New Zealand trying to lead crackdown on social media

Without knowing any details I don’t know whether the be pleased or concerned about attempts by the New Zealand Government to lead a crackdown on social media.

It is too easy for people and organisations to spread false and damaging information via social media, but attempts to deal with this could easily lurch too far in limiting freedom of expression.

NZ Herald – Social media crackdown: How New Zealand is leading the global charge

Steps towards global regulation of social media companies to rein in harmful content looks likely, with the Government set to take a lead role in a global initiative, the Herald has learned.

The will of governments to work together to tackle the potentially harmful impacts of social media would have only grown stronger in the wake of the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, where Facebook and Instagram were temporarily shut down in that country to stop the spread of false news reports.

Following the Christchurch terror attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been working towards a global co-ordinated response that would make the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter more responsible for the content they host.

The social media companies should be held to account for what they enable, but it’s a very tricky thing to address without squashing rights and freedoms.

Currently multinational social media companies have to comply with New Zealand law, but they also have an out-clause – called the safe harbour provisions – that means they may not be legally liable for what users publish on their sites, though these were not used in relation to the livestream video of the massacre in Christchurch.

Other countries, including Australia, are taking a more hardline approach that puts more onus on these companies to block harmful content, but the Government has decided a global response would be more effective, given the companies’ global reach.

Facebook has faced a barrage of criticism for what many see as its failure to immediately take down the livestream and minimise its spread; Facebook removed 1.5 million videos of the attack within 24 hours.

They were too ineffective and too slow – that they took down one and a half million copies shows how quickly the video spread before action was taken.

Ardern has said this wasn’t good enough, saying shortly after the Christchurch terror attack: “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published.”

Among those adding their voices to this sentiment were the bosses of Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees and the managers of five government-related funds, who all called on social media companies to do more to combat harmful content.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards has also been scathing, calling Facebook “morally bankrupt” and saying it should take immediate action to make its services safe.

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said that existing laws and protections were not enough to stop the online proliferation of the gunman’s video.

He doubted that changing any New Zealand laws would be effective, and echoed Ardern in saying that a global solution was ideal.

But it is generally much harder to get international agreement on restrictive laws, so a global solution may be very difficult to achieve. Actually there is never likely to be ‘a solution’, all they can do is make it harder for bad stuff to proliferate.

The UK is currently considering a white paper on online harms that proposes a “statutory duty of care” for online content hosts.

Rules would be set up and enforced by an independent regulator, which would demand illegal content to be blocked within “an expedient timeframe”. Failure to comply could lead to substantial fines or even shutting down the service.

The problem is an effective timeframe has to be just about instant.

In Australia a law was recently passed that requires hosting services to “remove abhorrent violent material expeditiously” or face up to three years’ jail or fines in the millions of dollars.

Germany also has a law that gives social media companies an hour to remove “manifestly unlawful” posts such as hate speech, or face a fine up to 50 million Euros.

And the European Union is considering regulations that would give social media platforms an hour to remove or disable online terrorist content.

In New Zealand multiple laws – including the Harmful Digital Communications Act, the Human Rights Act, and the Crimes Act – dictate what can and cannot be published on social media platforms.

While Ardern has ruled out a model such as Australia’s, changes to New Zealand law could still happen following the current review of hate speech.

Legally defining ‘hate speech’ wil be difficult enough, and applying laws governing speech will require decisions and judgements to be made by people. That could be very difficult to do effectively.

 

 

National terrorism threat level reduced to ‘medium’

Immediately after the Christchurch mosque massacres, the national terrorism threat level was raised from low to high. This seemed to be a bit late, after the act, but I presume there were fears of it triggering other attacks, either planned, copycat or some sort of reprisal attack.

Nothing happened that suggested the risk was any worse than it had been – there had always been a small risk of someone doing something terrible. It had already happened in Aramoana (I drive through there a bit and still think about what happened there), but that wasn’t terrorism, it didn’t seem particularly planned or deliberate but it was probably a terrible crime waiting to happen, otherwise the mass murder wouldn’t have been armed as he was.

Yesterday, just over a month after the Christchurch attacks, the threat level has been reduced to ‘medium’. I think that’s more like medium level worries rather than actual chances of something else bad like that happening again.  But the authorities have to be careful to reduce the chances of a terrorist or terrible act catching them unaware.

The reality is that the chances of a repeat of something like what happened in Christchurch are low. There are very few people in out population who would even consider doing something as bad as that.

We are at far greater risk of violent death on our roads. There is on average one road death per day in New Zealand, and may more injuries.

We have a far bigger problem with death by suicide than terrorism or even murder. We should be more concerned about the reasons and risks for that.

Of course there are risks that a terrorist could strike here again, and eventually it’s likely, but it is likely to be years if not decades before this sort of thing happens again here. We are best to carry on with our normal lives without being paranoid or fearful.

Government media release:


National terrorism threat level moves to medium

New Zealand’s National Terrorism Threat Level has moved from high to medium following review by the Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.

