Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Point Too Far?

When Waitangi awareness is high, you can bet someone
plays "the race grievance card".
But one maori academic has been criticised for calling the colonisation of NZ a holocaust! Keri Opai, a Taranaki language teacher, says maori have been through some "awful stuff that really does break down to a holocaust". He cites the 1881 pillaging of Parihaka by government troops as a damning episode, and says many NZers do not realise the extent of the devastation. He claims post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been passed down through generations, and is behind many contemporary problems.
Taranaki Daily News wrongly reported Opai had directly compared the European colonisation of NZ with the Nazis' killing of six million Jews during WWII. The paper later apologised, but not before indignant comments hit the media, both here and in Britain...
Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman describes his comments as ignorant and improper. "It tries to elevate maori grievances by associating with the Holocaust, and I find it very hard to draw a comparison between the colonisation and genocide. It works on trivialising the Holocaust and diminishing the suffering and sheer horror. Maori have every right to draw attention to their issue, but this is a highly inappropriate way."
The Oxford Dictionary describes holocaust as: destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, esp. caused by fire or nuclear war (and cites Auschwitz concentration camp as an example). It was that
"mass scale" slaughter that Opai claims to have been referring to (though he's still stretching it a fair bit). He would've been wiser to have chosen a less emotive word, however as a language teacher for 30 years, he knew exactly what buttons he'd push!
But a good academic will ensure he has his facts right. Opai claims the PTSD suffered by Parihaka residents is behind many of today's maori problems. But a 1995 peer-reviewed article says "Although most people (50–90%) encounter trauma in their lifetime, only about 8% develop full PTSD." It also states PTSD can not be passed down through generations - it is a severe anxiety disorder, it does not corrupt DNA.
The reason this trauma appears on the radar today is because it's used as an excuse. We all must move ahead, take responsibility for ourselves and not blame something that happened 121 years ago.
NZ Colonisation: 21,000 maori died in war, 120,000 disease/illness.
Nazi Holocaust: Six million mainly Jews exterminated.
[Kessler, Sonnega, Bromet, Hughes, Nelson (1995).
"Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey".
Arch Gen Psychiatry 52 (12): 1048–60.]

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