Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Prosser: 'I'm apologising unreservedly'

NZ First MP Richard Prosser's bid to make a personal statement in Parliament this afternoon about his inflammatory comments about Muslims has been blocked as calls for his resignation or sacking gathered pace.

Mr Prosser sought to make the statement after apologising "unreservedly" for the comments in which he suggested young Muslim men from "Wogistan" should be banned from flying on Western airlines.

Mr Prosser avoided Parliament yesterday as the controversy over the comments built but was in the debating chamber this afternoon where he sought permission to make a personal statement.

But Mana Party Leader Hone Harawira objected, preventing Mr Prosser from making his statement.

Immediately afterwards the Green Party moved that Parliament affirmed "that all New Zealanders, regardless of their religious faith or ethnicity, should be treated equally before the law and that the rights and dignity of all people, in particular of Muslims should be upheld".

The motion was passed unanimously.

Just before entering the chamber this afternoon, Green Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei said Mr Prosser should be sacked by New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters for the comments.

Prime Minister John Key said that given the comments were clearly pre meditated, he doubted the sincerity of Mr Prosser's apology.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff has also called on Mr Prosser to resign or be sacked.

President of the Federation of Islamist Associations of New Zealand Anwar Ghani said while the federation accepted Mr Prosser's apology and his future in politics was ultimately up to Mr Peters, the NZ First MP should leave Parliament.

Mr Prosser earlier said he was wrong to use terms like "Wogistan" and to call for the flying ban for young Muslim men, comments that have been picked up by media around the world.

He said he'd failed to distinguish between the vast majority of Muslims who were law abiding citizens and the "tiny minority" who were involved in terrorism.

"I realise that's caused offence to those people unjustifiably and unneccesarily and I'm apologising unreservedly to them."

Mr Prosser said rather than calling for young Muslim men to be banned from travelling by air, he should have called for an investigation into the merits of "target profiling".

"The things I've said over the last ten years as a kind of a shock jock with a pen aren't really appropriate for an MP and I can't seperate the man from the role and I'm now having to give serious consideration to whether I continue with that magazine column."
The language and even views behind them were "something that I'm going to have to give up."

Mr Prosser said he was not considering giving up his role as an MP.

"There's a positive way to go forward here and there's a positive way of affecting change and obviously the way I've been doing it istn't appropriate any more. The way to go forward going in politics is to get dialogue going is to look for positive solutions and to then call for change in a positive way not to rant as I have done in the past. I've made some mistakes about not realising that."

Mr Prosser said there was language he'd used in his column "that I shouldn't be using now... I shouldn't be thinking that way."

"Perhaps this is a catalyst for change for me."

Dr Ghani said the federation took the apology at face value.

"We accept his regret and hope that in future he will be more balanced and he will not put his views as crudely as he has. We watch with interest how he behaves in future on such issues.

Dr Ghani also welcomed Mr Prosser's intention to enter into dialogue over issues in future.

"We would be very happy to invite him and provide him with an opportunity to interract with the Muslim community and get to know it better. He needs to be better informed.

The Federation intended writing to the NZ First Leader to spell out its concerns about Mr Prosser.

Chairman of the NZ Middle East Business Council Michael Vukcevic, also welcomed Mr Prosser's "backdown" and offered to "educate Mr Prosser on the realities of New Zealand's exposure to Muslim trading markets.

Mr Vukcevic invited Mr Prosser "to meet with our members to remedy his ignorance".

In the article in Investigate magazine, Mr Prosser said while he accepted most Muslims
were not terrorists, it was "undeniable" that "most terrorists are Muslims".

In a column titled Enemy at the Gates, sparked by the confiscation of his pocket knife before boarding a domestic flight Mr Prosser wrote that New Zealanders' rights were being "denigrated by a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan, threatening our way of life and security of travel in the name of their stone age religion, its barbaric attitudes towards women, democracy, and individual choice".

"If you are a young male, aged between say about 19 and about 35, and you're a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West's airlines," he wrote.

Mr Prosser accepted some offence had been caused by his use of the term "Wogistan".

Asked whether he was aware "wog" was a slur, Mr Prosser said it was an acronym for "Western Oriental gentleman".

He told Radio New Zealand he made no apology for referring to Islam as a "Stone Age religion".

"I make no apology for the fact that I don't have any time for people who denigrate women, and I don't have any time for institutions, whatever they might be, that suppress people's human rights."

Mr Prosser said he did not follow a religion, but said it was fair to say that the "worst excesses of extremist Islam" were worse than the best points of Christianity.