CTAG is an independent multi-agency group with the primary task of continually assessing New Zealand’s threat environment. Their assessment undergoes rigorous peer review before a final decision is made to maintain or change the threat level. 

Medium is defined as a terrorist attack is assessed as feasible and could well occurThe new level remains higher than it was before the 15 March terrorist attack when the threat level was low. 

“New Zealanders’ safety is the highest priority for the Government. Following review and peer review of the current threat environment CTAG have concluded this change accurately reflects our current status,” Jacinda Ardern said.  

“While the threat level has been revised to medium, and there is no current specific threat agencies are responding to, people will continue to notice a clear Police presence at public events, including on ANZAC Day.  

“Government organisations, including Police, are required to assess their own security settings and ensure they are appropriate when there’s a change to the National Terrorism Threat Level and they will make operational decisions accordingly.  

“Behind the scene there remains an extensive cross-agency response to counter any potential threats. A number of agencies, including the Police and NZSIS, continue to work hard to understand, mitigate and manage threats and I am receiving regular briefings on that work.  

“New Zealanders should go about their daily lives as normal, but remain vigilant. If you see something suspicious or behaviour that concerns you, then speak up and call the Police. 

“I’m very heartened that people have been doing this since the Christchurch attack, while also continuing to show their support and solidarity with the Muslim community across the country.” 

The following agencies contribute to CTAG:

  • New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
  • Government Communications Security Bureau
  • New Zealand Defence Force
  • Civil Aviation Authority/Aviation Security Service
  • New Zealand Police
  • Department of Corrections
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

How CTAG sets NZ’s National Terrorism Threat Level:

  • The national terrorism threat level is under continual review.
  • CTAG uses a wide range of intelligence and information to analyse the intent and capability of potential terrorist actors
  • The result is a probabilistic statement of likelihood of a terrorist attack, using New Zealand’s national threat level framework
  • Similar groups in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are responsible for setting their respective national terrorism threat levels; their threat language and frameworks differ.

The greatest economic transformation in US history as they slide into a veiled aristocratic system

One person writes that the US is undergoing the greatest economic transformation in their history (and that must impact on the world economy), and another writes that chronic disempowerment represents a threat to their democracy.

Andrew Yang: We’re undergoing the greatest economic transformation in our history

For Americans who are still trying to figure out why Trump is President, the answer is simple — we automated away millions of manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, and Trump spoke directly to the fear and anger of those voters. He promised them that he would restore those jobs — a promise on which he has notably failed to deliver.

Here’s the reality, though: The financial crisis of 2008 brought our 14 million manufacturing jobs (itself a low plateau from the 17 million in 2000) down to 11.4 million, and 10 years of expansion has only brought us back up to 12.8 million.

But what happened to manufacturing workers will soon happen to retail workers, call center workers, fast food workers, truck drivers and others, as the next Industrial Revolution takes hold of our economy.

Bain, a leading consulting firm, projects automation will disrupt jobs at about three times the rate of the Second Industrial Revolution, which sparked thousands of strikes and mass riots at the turn of the 20th century.

If you doubt that this is already happening, consider that America’s labor participation rate (the ratio of people who are working compared to the total population aged 16 and over) today has fallen to 63%, about the same level as Ecuador and Costa Rica.

For the US labor participation peaked around the turn of the millennium at just over 67% and largely declined through to 2013 and has been fluctuated mostly below 63% since then, so it isn’t a recent fall. See Civilian labor force participation rate

New Zealand’s recent trend in labour force participation rate is different, rising from 68.8% in January 2016 to level off at about 70.8-71% in mid 2017.

In the US, almost one out of five prime, working age men have not worked in the past year, and our life expectancy has declined for the past three years, in part due to surges in drug overdoses and suicides.

This is before a projected 33% of American malls and retail stores may be forced to shutter their doors, and it might not be long before truck drivers are replaced with self-driving trucks.

Malls and retail stores are being impacted by online sales.

But here’s the reality: We are undergoing the greatest economic transformation in our history, and we are dealing with it by pretending nothing is happening.

We need to wake up to the fact that it is not immigrants who are causing economic dislocations. It is technology and an evolving economy that is pushing more and more Americans to the sidelines.

Further, according to Marianne Williamson, it is pushing many people under – America is becoming an aristocracy

And many of the richest financial aristocrats are tech company owners.

While I have spent my career empowering people and turning them into leaders, Washington has been disempowering people and turning them into followers. The stress and anxiety that has become so endemic in American society, due to chronic economic and social despair, has fostered a population disconnected from civic engagement. Today, this chronic disempowerment represents a threat to our democracy.

Relatively few Americans have abused their rights at the expense of the many, turning the US government into their own personal playground. From tax cuts that benefit only the wealthiest among us, to corporate subsidies that aid industries (oil, big pharma, agribusiness, etc.) already profiting to the tune of billions, money has been sliding for decades away from expenditures that support the public good to expenditures that support the lucky few.

Though American politicians continues to say we are a democracy, we are sliding ever more dangerously into a veiled aristocratic system. The mindset of the new aristocracy has not only imbued our politics — it has hijacked America’s value system, leading us to swerve from our democratic and deep human values. We have forgotten that public morality even matters.

