The talk in question was to about 100 people of very mixed backgrounds in a church hall. There were some Christians but most were your regular agnostic Kiwis... and there were even a couple of Muslims. One of the Muslims was a Somali lady who chatted to me beforehand and said that she hoped I wasn't going to say anything uncomplimentary about Muhammad because he was perfect - above reproach. I said I was only going to refer to Islamic sacred texts so how could there be a problem? Later in the Q&A she made a stand and spoke at length about her wonderful prophet and failed to engage with any of my points or any of the sacred scriptures to which I had referred that indicated he was a very troubling figure. Of course no question ever came. Someone said to me afterwards that they didn't know how I remained so patient with her when she obviously intended to capture the event for her own agenda. But I wasn't there to argue, I was there to provoke growth and there's more than one way to teach.
Nevertheless I apparently came across as hateful to one Anglican lady (I think it's the same lady who once accused me of being "an Anglican Ian Paisley"). So at 6 o'clock one night last week I heard a knock at the back door and opened it to find a Policeman standing there (are we still saying Police-man, or should it be Police Officer? Is it like fireman and firefighter? I can't keep up). For the sake of anonymity I'll call him "Bobby".
I invited Bobby in and offered him a cup of tea which he declined. I was a bit nervous, as you can imagine, but he seemed even more nervous than I was. After explaining the reason for his visit he said that he's been making quite a few of these calls on people who may have indicated to someone somewhere that they had an issue with Muslims. He had a fixed set of questions he was supposed to go through with each person. There's a video here of a couple of cops making a visit to another bloke for similar reasons. That visit didn't go so well. It was nice that Bobby didn't have a pistol on him, that made the whole thing a bit less awkward - we're not used to that sort of thing over here are we?
Another good thing is that I know a couple of Policemen or ex-Policemen and found that Bobby used to go sailing with an ex-cop married to my wife's cousin in Auckland (New Zealand's a small country). It was a nice healthy point of connection and helped to humanise the whole proceedings.
Bobby apologised for having to come round to talk but I assured him it would be irresponsible of the Police not to after receiving a complaint in the wake of the Christchurch attack. It wasn't long before he said "I think I'm a pretty good judge of people and I don't think you present any sort of threat" but that he was obliged to go through his list of questions. So below is my best recollection of our exchange in no particular order.
1. Have you seen the video of the shootings or read Tarrant's manifesto?
Yes to both.
2. Do you have copies of them?
No. I had a copy of the manifesto until I learnt it was illegal to hold and subsequently deleted it. One viewing of the shootings themselves was enough. I asked how I could get permission to have a copy for academic purposes but he couldn't point me in the right direction for that.
3. Do you hold any extremist views?
Well that's a vague question. Define extremist. But thinking I knew what was being driven at I could simply answer "no".
4. Do you have any extremist literature?
I said yes, I have a Qur'an. He said that I had a good sense of humour.
But I was only half joking.
5. Do you own any guns?
Now he should already know the answer to that because I've had the arms officer come around and assess my gun safe when I moved in and therefore the Police already know I have two firearms. In fact I already volunteered their serial numbers in case they were stolen, something I wasn't legally obliged to do. So having reiterated that I had two guns I was asked for their details (yes one is a now illegal semi-auto).
6. Have you had any combat training?
Supposing that raising teenagers didn't count I said no.
7. Do you hate Muslims?
No. Because hating Islam does not entail hating Muslims.
I said to him that surely no-one would answer 'yes' to questions like 'do you hate Muslims' and 'do you have any extremist literature?' but he responded that a surprising number of people admitted to both. Some said that they really did hate Muslims and that the only problem with the Mosque shootings was that more weren't killed. Unbelievable. We both shook our heads.
I mentioned my attendance at a Free Speech Rally last year where there were a couple of blokes who held similar views (I wrote about the experience here). I told him about these men who hated Muslims but were helpfully talked to by others afterwards in order to point them in the right direction: "we don't hate people, we hate bad ideas". I said I thought that this is the way to initially deal with the problem rather than prosecuting them or driving people with the wrong opinions underground to fester.
We talked about the problems of hate speech laws - who decides what is hate? Bobby was very conciliatory, it felt like he'd had this chat before and it wasn't on his to-do list so he avoided controversy. However as I listened to Bobby there was one area that did concern me, but shouldn't have, given what I know of our society: his sadly typical religious illiteracy. Not merely in regard to Islam (which I expected) but in regard to Christianity, the base religion of his own Western culture!
He seemed to think that the Bible was equally likely to be called hateful as the Qur'an. How anybody could hold such a position indicates that they simply have the most vague idea of its contents. But if any New Zealanders know anything of the Bible I suspect it would be the 23rd Psalm ("the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want" - which discusses our reliance on God's genuine and personal love for us) and the Lord's Prayer ("Blessed are the Peacemakers...Blessed are the meek...Blessed are those who merciful..." which discusses the kind of things God wants to see in us in response to his love).
That's pretty much the thrust of the whole Bible's moral teachings in a nutshell. Hate?
And that was about it for our chat. I showed him my library on the way out (Islam over there, other totalitarian belief systems over here) and invited him to read my website because really, "everything you need to know about me is there". However I think that, the box concerning carrying out a face-to-face being ticked he won't look in here. That is a real pity, because this issue is not going to go away. The issues surrounding the teachings of Islam and its prophet, the exemplary child rapist, torturer, brigand, Antisemite and warlord Muhammad, will only become more stark.
As will issues of free speech. Almost all our politicians seem totally confused on what is permissible criticism and what is not (there are two extremely useful short videos here and here on the current state of idiocy regarding free speech in NZ that I highly recommend). At the moment it seems to me that if someone's - anyone's - feelings are hurt then speech has crossed the line from "free"into "hate" no matter how factual the information or how kindly it's delivered. That's it.
What could possibly go wrong eh?