Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Triple Standards?

So Helen Clark is urging New Zealanders not to holiday in Fiji - there's more than a hint of moral overtone to her advice:

"The reality is that one of our fellow citizens who was doing his job, expressing the values of New Zealanders about the importance of constitutional government and process, has been treated in a ridiculous and horrible way. I don't think we should take that lightly."

Her reaction, apparently, would be to boycott the destination.

Strange then that Helen's sense of moral outrage seems a little selective. Where China is concerned she has no such qualms about taking the moral "low road" such is the importance of the pending free trade agreement with China. So important, that she's not prepared to meet with the Dalai Lama.

"The Dalai Lama is not a head of government, I don't meet every visitor to New Zealand," Clark said. "He is no ordinary spiritual or religious leader either, you can see that by the way in which controversy surrounds these visits," Clark told TV One's Breakfast programme.

Anyone, who saw John Cambell's TV3 interview with the Dalai last night would have heard his politely framed but hardly subtle characterisation of her refusal as placing economic advantage over morality - in his worldview sacrificing a longer term, big picture interest (doing the right thing) for a short term interest.

Fortunately karma has intruded to allow Helen's usual brand of pragmatic diplomacy to win the day - I haven't seen it widely reported but apparently she DID meet the Dalai - in Brisbane airport. The PM was flying business class and the Dalai Lama was in economy, but Qantas was not about to force an international celebrity of such stature (just to be clear: the Dalai Lama) to cool his heals in the transfer "lounge" with the rest of cattle class.

"It was pure chance we were on the same plane together," Helen Clark said. "I've been aware of this for several days now but there was no pre-arranged meeting because one doesn't know whether people are going to be in the lounge, or what time other passengers are boarded ..."It so happened there were around 10 minutes to be taken with the discussion. "So I did sit down with him ... and had a discussion of the kind which is appropriate with him as a religious and spiritual leader."

Helen Clark apparently told the Dalai Lama of New Zealand's initiatives on interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue.

"He was very interested in that.

So are we. I was about to remark on the incongruity in her refusing to see him with her (agnostic) zeal for the inter faith deal. Guess I was wrong.


Hal said...

So now you're on the Dalai Lama's side? I don't get it. He is not a head of government. He is not as enlightened as people make out. Some of his teachings come straight out of the dark ages. He dresses funny. The PM has the responsibility to not meet him formally. If she did she would be indulging a personal whim consistent with her left wing agenda and not furthering the countries interests. I guess she was smart enough to do both, but what I really mean is, why should she meet him?

BJ said...

(Not so shallow?) Hal,I was not suggesting that Helen Clark has not made a valid choice vis a vis the Dalai Lama. But rather, that she needs to be careful with the consistency of her moralising. In one sense I'm surprised she didn't meet him - it fits the inter faith agenda and the Dalai Lama's public teachings tend to support the kind of pluralism that Clark deems acceptable within the civic state she is (hell)bent on creating - but she doesn't have the courage of David Lange's convictions (as he did with the nuclear issue). So with the US connection still shaky (despite a little backtracking pandering) and Clark's historic assertion that NZ's future lies within the Asia Pacific region, she really had no choice.

My point is this: how bad is Fiji compared to China?

Sharyn said...

The Dalai Lhama IS a head of government, he is the head of an (illegally) deposed one.

Hal said...

Helen doesn't agree with you on that one Sharyn!

Glen O'Brien said...

The Dalai Lama a refugee, forced out of his home country by one of the most despicable regimes of the twentieth century. John Howard refused to meet him here for the same reasons as Helen Clarke - trade relations with China. Of course simply being a religiosu figure and a refugee does not make one a reliable guide to the truth of things.

Here is what one of my students. Megan, made of the Dalai Lama, as recorded on her blog http://ludicrousitys.blogspot.com/

"On Saturday arvo I went to see the Dalai Lama speak. He did a free public lecture. I was really surprised by the whole thing. I guess I expected him to be wise and inspiring. Given that he is a Buddist leader and someone who is looked to by people for wisdom and inspiration, I expected a lot more. He didn't say anything I hadn't heard before, and he is not really a very good public speaker. Although that's fair enough given that English is not his first language. He was hard to understand at times, given his accent. But I got what he was saying.He spoke a lot about nice concepts, which isn't anything new. I guess the disappointing thing for me was that he didn't seem to have any practical implications for his ideas. I know he is a good man who works for peace and harmony, but he didn't seem to know how to translate his ideas into action. The topic of his talk was 'universal responsibility'. He spoke for an hour on things like compassion, and how we ought to treat people well regardless of how they treat us. Which I agree with entirely by the way. Then he talked about some abstract concepts and I wasn't entirely sure where he was going with it all. After his talk he answered questions for about half an hour. That was the bit that was really surprising. He didn't seem to be able to answer anyone's questions.He said that there was no way to know which religion was right. And that is a strange thing coming from a man who is supposed to be a spiritual and religious leader. Why is he a Buddist if he isn't sure that Buddism is right? For a spiritual leader he sure took religion out of almost everything he said.He also wasn't able to answer any practical questions he was asked. Everytime someone asked him what he would do in a certain situation, or what he would say to world leaders or countries in conflict he said he didn't know. He never gave an answer, or even an idea of how to work for change. It was quite bizaare. He always went off on tangents and talked about nice ideas. Then ended up saying, I don't know! Work it out.Personally I am concerned with God and religion as it pertains to life. What use is religion if it has no bearing on the real world? I think that God is intertwined with the everyday and when we take him out of it, we miss the point. I find value in relgion as it changes my life and informs my decisions. The way I treat people, the decisions I make, the way I interact with my environment.I was disappointed that the Dalai Lama did not have more to say on how we should live, and how the principles he taught on make a difference in our world."

BJ said...

The point I was making here was that Helen Clark can't have it both ways - she can't ask NZer's to adopt a particular moral stance to Fiji when she adopts an inconsistent stance with China.

Whether the Dalai Lama is the head of a government or not - I don't think it makes a difference to Helen Clark's position via a vis China. Her job is to do the best she can for NZ - not be a moral watchdog for the rest of the world. I don't think she can be criticised as PM for taking that stance - it may not be the moral choice but governments are entitled to take decisions in the interests of their own country. Its a fine line I agree - for me the black and white line would be when a country aids and abets an injustice. I don't think we have that here - NZ is not complicit in the subjugation of Tibet.

Maybe Helen would argue the Fijian situation is different because its not yet "set in stone"? But you can't help but think boycotting travel will simply hit the people in the pocket.

BJ said...

Very interesting blog quote Glen! I'll never forget watching John Safran interview people on the streets of Aussie accompanied by a guy dressed as pope and another dressed as the Dalai Lama. He then put various religious/moral positions to bystanders asking them who said what - the quotes were morally harsh and got progressively more ridiculous and strict. In every case the quotes were actually attributable to the Dalai Lama - but everyone thought they were the Pope! Guess it comes down to PR eh?