We need to remind ourselves that economic injustice is a moral transgression. Neglecting the medical, educational and social needs of millions of people so that a few can swell their bank accounts is a moral transgression. And until we bring our political policies back into alignment with our moral core, then nothing will fundamentally heal this country.

Politics in the US has been dominated by huge amounts of money and rich lobbyists for a long time, but the democratic process has is now under serious threat from the use of technology to manipulate elections and opinion, with serious efforts being made to divide and conquer.

Financial favouritism has helped the rich get richer, but that has been at the expense of millions of Americans suffering from inferior education, health services and living conditions.

If the third (and claimed to be the greatest) industrial revolution reduces employment opportunities and levels further, and more drastically, then the divide will get worse.

There is no sign of political leadership or will to address this.

Our situation in New Zealand is on a much smaller scale, but we are also vulnerable. We also have political leadership that is talking as if they understand at least some of the problems of financial inequity, but they haven’t yet done much to address it. There is a lot of interest on what will be delivered in next month’s ‘well-being’ focussed budget.

Growing warnings about world economic outlook

In general the world economy has recovered and prospered since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, but there are growing warnings that the bubble might at least slow down. There is always a risk of it bursting.

International Monetary Fund:  World Economic Outlook, April 2019 Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

After strong growth in 2017 and early 2018, global economic activity slowed notably in the second half of last year, reflecting a confluence of factors affecting major economies.

China’s growth declined following a combination of needed regulatory tightening to rein in shadow banking and an increase in trade tensions with the United States.

The euro area economy lost more momentum than expected as consumer and business confidence weakened and car production in Germany was disrupted by the introduction of new emission standards; investment dropped in Italy as sovereign spreads widened; and external demand, especially from emerging Asia, softened.

Elsewhere, natural disasters hurt activity in Japan. Trade tensions increasingly took a toll on business confidence and, so, financial market sentiment worsened, with financial conditions tightening for vulnerable emerging markets in the spring of 2018 and then in advanced economies later in the year, weighing on global demand.

Conditions have eased in 2019 as the US Federal Reserve signalled a more accommodative monetary policy stance and markets became more optimistic about a US–China trade deal, but they remain slightly more restrictive than in the fall.

Greg Jericho (Guardian Australia): The outlook for the global economy goes from bright to precarious

At the start of last year things were looking almost upbeat. The title of the IMF’s January update, Brighter Prospects, Optimistic Markets, Challenges Ahead, is economic speak for “cripes, aren’t we all a bit unusually happy!”. By April 2018 the title had become “Cyclical Upswing, Structural Change”, which again spoke of economic sunshine, even if it did warn of the need to adjust to the post-GFC world.

By the middle of last year the July update was warning “Less Even Expansion, Rising Trade Tensions”, and the October outlook was a decidedly measured if still somewhat neutral, “Challenges to Steady Growth”.

But with this new year, all neutrality has disappeared. The January update stated it plain: “A Weakening Global Expansion”. And just in case you had not caught their drift, the latest outlook, released this week, was headed, “Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

From brighter prospect to precarious recovery in less than two years. Hope you enjoyed that moment of economic joy while it lasted.

The decline is across roughly 70% of the world’s economies, with the IMF blaming the “escalation of US–China trade tensions”, troubles in the “auto sector in Germany” plus “tighter credit policies in China, and financial tightening alongside the normalization of monetary policy in the larger advanced economies.”

In effect the structural changes and rising trade tensions warned in previous outlooks all came to pass.

Financial Times:  US consumer sentiment misses view as economic outlook softens

US consumer sentiment dipped in April as consumers’ economic outlook weakened and as they thought “stimulative impact” of the tax overhaul “has run its course”.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment survey slid to 96.9 in April, from 98.4 the previous month. That missed analysts’ expectations for a drop to 98, according to a Thomson Reuters survey of economists.

Despite the modest decline, sentiment over the past 30 months remains higher than any other time since the 1997-2000 US economic expansion, as consumer confidence “continued its sideways shuffle in early April”, the report noted.

The report also showed the impact of the 2018 US tax overhaul on consumer sentiment has “all but disappeared”. The decline in consumer confidence follows the best first quarter for the S&P 500 in 21 years but comes amid uncertainty about the US economic outlook. The report showed the index of consumer expectations about the future fell to 85.8 — its lowest level in more than a year — from 88.8 the previous month.

Officials at the Federal Reserve have outlined “significant uncertainties” over the US and global economic outlook, according to the minutes of the central bank’s latest meeting, with some officials stressing their outlook could “shift in either direction”.

The Newyorker: The High-Stakes Battle Between Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve

For months now, Trump has been publicly railing against the Fed. In private, Bloomberg reported, he has been asking his aides if he can fire Powell, a sixty-six-year-old Republican banker who was confirmed at the start of last year. (According to legal experts, the question is a murky one.) On Friday, Trump again defied the convention that the President stays out of monetary policy, calling on Powell and his colleagues to cut interest rates in order to boost the economy.

