Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cutting Dreadlocks

There has been a lot of media interest in the cutting of my dreadlocks. To be expected really – the NZ media was always more interested in how I look than in what I had to say (Nice photos, shame about the radical korero). Given the dishonest and poisonous comments by people like Barry Soper, as well as the inability of most journalists to comprehend anything outside of their own narrow existence, I thought I had better offer some unmediated comment of my own.

I have cut my locks. Following the guidance provided in Numbers 20, I had it in my mind when I left Parliament that I may have to trim (having come into such intimate contact with the putrifying corpse of Babylon) but I was not sure. I felt that my spirit and mind had been polluted by Parliament – both by the abusive behaviour that is the standard operating procedure in there, and by the way that the institution coopts one's thinking. It is very difficult to resist becoming institutionalised by the machinery of power (or the illusion of power). The place narrows and constraints thinking. Creativity, different thinking, innovative ways of doing things – I felt that these had been squeezed out of me until there was no real juice left. My reality was increasingly being defined by the artificial and inherently shallow world in which I was living. That is what I mean by being polluted by Parliament.

Any Rasta idren will understand the reluctance to bring sissors upon I head, so even though I felt polluted I did not wish to cut my hair. In November I was in the forest and during a session of prayer I got the very clear message that yes, the time had come and I must cut my locks. The next day I did.

It has been a powerful experience. Having worn a crown for 20 years (almost exactly) it has taken a while to get used to not showing it. But it has been a renewal and a healing, like the shedding of a snake's skin. I have not renounced the livity or philosophy of Rastafari, but instead have used this as an opportunity to recommit Iself to the way of truth and life. This also means a re-radicalisation because I&I must do all we can to bring an end to this corrupt shitstem that values money more highly than life or the planet that we live upon.

I have spent the past year studying Management and Sustainability at Waikato University and have seen very clearly that the business world and governments have no real answers to our crisis. The most important cornerstone of eco-business is resource efficiency – an approach that fails in terms of reducing our impact on the planet. The paradox of greater efficiency is that it leads to a net increase in resource use. The real problem is economic growth itself – the fetishist goal of capitalists and governments all over the world.

This year I am studying Maori language full time. I am convinced that at least some of the answers we need are to be found in indigenous worldviews. In Aotearoa, tangata whenua are at the forefront of many struggles to protect ecological integrity. I am also convinced that these struggles will increasingly be against Iwi corporations, as the tensions between Maori worldviews and the requirements of capitalism become more acute.

I do not regret my time in Parliament. I learned a lot from it, I grew a lot and I met many fantastic people, both inside and outside the House. I also like to think I contributed something – a different perspective, a voice that had not been heard there before. I am proud of my accomplishments – the Waste Minimisation Act, an Independent Prison Inspectorate, the permitting of hemp growing in NZ, Clean Slate legislation among other things. But I am glad I left. My biggest fear was that I would become a career politician, someone for whom being in Parliament (or Government) is more important than what they do when they are there. Unfortunately, that describes most politicians.

So I remain a Nazarite Dread Rasta, a servant of the Most High, a Ras among Rases. Bless up.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Crying for Haiti

It's hard to make sense of the enormity of what is happening in Haiti. It seems so unfair that some of the poorest people in the world should suffer this blow, delivered by the earth itself. Yet if anything, it is a reminder of how poverty and the environment are interlinked.

An earthquake, of course, is not affected by whether humans are benign or destructive to their environment. We don't yet know whether environmental damage added to the destruction caused by the earthquake, in the way that clearing mangrove swamps in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India for shrimp farms and tourist resorts increased the damage from the 2004 tsunami. We do know that deforestation in Haiti has led to desertification of farmland and growing poverty and left the population vulnerable to floods, such as in 2004 when around 6,000 people died.

I've always found it hard to square the poverty and corruption of Haiti with its history as the first independent state in Latin America and the first post-colonial black run nation in the world. The story of how slave born leader Toussant L'Overture led a slave army to take over the island and repel both the Spanish and the British military forces is awe inspiring. Napolean's army also lost some 50,000 soldiers including 18 generals trying to retake the island, although they kidnapped L'Overture under the guise of a parley and imprisoned him until his death.

By 1825 Haiti was militarily weak enough for France to demand 150 million francs as reparation for lost profits from the slave trade. This contributed to political instability, as did US, British and German military incursions into Haiti. Last century the US held Haiti under military occupation for around twenty years, and then helped prop up the murderous regime of Papa Doc Duvalier and his 'Tonton Macoutes' death squads.

Which all helps to explain the international outcry over the massive US army invasion of Haiti in the wake of the earthquake. While Cuba has been landing hundreds of doctors in Haiti and in fact had hundreds already there as part of an aid program (Cuba exports doctors to poor countries while the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand imports from them), the US has contributed thousands of soldiers. Soldiers can assist in recovery and reconstruction, and there is a concern about security in the face of massively inadequate food and medical supplies, but some US commentators have suggested that air dropping food and water would be a more effective way to reduce looting than flying in the Marines.

The logistics of the aid effort have been shambolic, it seems. Medicins San Frontiers has complained that people have died because of the repeated turning away of aircraft carrying essential medical supplies by the US army in favour of diplomats and US military personnel. Supplies on the ground in Port Au Prince remain undistributed. Tension grows as the population gets hungrier, although US army reports suggest that incidents of violence are below pre-earthquake levels.

I can't agree with Hugo Chavez that this is an occupation of Haiti in disguise. I think that the US effort is motivated by goodwill, but that the USA has come to rely on a military modus operandi. Barking men in camo is the answer to all problems, and so it is logical for the US to show its commitment by the number of troops in its Haiti surge. It's no more than the obvious outcome of an imperial mindset.

Neither do I mean to be unduly critical of the aid effort, since I am sure I couldn't coordinate a better one (but then I am neither trained or paid to do so). One thing we can be sure of is that following the failure of the Copenhagen negotiations the number of humanitarian crises will increase. The impacts of climate change will predominantly be felt by poor countries and they will be reliant on the rich world taking responsibility for the catastrophes it causes. Responding to this scale of emergency is something the world had better get good at.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Willie Apiata in Afghanistan

The NZ Herald is defending the publication of a photo of two NZ SAS soldiers in Kabul, after it was revealed that one of them is corporal Willie Apiata, VC. Apparently there is a convention not to publish the identities of soldiers in action as it puts them in danger. In the words of PM John Key "we don't want (the Taliban)to know the names and individual identities of members of the SAS because of the nature of some of their operations, and they would be at a greater risk if they can be identified" and "It puts at risk the lives of those individual soldiers because they can now be recognised".

Am I stupid or is this as contrived a piece of rubbish as I think it is? I just don't understand how the Taliban knowing the name of NZ SAS operatives puts them in danger. Surely the Taliban are intent on killing ANY foreign invader infidels they can get to? It seems especially absurd since the original photo was not titled and it was the PM that confirmed it was him.

I would have thought not wearing a helmet in a battle zone was the greater danger, but what do I know?