Ministers in Turkey

A couple of days ago I wrote about the trip to Turkey Winston Peters was planning, presumably undertaken with the explicit approval of the Prime Minister (and he was accompanied by a Labour Party Cabinet minister).

There were conflicting narratives from the Foreign Minister and his boss about this trip.  From the Foreign Minister’s own press release we learned

“Our current intention is then to travel onwards to Turkey, at the request of the Turkish Government, to attend a special ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation being held in Istanbul.

“This important event will allow New Zealand to join with our partners in standing against terrorism and speaking up for values such as understanding and religious tolerance.

The Prime Minister meanwhile suggested that Mr Peters would be “setting the record straight” with the odious Turkish president.  There was Erdogan’s use of video of the Christchurch shootings in his election rally, his false claims about Gallipoli (the claim the landings were all about being anti-Muslim) and his inflammatory rhetoric around New Zealanders and Australians.    She herself had been reluctant to say anything, unlike the Australian Prime Minister.

We learned this morning about the Foreign Minister’s effort.   First, there was Mr Erdogan

Peters said, however, that he didn’t discuss Erdogan’s use of the footage with Turkey’s foreign minister or president though it was widely expected that he’d raise the issue.

Erdogan later on Friday again showed an excerpt of the video at an election rally in the central city of Konya.

“I did not see any sound, peaceful purposes in raising it,” Peters said, adding that they had received “very assuring information” from the Turkish presidency.

Very assuring……..not.    It looks a lot as though he was played –  again –  by Erdogan, who seems to be using the whole affair to help his election campaign.     But I guess MFAT trains Foreign Ministers to abandon all sense of national self-respect etc.

And then there was the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).    You can read the statement made by Mr Peters to that meeting.  I guess views will differ on the specific content, but the overall tone struck me as strangely obsequious.  Which frankly seems weird just on its own merits (what does the New Zealand government owe to other countries in this matter?).   And doubly inappropriate at a meeting summoned by the odious autocrat who governs Turkey

There wasn’t much reference in the Peters statement to that “religious tolerance” he talked about earlier in the week in his press release.   But then it isn’t New Zealand that has a problem with religious tolerance: in this country, you can join or leave any religion you like, theistic or otherwise.  Leading secularists could abandon their faith and embrace Islam –  or Christianity or Judaism or whatever –  and few would pay much attention for long.  Or vice versa.

Not so for most of the countries represented at the OIC meeting, a meeting which Winston Peters seemed to go out of his way to thank them for attending –  almost as if they were doing the New Zealand government a favour by holding it.

The Peters press release earlier in the week talked of how he would “join our partners”  to speak up for “values such as….religious tolerance”.    So what did the communique have to say?  There is lots of pretty tendentious rhetoric, some boring listing of various official visits to New Zealand, and then we get to the substance. On religious tolerance

Calls upon all States to respect the freedom of religion of all Muslims; not restrict the fundamental human rights and freedoms of Muslims

This is an organisation of countries, not clerics, and not a few of these countries have substantial minorities of people of other religions.   And yet, the call is only for freedom of religion for Muslims.

After ploughing through lots more clauses, we also find this near the end

Requests the OIC Contact Group on Peace and Dialogue to engage, as a matter of priority, to focus its efforts and take action to combat religious discrimination, Islamophobia, intolerance and hatred towards Muslims,

Even with two New Zealand Cabinet ministers invited to attend their meeting, they still couldn’t bring themselves to even a passing reference to religious freedom for anyone else, even in their own countries, let alone New Zealand.

Of course, for most of them it would have been deeply hypocritical for them to have done so.  Here was the Pew Research graphic I used in the post the other day.


These countries –  most or all of them members of the OIC –  have apostasy laws in place, making it an offence to leave Islam, let alone to embrace another faith.

Of them, this article from the (UK) Independent reports that

Thirteen countries, all of a Muslim majority, punish apostasy (the renunciation of a particular religion), or blasphemy with death.

The annual Freedom of Thought report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, found that 13 countries impose capital punishment upon people simply for their beliefs, or lack of them.

Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen are the relevant countries.

Not that often enforced these days perhaps, but the law nonetheless.    All countries that will have been represented in this Organisation for Islamic Cooperation meeting, attended by Winston Peters and Jenny Salesa.

My concern here isn’t primarily with the OIC countries themselves.  Their governments –  very few democratic, few even allowing genuinely open political debate and scrutiny –  make their choices and New Zealand can’t change those.

My concern is with our own government.  I could suggest that they’ve been played by Erdogan and OIC, except that that might suggest they didn’t know what they were doing. I suspect they knew exactly what they were doing, and went ahead nonetheless.

We can be proud of our religious freedom and tolerance – hard-won –  and our government (Prime Minister, Foreign Minister on down) shouldn’t sully that good name by associating on such issues with a group of regimes that (mostly) have little or no regard for genuine religious freedom, and show no intention of granting it to their own people, or even to non-citizens living in their countries.

It is shameful, (presumably in some warped conception) opportunistic, and disrespectful of the values and practices of almost everyone who lives in this country.

People have been queuing up to laud the Prime Minister this week.  Some of it is probably due, much of it probably not, but on this significant foreign policy aspect of her government’s response she has allowed a pretty awful standard to prevail.


UPDATE: Not on the specific point of this post, but a chilling action by a government official nonetheless.  As people were pointing out, Mein Kampf is legal, the writings of Mao are legal (as they should be), but New Zealanders are now not supposed to see –  or cite – a document backgrounding perhaps the worst crime in New Zealand history.