Referring to the rate hikes that the Fed introduced last year, which were the source of his animus toward Powell, Trump said, “I think they really slowed us down.” Trump’s senior economic adviser in the White House, Larry Kudlow, has also called for a rate cut.

In addition to jawboning the Fed, Trump has moved to exert more control over its deliberations by announcing his intention to nominate two of his ardent political supporters to its board of directors: Stephen Moore, a conservative commentator who served as an economic adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, and Herman Cain, a Republican businessman who ran for President, in 2012.

Ignoring widespread criticism that neither Moore nor Cain is remotely qualified to sit on the Fed’s board, Kudlow said on Sunday that Trump is standing behind both of them. “We have two open seats,” he told CNN. “The President has every right in the world to nominate people who share his economic philosophy.”

Business Insider: Trump’s pick of former pizza-chain CEO Herman Cain for the Federal Reserve already looks like it could crash and burn

It’s been less than a week since President Donald Trump announced the selection of Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, for the Federal Reserve Board. The outlook already doesn’t look good for the potential nomination.

Washington Post: Four Senate Republicans signal opposition to Trump’s plan to put Herman Cain on Federal Reserve Board, all but sinking nomination

A swift defection of at least four Senate Republicans has all but doomed Herman Cain’s chances of winning a seat on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, a striking rebuke to President Trump in his drive to remake the powerful U.S. central bank.

The rapid rejection of Cain — a 2012 GOP presidential candidate — pauses Trump’s effort to remold the central bank into a more political body with outspoken individuals who share his views. It also reflects a growing unease among Senate Republicans with the way Trump has tried to bend the institution to his will in the past six months.

Trump has jawboned Fed officials and pushed them to slash interest rates and flood the economy with cheap money, even though during his presidential campaign he accused the central bank of creating a “big, fat, ugly bubble.”

So uncertainty in the US doesn’t help.

RNZ Robertson: NZ economy well placed to handle impact of global downturn

The IMF is predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries in the face of a delicate moment for the global economy, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

Two days ago the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for world economic growth this year as the global economy slowed more than expected, raising risks of a sharp downturn.

The impact of trade tensions between the United States and China and issues in Europe, including Brexit and some poorer performing economies among EU member countries, were among key risks contributing to a “delicate moment” for the global economy, IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said.

In its third downgrade since October, the IMF said the global economy will likely grow 3.3 percent this year, the slowest expansion since 2016. The forecast cut 0.2 percentage points from the IMF’s outlook in January.

The projected growth rate for next year was unchanged at 3.6 percent.

Mr Robertson, who is at IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, told Morning Report the IMF was predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries.

However, with economies slowing down in other parts of the world, there would be an impact for New Zealand as a small trading nation. The economy remained strong with sound fundamentals, including relatively low debt, low unemployment, and surpluses in the 2018 Budget.

So while the New Zealand outlook is relatively good any slowdown elsewhere in the world, especially the US, Australia (which is looking shaky) and China, will have a negative impact here.

Harassment of Muslims continues

While there has been a huge amount of sympathy and support shown for the Muslim community in New Zealand, there are claims of continued harassment of Muslims, especially Muslim women. And attacks on Muslims continue online.

Newshub:  Jacinda Ardern ‘devastated’ as anti-Muslim attacks continue after Christchurch shooting

Most of what we’ve seen so far from the public toward the Muslim community has been love. But Anjum Rahman from the Islamic Council of Women told Newshub hatred is around as Muslims are reporting being threatened even since the terror attack.

“People are having people pretend to shoot them – ripping hijab off women,” Manning said.

When confronted with this on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “I think it’s devastating to know that when a community has been the subject of a direct attack like this that they would then be subject to threats.”

The Guardian has reported a 593 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK in the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting.

That’s an alarming reaction to the Christchurch attacks in the UK, I think it’s reasonable to assume that that is in part fed by online abuse.

Police couldn’t give Newshub data on any potential increase in New Zealand, but the Prime Minister is urging anyone who has experienced attacks or threats to report them.

“Please report it – they are taking them seriously, they are following them up,” she said.

It seems every single threat is now being treated that much more seriously.

As they should be.

There have been positive changes. NZ Herald:  A changed world after Christchurch mosque attacks

An Auckland Muslim woman has described how her world has changed since the Christchurch terror attacks, which have helped unite the country and counter racial hatred.

Fijian-born mother-of-three Neelufah Hannif was once called a “curry muncher” and for years felt too uncomfortable to wear her hijab to work.

But the 40-year-old public servant has sensed a shift in attitudes towards inclusiveness and racial harmony since an extremist gunman killed 50 Muslim worshippers in two mosque attacks on March 15.

“I think the last few days have shown that people are compassionate, they’ve shown empathy and they have grieved with the Muslim community. I think this is who we are, this is who we have always been and I hope this will continue.”

“New Zealanders have shown solidarity and it’s comforting to know we are ‘one’ and people are there for us,” she said.

