformed into missiles.

Or the people who boarded trains in Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005 only to find them transformed into incinerators.

Or the tens of thousands of people around the world whom al-Qaeda has massacred for aspiring to genuine freedom and democracy, rather than bin Laden's medieval brand of theocratic fascism.

Bin Ladenism rejoices in death. Not his own - despite all their talk of martyrdom, he and his lieutenants went to great lengths to avoid it - but those of his followers dispatched on suicide missions and the infidels they sought to kill in great numbers.

In this sense it bears a resemblance to death cults like the Thuggee in India and 20th century totalitarian regimes which applied industrial methods and efficiencies to the task of exterminating minority groups and social classes.

Harawira's retraction indicates that he's well aware bin Ladenism is utterly at odds with the New Zealand mindset, world view and way of life.

Perhaps he started out to make the incontrovertible point that one man's terrorist, no matter how monstrous, is another man's freedom fighter, but couldn't resist the inflammatory flourishes.

Whether his apparent compulsion to be provocative springs from anger, indiscipline or a desire to be the centre of attention, it's a shame because New Zealand needs Maori politicians who aspire to be more than MMP sideshow acts engaging in the political equivalent of fringe theatre.

- NZ Herald

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