Mr Prosser's Facebook page was flooded with strong criticism of his "Wogistan" rant.

Hundreds of people, from around the world, posted messages to Mr Prosser, and many could not be re-published due to the strong nature of the language.

Mezaan Saheem visited the page to say the NZ First MP's comments were the "worst form of the terrorism", adding that an apology would make no difference to him.

"May Allah lead you to the right path," he said.

"Well done embarrassing our country you buffoon," said another poster, Aleks Lazic, which summed up the nature of the reactions.

Another wrote: "Deeply disappointed in your appalling myopic rants upon Muslims. You are unfit to draw a salary paid for by NZ taxpayers."

Mr Prosser had not replied to any of the messages.

A 'Ban MP Richard Prosser From Parliament' facebook page has also been created.

Mr Prosser told the Nine to Noon show he had not calculated the percentage of young Muslim men who were involved in terrorism compared to the global Muslim population.

Mr Prosser said he should have called for an investigation into the merits of racial profiling, instead of calling for a blanket ban on young Muslim men being able to fly on Western airlines.

Mr Prosser said it was silly to ignore something which was an apparent threat on the basis of not wanting to offend.

"It's a reality that because of the actions of a very small few, the entire world has had to change the way it behaves even though the vast majority of the people who travel are not going to cause any problems on aeroplanes."

He wouldn't stand down as an MP, and denied he was a racist.

"Islam is a religion, it's not a race. I don't know why people jump on the racist bandwagon."

Mr Prosser said he realised he had given cause for people to be offended "where they don't fit that profile where the vast majority of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims weren't sufficiently separated.

"I didn't have balance in that article. For that I'm sorry."

He later released a statement which read:

"Terrorism and airline safety worldwide is a serious issue which consumes great resources and causes major disruption.

"The issue requires positive solutions, and my article in Investigate magazine sadly did not contribute to that.

"I accept that I impugned many peaceful law-abiding Muslims, and to them I unreservedly apologise.

"My opinion piece does not reflect the views of the New Zealand First Party and I deeply regret any embarrassment caused by it."

Meanwhile, Investigate's editor Ian Wishart said he only "skimmed" over the article before it went to print.

"I perhaps should have read it more carefully," Mr Wishart told Morning Report.

"I probably would have gone back to him said, 'Do you really want to say this in that way?'

"The point that he was making ... that there is a valid argument to be made about the amount of wasted time and money in profiling people at the airport and taking aside grandmas and babies for security."

Mr Wishart criticised the media for not publishing the column in its entirety and the comments about not letting Muslims on Western airline flights were being taken out of context.

"It's a ridiculous remark but in the context of the column it's a tongue-in-cheek remark," he said.

Mr Wishart said the column raised important issues about the Muslim extremists entering New Zealand.

"I would not have phrased it in the way that he's phrased it and I think, I don't know what Richard Prosser thinks, but he's probably and saying, 'Maybe I shouldn't have phrased it that way myself'."

By last night the story had spread as far as the United States, the United Kingdom and Malaysia. At least two Australian media outlets were running Mr Prosser's comments as well as the Straits Times in Singapore and The Muslim News, a UK-based news website.

The Sun Daily in Malaysia had as its lead headline, 'New Zealand lawmaker calls for Muslim Flight Ban'.

ABC in the US was reporting: "NZ politician wants Muslims banned from airlines".

Mr Prosser's comments have been slammed by politicians across the political spectrum, however NZ First Leader Winston Peters said there was an "element of truth" to Mr Prosser's comments and did not believe the MP should apologise.

British MP George Galloway, who has campaigned against Islamophobia for 30 years, told Radio New Zealand Mr Prosser's comments were "disgusting".

"I'm surprised because it's New Zealand and I'm surprised that it has come from the pen of a Member of Parliament.

"It's not surprising in another sense that there are right-wing politicians across the world seeking to scrape the barrel of prejudice in order to boost their political popularity."

Mr Galloway said it was "deeply shocking" that Prosser's party leader had not repudiated his comments entirely.

"What kind of leader would not see that talking about 'Wogistan', talking about Muslims - 1.7 billion of them - in these sweeping stereotypical and deeply insulting ways [is wrong]?

Mr Galloway said the comments could be "dangerous" for New Zealand.

"It's not good for New Zealand to be known as a country where Parliamentarians go un-repudiated when making these deeply racist comments."

Read more: Muslim rant goes global

- With nzherald.co.nz

- APNZ

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