But also from NZH – Trevor Richards: NZ in denial about its anti-Muslim racism

In France following the January 2015 attack, the catchphrase heard and seen everywhere in Paris had been “Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie)”.

Here, it was not an Islamic terrorist attack against citizens of a Western country, but an attack by a white nationalist extremist against Muslims at prayer. This difference is important in determining the responses of the two countries.

France’s response to both attacks contained an ugly underbelly. Islamic terrorists had been the attackers. In the week following the Charlie Hebdo attack, a total of 60 anti-Muslim incidents were reported.

In New Zealand, Muslims had been the victims. The immediate nationwide response was to support and embrace Muslim communities.

On the Sunday following the attack, two young Muslim women at an Auckland railway station were told to “go back to your f****** country”. For some in this country, they are not us.

Unlike France, such horrific events are new to us. It has been widely claimed that New Zealand will never be the same again. The good news is that life will “get back to normal”, as Norway seems to have after Breivik. But our image of ourselves as a small country at the bottom of the world, happily immune from extremist right-wing political psychopaths and the more vicious edges of world politics, has gone. That will inevitably change us in ways yet to be realised.

Like everywhere in the world New Zealand will never be free of racism, of religious animosity, of prejudice and of fear.

But we can all play a part making things better than they were before the attacks in Christchurch.

 

 

 

Sharia, Canon, New Zealand law

There is a lack of understanding and a lot of misinformation about Islam and Sharia law.

Some Muslim countries have awful (to me) legal systems and practices. So do some Christian based countries, and also countries not associated with a specific religion, like China and Russia – see Insulting Putin May Now Land You in Jail Under a New Russian Law.

New Zealand lawyer Felix Geiringer (who studied Sharia at University and has worked as a lawyer in the field of Islamic finance) has written An attempt at demystifying Sharia.

Sharia is a legal system which seeks to extend the religious principles of Islam into a legal structure applicable to daily life.  You could think of it as the Islamic counterpart to Judaism’s Halakha or Catholicism’s Canon Law.  However, there are differences between them.

Catholicism has a well-defined hierarchy, and senior office holders have the power to make law.  Sharia doesn’t work that way.  I’ve also heard it said that Sharia and Halakha seek to extend into every part of a devotee’s life in a way that Canon does not.   There are also significant differences between Sharia and Halakha, but that seems to be a particularly controversial topic and I do not address it here.

Sharia law is mostly derived by analogy from the two foundation texts: the Quran (God’s revelations to Muhammad) and the Sunnah (a record of Muhammad’s life).

Like common law judges, there are people in the Islamic world who are respected as being able to apply this reasoning and make decisions on new issues as they arise.  And, like the common law, there is scope for different people to reach different conclusions.  The decisions such people reach can have authoritative weight outside of the issues before them – more so if a consensus has arisen between multiple such decisions from different jurists.

There are acts of violence described in the foundation texts which are antithetical to modern civilised society – just like there are in the Bible.  But, also just like the Bible, there are many passages extolling virtues like love and kindness, and urging people to look after their neighbours and those less fortunate than them.

Supporters of Islam often promote the “love and kindness” parts (this had been prevalent in New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch mosque terror attacks). Opponents of Islam promote “acts of violence described in the foundation texts” (while ignoring similar in Christian foundation texts).

Modern Muslims living in accordance with Sharia derive workable rules for living in the modern world from fundamental principles taken from the foundation texts.  Modern Muslims do not think Sharia requires them to pretend it is still the 7th Century in the same way that modern Christians do not kill all people who work on Sundays (Exodus 35:2).

There are Islamic states that have, for example, criminal justice systems that do not conform to New Zealand’s standards of fairness or proportionality.  They implement those systems in the name of Sharia. Yet, there are other people who consider themselves devout Muslims and who argue that that is a misapplication of Sharia.

Remember that there are about 1.8 billion Muslims in many countries around the world, living under a wide variety of legal systems. Some are not as good as others.

In Islamic finance, I dealt, in particular, with two fundamental principles: the prohibition of usury; and the prohibition of gambling.

That is usury in its original meaning – charging interest.  You know, the thing that annoyed Jesus so much he drove everyone out of a Temple with whips.  Despite Jesus’ low opinion of money lenders, usury in the Christian world went from prohibiting any interest, to prohibiting too much interest, to payday lenders advertising on television.

Equally, the problems with gambling are well known in our society.  At one end, it persuades some of our least well paid to put everything they earn into pokies.  At the other, it crashed the world economy in 2007.

Islamic finance finds ways to allow financing that depend on neither interest nor speculation.  It is a difficult, but not impossible, task.  The financing structures that are created are, at the least, useful alternatives to mainstream finance.  For example, contracts have been devised which enable someone to buy a house without unaffordable mortgage payments by instead sharing the house value growth.

That sounds similar to shared equity type mortgages that have been proposed in New Zealand recently to try to overcome the difficulties of buying a first property here.

