Fran O'Sullivan: We should expect better of our MPs

Prosser's insults against Islam hurt any hope of rational debate

Richard Prosser will be under scrutiny in Parliament until the next MP condemns the many for the sins of the few. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Richard Prosser will be under scrutiny in Parliament until the next MP condemns the many for the sins of the few. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Investigate publisher Ian Wishart is not going to dump NZ First MP Richard Prosser as a columnist even though most sensible New Zealanders have condemned the gratuitous anti-Muslim burble in his publisher's rag.

The dirty secret is that Prosser has done the one thing that publishers love: drawn attention (and international attention at that) to his organ.

The "episode" has been all across the Huffington Post website, British papers and more.

It might surprise some New Zealanders but the responses have not universally been condemnatory. Even here in New Zealand there have been diverse views in "letters to the editor" sections of daily newspapers and online comments. Prosser has sparked debate.

That's why Wishart is lapping it up. It has put him back in the limelight again enjoying more serious attention ("I wouldn't have said it quite the same way if I had been writing it") than he has had from mainstream media since he stitched up that "ego in white pants" John Tamihere by publishing the secret interview where the then Labour MP called his female colleagues "front-bums".

Frankly, I don't believe Wishart when he starts pontificating about how muzzling columnists is a step on the road to dictatorship.

There is a point where, as the Observer said in relation to Julie Burchill's infamous "transsexuals" column, that freedom of expression means nothing if gratuitous insults mask the very message that is being conveyed.

That is what Prosser is guilty of.

It's what stuffed up the underlying message of the late Paul Holmes' controversial Waitangi Day column - the use of blanket statements instead of introducing some sensible qualifiers so that the essential message gets through without a wave of condemnation.

In reality, there is an underlying issue about the intense security arrangements we must all undergo at airports (grandmothers being "patted down" and so forth).

But the way to deal with this is by better screening before people even get to immigration. Not blaming all Muslims for the small inconveniences of the post-September 11 age.

The upshot is NZ First leader Winston Peters isn't going to throw Prosser out either. Peters is hardly lily white himself when it comes to delivering insults to other ethnicities or religions. He tortured the Asian community for years when it suited him to gain votes.

So Prosser will stay on in Parliament. He will do some time in the snow. Colleagues will cold-shoulder him for a while. The commentariat will analyse him to death.

There it will stay until the next MP decides to make another stupid blanket statement that condemns the many for the sins of the few.

Prosser has been churning out monthly columns for Investigate magazine for years now. He has never missed a chance to try to outrage the politically correct among us, particularly woolly liberals who can at times do your head in with their inability to contemplate or even concede that what is fashionable today, for instance the Prime Minister being snogged by transsexuals at a Big Gay Out, is still offensive to parts of New Zealand.

There is an admittedly small market for Prosser's views.

But bear with me here. The point I am driving at is that while our leading politicians will rush to put down Prosser for his offensive slurs, we do not want to end up with a situation where people who have been brought up before the Diversity Age feel they cannot express a point of view which takes issue with current societal norms.

Take the abortion debate. Many Christians see abortions as killing life. In deeply Catholic Ireland, women still travel to the UK to get abortions. In New Zealand it is accepted as a woman's right to choose.

The choice is one to take that burgeoning life in order to preserve the mother's way of life. It is a rational choice and one that we in this country have fought hard for. But it's understandable that many view the practice as killing life. Because that in essence is exactly what an abortion does.

People are entitled to debate such issues.

Undercurrents over abortion, young women daring to enjoy unmarried sex, and gay marriage will ensure that Conservative leader Colin Craig has a ready constituency to plumb at the 2014 election.

The unease that Prosser has unthinkingly scratched is different.

We have had decades as a society to come to terms with the norms of the prevailing religion of Christianity. To challenge the views of the pulpit when it comes to women's place, gay rights, abortion and more.

We are still coming to terms with modern Islam and precepts that are counter to those of the prevailing culture. Prosser's views do not help that process.

In truth, Prosser is not a star columnist. Nor is he a patch on the conservative Canadian columnist Mark Steyn who Wishart compared Prosser to as he endeavoured to defuse criticism.

He is a Member of Parliament. We should expect better.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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