Hard News by Russell Brown

The Liberal Lollyscramble

The most extraordinary thing about yesterday's Ahmed Zaoui bail decision is surely the frank disdain expressed by the Supreme Court for the Crown's evidence - or lack thereof - that Zaoui would constitute a danger on the streets of Auckland.

The Crown was not itself moved to offer any reason that Zaoui should, after two years, remain in prison: offering early in the piece yesterday the news that it would not oppose his being bailed to the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, where his communications could be monitored. The court decided that would be too much like interment to satisfy natural justice and instead committed him to the care of the Dominican friars. That, in a system such as ours, is the kind of decision a senior court is entitled to make.

The Herald's stern editorial describing the court's decision as "a sizeable step too far" might reflect the paper's understandable attachment to its Zaoui "exclusives", but it probably reflects the view of many New Zealanders. Morning Report today aired vox pops of citizens expressing shock and alarm that a "terrorist" was abroad. I have in recent months heard educated people holding forth against Zaoui, his motives and his bid for refugee status.

And yet, so far as I can tell, nothing has happened to significantly undermine the Refugee Status Appeal Authority's exhaustive finding that the convictions against him in Europe were not safe. He was elected as a member of the FIS, a very broad party which contained significant, even alarming, pockets of intolerance, and yet his record appears to be one of a community leader, rather than a zealot. (And anyway, as we have seen in recent weeks, we have no shortage of intolerance or zealotry ourselves.) Nothing seems to have justified his extended solitary confinement.

The argument that he was simply a victim of outrageous fortune might be seen as overly generous, but it would seem considerably more robust than the proposition that he is in any way associated with international terrorism in the sense in which we normally understand it. These two years would seem to have been long enough for his various supporters to have had their doubts and fall away, but he seems to have consistently impressed everyone who has met him. At the least, he is a man of great personal charm.

On the other hand, we've seen the growth of what can only be called the Cult of Zaoui. Some of those who have swung in behind his cause have offered not so much support as instant deification. Given the mildly hysterical scene at his exit from Auckland Remand Prison, he probably needs to be protected as much from those people as much as anything else.

Some of the political responses have been amusing, not least Tony Ryall's declaration that "New Zealand's security laws are worryingly vague. The Government should talk to National about how to fix the law." Those "worryingly vague" laws were, of course, signed off by a Cabinet of which Ryall was part, and this is the first time they have been tested in this way.

Intriguingly, the statements of National's leader have been more in line with perceptions of him as a supporter of human rights. Don Brash has confided to Camilla in recent weeks his concern over the length and nature of Zaoui's internment. Yesterday, he told her:

It's important that the SIS can work to some degree in secret. I think it's also important that if there serious charges laid against someone, they have some opportunity answering those charges.

In response to a question, Brash said he "might well have an opportunity during the Christmas break" of meeting Zaoui. I think his comments on the case have been quite fair and judicious - and that he should assert some leadership and tell his immigration spokesman to calm down.

I've said quite enough on the Civil Union Bill, which passed in the course of yesterday's liberal lollyscramble of news. So I'll just note that, especially in the 3 News coverage, the gay people supporting the bill's passage outside parliament yesterday will have appeared way more "normal" to the public than some of the hysterical Christians staging a vigil in opposition. I'm sure that New Zealand First's Brian Donnelly is quite right when he says that Brian Tamaki's campaign against the bill had a, er, perverse outcome.

You'll doubtless have noticed that we have an absolute bonanza of good reading on Public Address today. To much to take in one go, perhaps, but do take the time to read our new Great New Zealand Argument posting, Robin Hyde's The Singers of Loneliness (thanks to Jolisa for her introduction), which is quite wonderful. Also, feel free to have a crack at winning an iPod from David Slack.

Oh, and the folks from Chai, who have been advertising with us, finally got around to sending me some of the product (to be fair, I did miss their launch do). I don't drink ordinary tea, but I tried the Morrocan Mint and the Earl Grey last night. Verdict? Really nice, actually.

And finally, sadly, an open letter, from me:

Dear Scribe,

Love your work. But I hate what happened to a good friend of mine on Wednesday. I don't know the exact extent to which you were involved, but at the very least you stood by and allowed your buddy to beat my friend unconscious, and your gang's behaviour was cowardly and out of control. I don't know where that God that you like to thank when you win awards was on Wednesday night, but it wasn't anywhere near you.

I might have been there myself, but I was at my son's school prizegiving. He won a trophy, and he was so pleased. He was up against the odds, just like you always say you were in your songs. The difference is, he can't walk away from those bad odds. You can.

If you want to piss away your talent and amount to nothing, carry on the way you did this week. If you want to do justice to it, be a man and apologise, and then some. If you've got a problem, fix it. And if you can't fix it yourself, get some fucking help.

Enough really is enough.