Should we fear the arrival of Sharia?  Actually, it is already here and has been for a very long time.  It will have arrived with the first Muslims to settle here in the middle of the 19thCentury.  It is still here with those who chose to arrange their affairs in accordance with it.  Just like there are people in New Zealand who follow Halakha or Canon.

What about Sharia becoming part of the mainstream law of New Zealand?  Again, arguably it already is to at least a limited extent.  In recognising the applicability of principles of tikanga, our courts have noted that the common law method has always taken account of the common traditions of subcultures within society.   I am not aware of a case that has done this, but, notwithstanding the relative importance of tikanga to New Zealand, I would expect that weight would also be given to Sharia in a case that appropriately raised it.

That won’t include applying the most brutal examples of Sharia law to the Christchurch terrorist, as some people have suggested. He is likely to have to contemplate his crimes (alleged to have committed 50 murders and 42 attempted murders) for the rest of his life in a confined space, possibly alone to protect him.

While there is plenty of room to improve, I would also argue that our general laws, public institutions, and major private institutions, have been steadily moving away from an assumption that we are all Pakeha Christians.  Gradually our laws have been shifting to ones that seek to genuinely accommodate people of all cultural backgrounds, including Islam.

As they should in a multi-cultural multi religion secular society.

No doubt there are people who think that (their interpretation of) Sharia should be universally imposed, just as there will be people who think that way about Halakha and Canon and many other ideologies.

…Muslims are no different to the rest of us.  The vast majority either just want to be left alone or are happy to argue for the social changes they believe in through our political process.

I presume that most Muslims are similar to most non-Muslims in New Zealand, wanting to avoid having to do with criminal law.

In 2008, the then Archbishop of Canterbury gave a speech about how this inclusion of parts of Sharia in our mainstream legal structures was a good thing.  This was for two reasons.  First, Muslims in our society would be grateful of the availability of Sharia compliant alternatives that allow them to both follow their faith and fully participate in society.

And secondly, the rest of us might find that some of those Sharia compliant alternatives are good alternatives for us regardless of our faith (bring on more availability of interest free home loans!).

Or at least different mortgage structures to enable more people to buy their own houses.

It is a cheap (but frighteningly ubiquitous) trick for people to compare the best of their preferred system with the worst of someone else’s.

There will be some hard core Muslims and some hard core Christians who will probably always do this, though in New Zealand over the past week Christians, Muslims and other people of other religions have been coming together promoting the best of their faiths.

The truth, of course, is that the world is diverse.  Islam is no more inherently bad than Christianity.

There are plenty of examples of bad practitioners of Islam and bad practitioners of Christianity (and non religious bad practitioners), but the vast majority of religious and non religious practitioners want peace and harmony in their lives, and understand that this means living alongside 9and sometimes with) people with different faiths and practices.

I am not advocating for New Zealand to become an Islamic state, far from it.

No one is seriously advocating that. The only suggestions of that possibility are from scaremongerers.

New Zealand must remain a free and democratic country. But an essential component of that is pluralism.  We need not fear people expressing views merely because those views are drawn from Sharia.  Indeed, there are fundamental principles of Sharia to which we would all relate.

There’s a lot of overlap between fundamental principles of Sharia and fundamental principles of Canon and Halakha.

We should look for the best of that, and not fear the worst.

 

 

 

The US “Deserves a Leader as Good as Jacinda Ardern”

Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised around New Zealand for how she has handled the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque terror attacks – with a lot of dignity, compassion and understanding.

At the vigil in Dunedin on Thursday night the large crowd was receptive to good speeches and a series of prayers from different religious leaders.

One of the most noticeable reactions was when Otago Muslim Association chairman Mohammed Rizwan mentioned Ardern – there was an immediate buzz that quickly swelled into a round of spontaneous applause.

Ardern has also had very positive coverage from around the world. For good reason.

She has featured in a NY Times editorial:  America Deserves a Leader as Good as Jacinda Ardern

The murder of 50 Muslim worshipers in New Zealand, allegedly by a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist, will be long scrutinized for the way violent hatreds are spawned and staged on social media and the internet. But now the world should learn from the way Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, has responded to the horror.

Almost immediately after last Friday’s killings, Ms. Ardern listened to her constituents’ outrage and declared that within days her government would introduce new controls on the military-style weapons that the Christchurch shooter and many of the mass killers in the United States have used on their rampages. And she delivered.

On Thursday, Ms. Ardern announced a ban on all military-style semiautomatic and automatic weapons, parts that can be used to turn other rifles into such weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. “It’s about all of us,” she said, “it’s in the national interest and it’s about safety.”

Earlier in the week, she told Parliament that social media sites must address the ease with which the internet can be used to spew hate and images of violence. “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published,” she said. “It cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.”

…the display of what one deranged man can do with weapons designed for combat seemed to persuade a majority of New Zealanders, and a strong majority in Parliament, of the need to ban rapid-firing weapons.

That attitude stood in stark contrast to the way the National Rifle Association and its political allies in the United States have resisted any restrictions on weapons like the AR-15, the semiautomatic rifle used in several mass killings.

