Harawira apologises for bin Laden comments

By Claire Trevett, NZ Herald staff

In a statement today, Hone Harawira compared the passing of Osama bin Laden to the demise of Rodney Hide's political career. Photo / Mark Mitchell
In a statement today, Hone Harawira compared the passing of Osama bin Laden to the demise of Rodney Hide's political career. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira has apologised for how he expressed himself when he painted Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter.

In tributes on Maori-language television on Tuesday, Mr Harawira said the al-Qaeda founder and September 11, 2001 mastermind should be "honoured" rather than "damned" in death according to Maori culture.

He twice paid tribute to bin Laden in te reo, saying it was Maori custom to acknowledge the dead.

Prime Minister John Key has slammed Mr Harawira's statement as "ridiculous" and labelled him misguided

Mr Harawira said his comments were not intended to be construed as supporting bin Laden's actions in a statement released this afternoon.

"As Maori we do not speak ill of someone who has died even if such a person has done bad things.

"My mihi to the Bin Laden's family was seen by some as support for Bin Laden's actions.

"This was a mistake and was not intended. Using terror for political reasons is never acceptable.

US President Barack Obama announced on Monday US troops had killed the al-Qaeda leader and the news was quickly welcomed by Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff.

However, many Maori politicians had a different perspective.

Mr Harawira said on Maori Television's Native Affairs that bin Laden had "pursued independence for his people, his family and his tribe".

When asked if he was concerned about how such comment could be construed, he said he was Maori and "tributes to the dead are always appropriate" in Maori custom.

Mr Harawira also said on Te Karere that it was customary for Maori to "honour and mourn the deceased".

"So I acknowledge him and bid him farewell. Return to your ancestors who wait for you beyond the veil of death.

"Despite what the media has said, his family, his tribe, his people are in mourning.

"They mourn for the man who fought for the rights, the land and the freedom of his people. We should not damn them in death, but acknowledge the positive aspects of life."

Call for Harawira's resignation

National MP Tau Henare said Mr Harawira should resign for the
comments.

"They're appalling. I think he should pull the pin right now and walk
away from representing Maori people. I think it is delusional. I think he should pull his head in and resign, because our people don't deserve to have a representative like that.

"He says Maori culture allows us to farewell the dead. I can't remember one person from the Maori Battalion saying goodbye to Adolf Hitler."

He said Mr Harawira's comment that bin Laden had fought for his people
showed a lack of understanding.

"He's actually from Saudi Arabia and he never once fought for Saudi Arabia. He fought for some religious fanaticism around the world. He murdered thousands and thousands of people and he deserved what he got."

Speaking on Te Karere, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples was also uncomfortable about people openly celebrating bin Laden's death.

He said utu (revenge) was a Maori custom. "But we don't agree with the extent of the celebrations or with anyone celebrating the assassination of anyone and then the person's body being discarded into the sea."

Labour MP Shane Jones said he did not have the same level of affection for bin Laden as Mr Harawira.

He also scotched Mr Harawira's claim that it was Maori custom to always pay tribute to the dead.

"In the old days, a great enemy - if he wasn't eaten - his bones were used to make musical instruments. So this romantic notion that in the old time, Maori spent hours of their time saluting the enemy was not the case.

"Enemies were turned to dust and people rejoiced, because of the suffering they had caused."

Mr Harawira was more restrained when talking to English-language media, saying only that the war in Afghanistan had cost a lot of money and many thousands of lives were lost.

"I would sincerely hope that this could be the end to all that loss of life and waste of money ... Sadly, I don't think it will."

He also said he did not agree with statements by Mr Key and Mr Goff that the world would be a safer place.

Professor Ranginui Walker also acknowledged bin Laden on Te Karere. Dr Walker likened him to the 19th century Maori prophet Te Kooti Rikirangi because of his fight for his country.

Dr Walker said the time had come to pull New Zealand troops out of Afghanistan and bin Laden should have been taken alive and given a trial.

Harawira likens Hide to bin Laden

In a statement to media today, Harawira also paid tribute to Rodney Hide, who was last week publicly toppled as leader of the Act Party by former National leader Don Brash.

"Now I'm no great fan of Rodney Hide, or his party, or his policies, but his political demise should send shivers through those who purport to love democracy," he wrote.

"For all his obvious foibles, Rodney Hide not only brought Act back from the grave, he actually brought them back to the government table and got them two ministerial positions."

"And then what happens? Rising up out of his own grave comes Don Brash, a 70-year-old political corpse who lost a safe National seat 30 years ago, lost an election for National in 2005 and got dumped from the leadership in 2008. Brash meets with the Board of Act and gets them to dump Rodney as leader and give him the job.

"If that's pakeha politics, then no thanks ... Maori politics may be tough, but the personal humiliation and disgrace that Rodney Hide has had to endure has been really quite sickening.

"I ain't no great fan of Rodney Hide, and I ain't no great fan of Osama Bin Laden either. But you can't help but note their passing."

* Translations used are from English subtitles on the programmes involved.

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