These are difficult times. The world is a state of political and economic turmoil. Many of these challenges are felt domestically, as the waves ripple out from the centre.
We may be in a period of epochal change, somewhere between what happened in the 1930s (and the rise of extremist ideologies) and 1968 (when a wave of counter-culture swept the western world). In our country, much of this challenge is coming to settle on the fate of a number of statues, some recent, and some historical.
People on both sides of the debate are angry. The only thing they share in common is the language they use to insult each other with – with both sides accusing the other of being intolerant, uneducated, and dangerous.
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Rather than submerging beneath these waves, it would be useful to ride above them, with two principles. The first is that we should support the right of (orderly and peaceful) protest and the right of free speech. The second is that we are an inclusive country, which values equality, inclusion and tolerance of difference. That is, we should not just defend the right of free speech, we should also try to listen to what everyone is saying.
This is difficult as there are two types of intolerance at work. The first is a cultural intolerance that believes there is only one narrative of this country, and it must not be disturbed or challenged in any way. This is a view that prefers to see the past with glasses that are both myopic and rose-tinted at the same time.
The second intolerance is iconoclasm. Iconoclasm is the destruction of icons and other images or monuments. Most commonly it is done for religious, cultural and/or political reasons.
This removal of something material that is offensive, as opposed to trying to control offensive speech, is a much more difficult topic. Words are tight. Art is not.
Representations of offensive objects involve subjective, cultural and inter-generational judgments. Iconoclasm is as old as humanity. Cleansing offensive material is always seen as a pathway to a better society.
Sometimes this is done easily, such as after a conflict and the loser (and their ideology) is swept away without resistance. In other instances, the iconoclasm spreads, and the drive for the destruction of anything associated with the opposition accelerates. What starts off with icons can move to books, buildings and even people.
Iconoclasm is connected to one long rope of intolerance. It is the same rope that at its very extreme ends, ties together groups like Islamic State in one part of the world, and Brenton Tarrant, in Christchurch.
Our goal should be to navigate away between the two types of intolerance.
With cultural intolerance, the objectives have to be visibility, education and acceptance that we are a multicultural society with a bicultural core. The teaching of New Zealand history in all schools is long overdue but very welcome. But alone, it is not enough.
From the hopes and challenges of our founding document, through to travesties like what occurred at Parihaka or with Rua Kenana, we all should be conversant. This knowledge should be supplemented with visibility at all levels. This would mean, for example, that the national status of the New Zealand Wars, should be upgraded (and at a minimum, be part of the Anzac Day tradition).
Similarly, I see no reason why all official names (from our streets to our cities) cannot be in Maori and English. If our national anthem can be manifested in two languages, so too can our place names.
If there is a key to the current challenges around statutes that some people find offensive, it is in the sentence above. It is about more, not less.
To begin with, we need to talk. We need to accept that there is a problem and try to find a peaceful solution. This is a terribly difficult challenge. How to assess the value of those now immortalised in art and the contributions they made, is better left to God.
In the absence of omnipotent intervention, we have to do the best we can, for which committees will need to be formed. Their goal should not be the impossible task of trying to find heroes who did not have clay feet. Rather it should be in finding counterweights, so we can balance like with like; place them together in the correct places, and facilitate the public to learn a fuller version of our shared history.
Consider: The statue of John Hamilton should be moved to a dedicated area to aid with our remembrance of the battle of Gate Pa and the conflict in Tauranga. This statue should be accompanied by at least two other combatants in this conflict. The first would be of Heni Te Kiri Karamu, the Te Arawa warrior woman who displayed exemplary humanity in giving water to the wounded opposition during the battle. The second would be of Henare Taratoa, who proposed (and practised) rules of combat that occurred at the same time (1864) that the forerunners to the Geneva Conventions on the rules of war were being drawn up in Switzerland.
Another example would involve George Grey. He was a complex man. He should be kept and moved to an appropriate place next to a representation of his opponent in the 19th century, Tāwhiao Te Wherowhero, or some similarly appropriate symbol that also recorded the losses imposed on these people.
I would then add two hands shaking or two pens signing, the Waikato-Tainui settlement, from the end of the 20th century, that would record the Crown apology (and compensation) for what was the unjust war against the Tainui people, that Grey started.
To make this challenge even easier the Government has recently given tens of millions to the creative arts. It is time for our artists and sculptors to get busy, adding to, and balancing our history. It is not the time for the deniers to insist upon only one narrative, or our recyclers or wreckers to be tasked with deleting other unpalatable parts.
• Alexander Gillespie is a Professor of Law at the University of Waikato