I have seen this point made time and again on Twitter, often highlighting the contrast between the usual ‘thoughts and prayers’  repeated after each major mass shooting in the US, followed by the NRA runing a campaign against change, and nothing changing apart from the identity of the next mass murderer.

In New Zealand, it took one mass shooting to awaken the government. In the United States, even a string of mass killings — 26 dead in a school in Newtown, Conn.; 49 in a nightclub in Orlando; 58 at a concert in Las Vegas; 17 in a school in Parkland, Fla. — has not been enough. Nor has the fact that 73 percent of Americans say that more needs to be done to curb gun violence, according to recent polling.

The ban on terrorists’ weapon of choice was only one of the areas in which Ms. Ardern showed what leadership looks like in time of crisis. In lieu of trite messages, she donned a black head scarf and led a group of politicians to visit victims’ families; speaking without a script to a school some of the victims attended, she urged the pupils to “let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism. Ever.”

She told grieving families, “We cannot know your grief, but we can walk with you at every stage.”

In the same week Donald trump has had a running battle on Twitter with the husband of one of his advisers, and has lashed out yet again at John McCain, who is unable to respond from his grave.

After this and any such atrocity, the world’s leaders should unite in clearly condemning racism, sharing in the grief of the victims and stripping the haters of their weapons. Ms. Ardern has shown the way.

 

Ardern has been supported all the way by most of the rest of Parliament. Hopefully this cooperative approach to politics continues.

But she deserves a lot of credit herself – she has stepped up in a time of rel adversity and risk, and has got most of the country and much of the world applauding her with pride and admiration.

Also from NY Times: Why Jacinda Ardern Matters

New Zealand’s prime minister is emerging as the progressive antithesis to right-wing strongmen like Trump, Orban and Modi, whose careers thrive on illiberal, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Like any political leader she has a range of challenges ahead of her, but where it as really mattered she has been impressive.

 

“Tolerance New Zealand’s real religion”

It should be, but there are still a lot of people who don’t follow it. We should acknowledge that we can all be intolerant, but can all work towards better understanding of and tolerance of other people, other cultures, other religions.

ODT editorial:  Tolerance New Zealand’s real religion

White nationalists, Islamophobes and other hate groups openly extol a clear goal – to separate ”them” from ”us”. In the wake of Friday’s terrorist attack, it seems prudent to confront the myth some believe in: that when it comes to religion in this country, there has never been an ”us”.

Evidence indicates the first humans to set foot in Aotearoa were Eastern Polynesian settlers some 800 years ago who brought religious beliefs with them.

Those beliefs centred around the idea that, through genealogy, all things were connected – hills, rivers, animals, plants – to the Maori themselves. Yet within the several hundred years Maori lived here before European settlement, the way those beliefs were expressed was already evolving and diverging.

Europeans arrived with a variety of takes on monotheism. Catholicism and Protestantism were the major players, but there were others.

The State, of course, was an extension of the British Crown and, as such, it is easy to look back at the last hundred or so years of New Zealand history and conclude we are, and have been, a Christian country.

But the beliefs of those who have settled here, who have journeyed to one of the most far-flung land masses on Earth and made a life for themselves, are far more varied than that. In reality, we have never been a solely Christian country. Since the arrival of Europeans, we have been a nation of multiple religions.

And agnostics and atheists.

A major fallacy in the argument of those wanting New Zealand to ”remain” or ”return” to being as culturally, ethnically or religiously ”pure” as it always was is that New Zealand has never been mono-ethnic, mono-religious or mono-cultural. And it never will. Because our national genealogy is not one of ”purity”.

Far from it. we are a diverse mix of cultures, nationalities, races and religions.

Islam is an ancient religion, born from the same part of the world Christianity was, just a few hundred years later. It is widely practised around the world and has as much right to be considered ”normal” in New Zealand as any other religion does.

Yes, there are radical arms of Islam. There are radical arms of Christianity, too. And of football fans, environmentalists and many more groups besides. It takes an appalling negligence of consideration to believe only the radical arms of a large group of people define that group.

Generalising is common. Like Christians. Muslims. Maori. Asians. Europeans. Colonialists.

All are quite varied, diverse, and there are often mixes and blends.

It is absurd for any New Zealanders to believe Islam has less right to be practised freely, safely and given respect in this country than other religions. Muslim New Zealanders are simply New Zealanders who practise a religion. Religions, while culpable for many unpleasant aspects of history, also bring meaning, stability, guidance and context to billions of people.

We are not a Christian country, despite being a country of many Christians.

We are not a religious country, though we are a country of many religions.

In fact, if there was to be any ”religion” that defined New Zealand, it should be a religious devotion to inclusivity, tolerance and openness.

Let that be the New Zealand religion and, in our pursuit of it, let’s ensure Muslim New Zealanders know, feel and trust they are, now and forever, simply Kiwis.

We all have to work hard on accepting differences, and tolerance.

 

White supremacists, racism and anti-immigration rhetoric

There’s a number of things that need to be talked about more in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks, like white supremacists (including cultural and religious supremacists), racism and anti immigration rhetoric and immigrant bashing.

