WikiLeaks cable: Kiwi Muslims - heading for integration or insulation?

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

October 17, 2006

Classified By: DCM David Keegan for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

This cable was drafted by ConGen Auckland and approved by Embassy Wellington.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: New Zealand's small but active Muslim community points to a member of parliament, regular appearances on national television by community leaders, ready access to the Prime Minister and her cabinet, and joint statements with Jewish organizations as hallmarks of movement into the political mainstream. But a recent influx of Arab and African immigrants is creating tensions within New
Zealand's traditionally South Asian Muslim population. This changing ethnic makeup is causing some disagreement over members' identity and assimilation, as well as concerns about preventing terrorist groups and Wahhabi ideology from gaining a toehold here. The community also faces other challenges )from hate crimes to job discrimination ) as it deals with its continued growth. END SUMMARY.

Why they choose New Zealand

2. (SBU) There are roughly 40,000 Muslims in New Zealand, or 1% of the country's population, according to the community's own figures. The 2001 GNZ census put the number at 23,631, a 74% increase from 1996. While the figures from the 2006 census are not yet published, the trend is clearly towards fast growth. Community leaders disagree as to
whether this trend will lead to fuller integration into the
wider New Zealand community or to the formation of ethnic

3. (C) In a meeting with Ambassador McCormick, XXX1 of the Federation
of Islamic Associations in New Zealand (FIANZ) said Muslims are comfortable practicing their faith and traditions within the country's relatively liberal and secular society. FIANZ, established in 1979 as an
umbrella organization for various New Zealand Muslim groups,
coordinates activities of its members, establishes standards
of Islamic practice (it plays a leading role in certifying the country's large Halal meat industry), and is the most prominent Muslim organization reaching out to New Zealand's broader society. However, not all Muslims feel represented by FIANZ, and some criticize it for not doing enough to inform broader society on Islam and Muslims.

Government support

4. (C) GNZ interaction with the Muslim community appears strong in many ways. XXX1 told the Ambassador X has "very good contact" with the government, and that X has easy access to ministers. According to XXX1, Prime Minister Helen Clark has asked X for Islamic-related outreach ideas. In November 2005, FIANZ hosted an Eid celebration at Parliament
House, which featured speeches by Deputy Prime Minister
Michael Cullen, opposition leader Don Brash, and [REDACTED].
Ambassador Swindells also attended.

5. (SBU) In August 2006, FIANZ hosted an interfaith dinner sponsored by the New Zealand Government's Office of Ethnic Affairs. Speakers included [REDACTED], [and] a prominent Anglican pastor, recent Labour parliamentary candidate Anjum Rahman (who heads the Islamic Women's Council), a private Jewish citizen, a local imam, and two young Muslim students. Many of the Muslim guests told ConOff that the support from the government represented by the dinner is an important reason
they are happy in New Zealand. One guest said having a Muslim MP, Labour's Ashraf Choudhry, is testament to New Zealand's open and welcoming society.

6. (U) Several speakers highlighted the relatively close relationship between the different faith communities, especially between Muslim and Jewish groups. After six mosques were vandalized in July 2005 following the London terrorist bombings, the New Zealand Jewish Council condemned
the acts as "shameful" and offered its sympathies to the Muslim community. When both mosques and synagogues were attacked in late July of this year during the Israeli-Lebanese conflict, the Jewish Council and FIANZ issued a joint statement condemning the acts that they
attributed to a small group of "vandals and bigots," and emphasizing
that both communities have "no desire to bring foreign hatred to New Zealand's shores."

7. (SBU) Although the function was well attended and a symbol of integration efforts, Muslim attendees were a fairly homogenous group of white collar South Asian/Fijian Muslims, with little or no representation from adherents of African or Middle Eastern background.

Growing pains

8. (C) Early Muslim immigrants were able to integrate into broader society without much complication. The majority hailed from the Indian subcontinent and spoke English. However, arrivals in the past 15 years, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, have brought the Muslim community to a crossroads. FIANZ now estimates that Muslims of Arab descent are roughly 10% and African immigrants constitute over 20% of
the community. A larger number of the Indian subcontinent group is now composed of recent arrivals. The newer arrivals have limited or no English language skills, and their academic qualifications, if they have them, are not recognized in New Zealand. In an extensive research paper titled "New Zealand Muslims," Dr. William Shepard, formerly
of the University of Canterbury, writes that the median
income for the community was only slightly below the national
average in the 1986 and 1991 censuses, but the 1996 census
had already shown a considerable drop in Muslim wages.
Ironically, the newest generations of Kiwi Muslims who grew
up or were born here and have the best chance to earn higher
incomes are leaving New Zealand for better job opportunities

9. (SBU) In the NZ Herald, Abdullah Drury, a convert to Islam and former FIANZ official, said the recent migrants have, through their sheer numbers, taken over the administration of mosques by voting in leaders from amongst their own "the mosque (as) the last vestige of their homelands and they want it to remain that way, even if that
leads to tension or conflict with other ethnic or sectarian groups within the New Zealand Muslim community." In contrast, XXX1 told ConOff that the community is strong enough to absorb the new arrivals and will, through the democratically setup mosque administrations, work through the problems peacefully.

Community policing of extremists

10. (C) XXX1 asserted that while there are no "extremist" activities in the community, many Muslims in New Zealand retain family or sentimental ties and sympathies to the Middle East and the historic Muslim world. Not being immune to events in those regions, XXX1 said FIANZ is taking
preventative measures to ensure that sympathies do not mutate
into violence. According to XXX1, FIANZ has asked people inside and outside the Muslim community to report suspected extremist activities to FIANZ who would then coordinate
action with the government.

11. (C) However, other community leaders dispute XXX1's assertion that there is no extremist activity, citing the presence of Saudi-funded organizations on school campuses and mosque administrations. And reports of Wahhabi-inspired propaganda, together with post-9/11 anti-Muslim sentiments and inflammatory remarks by some Kiwi politicians have made life more difficult for Muslims than XXX1 has portrayed.

12. (C) Septel will report further on divisions in the Kiwi
Muslim community, alleged Wahhabi activities, and accusations
of anti-Muslim discrimination.


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