Our Way: Norman Kirk farewells the HMNZS Otago as it sets sail for Mururoa Atoll in June 1973. His invocation of the parable of the Good Samaritan was repeated nearly 43 years later by John Key. But, which of these two political leaders possesses the surer grasp of the parable's meaning?
IN JUNE 1973, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Norman Kirk, bade farewell to the HMNZS Otago as it steamed out of Waitemata Harbour for the tiny Pacific atoll of Mururoa, the island where France’s controversial nuclear weapons programme conducted its atmospheric tests. Minutes before the ship pulled away from the Devonport naval base, the Prime Minister had delivered a short, impromptu speech:
“We could stand back and say ‘We have done enough’. Perhaps some prefer not to get involved. But let the world see. We will not turn our eyes and pass by on the other side of the road. That is not our way.”
Nearly 42 years later, on Waitangi Day 2015, another Prime Minister, John Key, delivered a short, impromptu speech of his own. Responding to challenges from Maori Council Chair, Manu Paul, about why New Zealand was proposing to involve itself in “other people’s wars”, in Syria and Iraq, when there were so many more urgent calls upon its resources at home, Key replied:
“New Zealand is not going to turn the other way. We’re actually going to stand up for human rights, and we’re not going to do silly things, but we may join 60 or so other countries around the world trying to protect people who can’t protect themselves.” “(We have) no intention of going to fight other people’s wars but I’m not going to turn the other way when people are being persecuted and say as a leader it’s other people’s problems. I don’t think that’s the New Zealand way.”
The phraseology of these speeches is remarkably similar. In both cases, the speakers draw upon the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan.
In Kirk’s case the invocation is quite deliberate. Compare his “We will not turn our eyes and pass by on the other side of the road”, with the wording of Luke’s Gospel:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
In Key’s case, the language is looser, and the reference less precise, but the image conjured up, of someone refusing to ignore the victim of an attack – “I’m not going to turn the other way when people are being persecuted” – is unmistakably that of the Good Samaritan.
Key’s use of the parable is all the more remarkable given his background. Unlike Kirk, who was raised in a devout Salvation Army household, Key was raised by a Jewish mother, who, by all accounts, was not a particularly strict follower of her people’s faith.
It’s an indication of just how deeply embedded this core Christian story has become in our culture. Certainly, it was Kirk’s belief that Christ’s moving response to the question: “Who is my neighbour?” had been thoroughly internalised by his fellow citizens. Hence his confident assertion that, when it came to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, New Zealanders were simply unwilling to pass by on the other side. Or, as he summed it up: “That is not our way.”
Who Is My Neighbour? The Good Samaritan parable is very deeply embedded in the moral sensibility of Western culture.
When it came to joining the fight against Islamic State, Key’s assumptions about how the average Kiwi was most likely to respond prompted him to voice a conclusion almost identical to Kirk’s: “I don’t think that’s the New Zealand way.”
But which of the two Prime Ministers demonstrates the surer grasp of the parable’s meaning? Is it Kirk or Key who can lay legitimate claim to be acting in the spirit of the Good Samaritan?
The first point to make about the parable is that, although it includes violent acts, none of the violence is perpetrated by the principal players. Yes, the robbers have beaten, stripped and robbed the Samaritan, but the central purpose of the story is to demonstrate the appropriate response.
As Prime Minister, Kirk inherited a situation in which the French were poisoning the South Pacific’s skies with the radioactive by-products of their atomic bombs. The injured parties, in this case, were the innocent peoples of the Pacific. By sending the HMNZS Otago to bear witness to France’s injurious conduct, he hoped to bring it to an end – the diplomatic equivalent of bandaging the victims’ wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
Key faces a rather different problem. In Syria and Iraq, the part of the robbers is clearly played by Islamic State. The victim’s part, equally clearly, belongs to the suffering people of those war-torn nations. What, then, should the Samaritan – i.e. New Zealand – do?
To hear Mr Key tell the story, the Samaritan should return to Jerusalem, get in touch with the Roman Governor, and offer to assist in the training of a special unit to patrol the Jericho Road.
It is possible to argue that, by participating in the training of such a unit, the Samaritan would be helping to prevent any future travellers from being attacked by robbers, and that by so doing he is demonstrating the ethical qualities of a good neighbour.