Richard MacManus (Newsroom):  We didn’t watch white supremacists closely enough

After the tragedy in Christchurch last Friday, serious questions are being asked of the world’s largest social media companies.

Why was the killer able to live stream this appalling act on Facebook for 17 minutes? Why couldn’t YouTube and Twitter prevent copies of the video from being propagated on their global networks? Why did Reddit have a forum named ‘watchpeopledie’ (another place where this horrendous video was posted) running on its platform for seven whole years?

To answer these questions, we need to look at the content moderation processes of Facebook, Google and others, plus examine the effectiveness of using algorithms to help police content.

The biggest issue though is that neither human nor AI moderation is much help in the case of live streams. The only viable solution, it seems to me, is to prevent people like Friday’s terrorist from live streaming in the first place.

One suspects the tech companies will need to work closely with government intelligence agencies to identify, monitor and proactively shut down people who use social media to distribute hate content.

Before Friday, the response to that would’ve been just two words: “free speech.” But we’re no longer talking about the trivial matter of two right-wing provocateurs being prevented from speaking in New Zealand. We’re now talking about preventing extreme terrorist violence in our country. I think our former Prime Minister Helen Clark said it best, in regards to free speech:

“We all support free speech, but when that spills over into hate speech and propagation of violence, it has gone far too far. Such content is not tolerated on traditional media; why should it be on #socialmedia?”

Why indeed. So let’s fix this, by advocating for meaningful change at companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Reddit in how they deal with hate speech.

And local websites – including the biggest political blogs, Kiwiblog and Whale Oil.

Thomas Coughlan (Newsroom):  Time to recall MPs’ anti-migrant rhetoric

Hansard, the record of parliamentary speeches, has 139 mentions of the word “Muslim”, 317 of the word “Islam”, and 238 mentions of the word “Islamic” in its searchable record, which dates back to 2003.

In that same time, only one politician — Aaron “do you know I am?” Gilmore, as fate would have it — has mentioned “white supremacy”, and none have spoken about “white nationalism”.

Other religions are mentioned too — the word “Christian” is mentioned 520 times. But look a little closer, and a distinct difference emerges. While mentions of the word “Christian” tend to be followed by words like “Social Services” more than half of the 238 times, the word “Islam” is mentioned it is followed by the word “State”.

New Zealand is not immune from the global trend of conflating Islam and its nearly two billion adherents with terrorism.

Dr Mohamed Alansari of the University of Auckland noted that when people speak about Islam “it comes with a hint of judgment or a hint of a stereotype and it comes from a place of fear rather than a place of trying to understand”.

The apparent threat of Islam is often conflated with other issues, including security and migration.

Amongst New Zealand politicians Winston Peters stands out on this.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has a longer history than most when it comes to linking concerns about terrorism to Muslims.

In a 2005 speech titled The End Of Toleranceand delivered in the wake of the London bombings, Peters singled out Muslim migrants for special attention.

He spoke about the “political correctness” in other parties:

“They say – ah yes – but New Zealand has always been a nation of immigrants. They miss a crucial point. New Zealand has never been a nation of Islamic immigrants…”

Peters also suggested that moderate Muslims were operating “hand in glove” with extremists.

His exact words are worth quoting in full:

“This two-faced approach is how radical Islam works – present the acceptable face to one audience and the militant face to another.

“In New Zealand the Muslim community have been quick to show us their more moderate face, but as some media reports have shown, there is a militant underbelly here as well.

“Underneath it all the agenda is to promote fundamentalist Islam.

“Indeed these groups are like the mythical Hydra – a serpent underbelly with multiple heads capable of striking at any time and in any direction.”

He went on to note that “in many parts of the world the Christian faith is under direct threat from radical Islam,” and said that he had sent a letter to all leaders of Islamic groups in New Zealand, calling them to name any “radicals, troublemakers and potential dangers to our society”.

Dame Anne Salmond (NZ Herald): Racist underbelly seethes just beneath surface

After this terrible tragedy, let’s be honest, for once. White supremacy is a part of us, a dark power in the land. In its soft version, it looks bland and reasonable.

The doctrine of white superiority is based on arrogance, and ignorance. Since other cultures, languages and religions are worthless, there’s no need to learn about them. The “others” are dehumanised, making their misery and suffering unreal.

In the present, let’s face it, online, on talkback, in taxis and around dinner tables, the doctrine of white superiority is still alive and well in New Zealand. It’s absolutely right that our Prime Minister should take a stand for kindness and generosity, aroha and manaakitanga in the relations among different groups in our country.

But let’s not pretend there’s not a dark underbelly in New Zealand society.

And let’s not pretend that it doesn’t happen right here.

It’s very challenging encouraging open discussion and debate on important issues while trying to moderate white supremicism and racism and religious attacks.

But these are things we should be talking about – and asking ourselves serious questions about.

And others are also asking serious questions.

 

Facebook, Google accused of inciting violence

It may be more allowing violence to be incited, but is there a difference?