But what about the victim lying bleeding at the side of the road? In the parable, he is the focus of the Samaritan’s neighbourliness. It is his urgent need that the Samaritan responds to.
Translating this into New Zealand’s options in the Middle East, would it not be more in keeping with spirit of the story for our government to direct its resources towards binding up Syria’s and Iraq’s wounds? To supplying them with medicines, food and shelter?
Christ did not err in choosing a Samaritan as the focus of his story. In the Israel of his day the Samaritans were a despised people. That it should be one of these that showed the victim mercy added a special poignancy to the tale.
If he really wishes to emulate the Good Samaritan, shouldn’t our Prime Minister demonstrate to the people of Syria and Iraq that even the despised unbelievers of the West – the ones who attacked and robbed them, bombed their cities and left their shattered communities for dead – are also capable of mercy and compassion; of bandaging-up the wounds they have inflicted; of pouring on wine and oil?
This essay was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Tuesday, 10 February 2015.
Why is John Key so concerned with those people in the Middle East who are being mistreated? He seems remarkably comfortable with any number of people who are being treated badly all over the world. We didn't send troops to Rwanda for instance, where people were treated much worse than they were by Isis. But then I guess we couldn't curry favour with the Americans, because they weren't going to send troops themselves. I guess Rwanda was nowhere near any oilfields.
Doesn't charity begin at home? The present National Government is becoming a judgemental administration with strict rules for its welfare assistance. Remember the first pensions in NZ were paid to men of sober dispositions?
Any reference to the parable in the context of Iraq is inappropriate unless the role of the "robbers" is properly assigned for it is their side New Zealand is taking in any coalition with the U.S.
What seems to confuse most commentators is the horrible mess U.S. foreign policy in the region has wrought. Most see it as a failure of colossal proportions. The truth is it has been a huge success.
The object of the Israel-focused Neo-Con elements within the U.S. government was to degrade and balkanize Arab states in the region as laid out in the "seminal essay by Israeli foreign affairs official Oded Yinon, which was published by the World Zionist Organisation in 1982, advocating the transformation of Israel into a regional imperial power by fragmenting the Arab world “into a mosaic of ethnic and confessional groupings that could be more easily manipulated.....It was not until the rise of the neocons and their exploitation of the post-September 11 climate that US policy decisively shifted in the direction charted by Yinon and increasingly adopted by Israeli strategists in the interim period.”
The sole reservation I have with regard to the above scenario is my own difficulty in attributing such evil to any group - but then History has its examples does it not?
Both speeches- of Kirk and Key - are important. Of greater concern today is the failure of successive governments to support and assist the people who went to Mururoa as their duty demanded; in their current hour of need. The incidence of cancers amongst this small population is truly appalling.
Key was and still is happy to turn the other way when high treason was being committed by Obama, McCain, Clinton and Co when they were busy arming the enemy
John Key you are lying hypocrite
Shame on the lamestream journos - AWOL as per usual
It is erroneous to think ISIS or something like it wouldn't have come into existence if not for Bush's folly in Iraq. ISIS's leadership are often extracted from the former Soviet Union.
ISIS's insane objective is literally the genocide of every non Sunni male in the entire world and the rape of every non Sunni women in the world. They are currently winning in Syria and threatening the largest genocide since the Holocaust.
I think there are a number of reasons for the left's attitude towards ISIS. There is little political or sympathetic pathos attached to the Kurds who unlike the Palestinians are little known and are not the victims of a group the left has built a hatred for; if it was Zionists tormenting Palestinians the reaction would've been very different. There has been a degree of political symmetry between Sunni political Islam and the international left since 2001 which even in this extreme case leads to a blunting of opposition from some quarters.
But most troublingly, unlike Kirk, many politically active people are no longer caring or concerned with what's right or wrong but worry about siding with or against power blocs. Those on the left who are like that just don't care what ISIS does to the Kurds or Alawites but know they hate and oppose America and the projection of its power.
"There has been a degree of political symmetry between Sunni political Islam and the international left since 2001 which even in this extreme case leads to a blunting of opposition from some quarters. "
Bollocks. There has been a degree of arse kissing of the Saudis who are mostly Sunni simply because they have oil. Anyway, without some sort of explanation of what you mean by symmetry and a few examples the whole statement is pretty damn meaningless anyway.
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