zaouiphone.jpgLAURA WILSON
Identifying and eradicating unwanted pests
New Zealand Customs officers are among the world’s most rigorously protective. We love to keep things out of our remote little country. I quite frequently fly around the world carting some odd items that barely raise an eyebrow until I land here, whereupon I am funnelled toward MAF and Customs scrutineers who treat me as if I am very odd indeed.
“Why would I want to bring such things into the country? Does the country need such things? They have never heard of items like these, so surely I am hiding some ulterior motive?” I have an interest in different healing techniques and pick up the odd foreign implement and herbal remedy. At first the insinuation that this made me a suspicious oddity upset me. How dare they make such judgements? I found it very small-minded indeed.
Often my goods are taken for further testing and I receive them weeks or even months later, purged of every possible evil. This simply does not happen elsewhere, unless you have a firearm. But ask most New Zealanders about Customs and they will back up this mentality of exclusion. We want the right to shape our country the way we want, not have it shaped by outside influences flooding in at the will of foreigners whose alliance lies not with the heart of this nation.
We are quite clear when it comes to excluding undesirable substances, but not so undesirable attitudes. This becomes an issue of human rights, as if we do not have the right as a country to judge an attitude or a behaviour undesirable and keep it out. We will protect our flora and fauna from contamination with the greatest of measures, but not our culture.

A few countries have the shoe on the other foot. Bhutan, for example, allows only tourism, no immigration. Tourists pay US$250 a day to visit, allowed only two weeks in a guided tour of designated areas. While Bhutan is an extreme example, it is by no means unique. Many countries have almost no immigration allowance – it is simply something they do not want. Nepal, for example has a few foreign residents, but all are there on shonky student visas that require constant renewal. Try to even find an Immigration Department, and then try to ask for a residency application form, and you will be laughed back to your country.
I estimate that in approximately two-thirds of the world’s countries, immigration is nigh impossible. The countries that do allow it are predominantly Western. In Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand the attitude to giving foreigners entitlement to dwell and even become nationals, is entirely different. Even countries that are over-full to bursting still take in thousands of immigrants. Why the differences?
Obviously, more people want to get out of a poor country and into a comparatively rich one, than the reverse. But there is another reason, one which Western nations scorned long ago. Protectivism. Even the poorest of countries like Nepal and Bhutan are passionate about their identity and protect it at great cost. They want tourism and they want money, but they do not want outside customs taking root and potentially taking over their sovereign ways.
Try similarly to immigrate to a Muslim nation. Even marrying a national does not afford you residency or citizenship. They are absolutely protective, and unashamedly proud of it. But observe the outcry if any Western country attempts in even the meekest way to protect itself by suggesting for example that it is overcrowded and needs a break from the tide of immigrants. This country will be in the headlines, whichever politician dared to voice this opinion labelled a racist, conservative bigot, or as in the case of Pym Fortuyn, Dutch Opposition Leader, simply shot to death.
I have never been a part of any organisation, be it religious, political or philosophical. I have no criminal history, no world-changing goals, and no particular axe to grind yet immigration to a non-Western country would be no easy task as most simply do not want me. They most certainly feel no kind of moral obligation to take me in simply because I ask nicely! Even if I had fled New Zealand, pursued by the IRD or the Mongrel Mob I would find they have no such thing as ‘claiming refugee status’ because I fear for my livelihood or life.
The very fact that New Zealand is taking its time to consider whether to grant residency to a foreign man with a strongly political-religious-activist past who entered the country illegally under false pretences, is causing moral outrage. Not moral outrage that New Zealand is being taken advantage of, but outrage that it dares to harbour doubts about this man and even greater outrage that it dares to suggest it has the right as a nation to protect itself from individuals, ideas or situations that could harm the way of life here.
What on earth is all this about? How dare Amnesty International lambast the government in full page Herald ads for crimes against humanity? Have we not a right to even consider protecting ourselves?
If New Zealanders don’t want Nukes, they are kept out. We don’t like snakes, even if they are at risk of becoming extinct in their own land we would not consider harbouring them. Customs have every right to treat me, a New Zealander with suspicion, to detain me, test me, question me for as long as they like because their business is protecting the country. Why is it not equally important to protect this country’s culture, as its nature?
When Bhutan wants to protect itself from unwanted influence it is seen as a charming, endearing quality and a bold move by a proud people who have something worth protecting. Bhutanese do not lack compassion, but had some of New Zealand’s high-profile refugee claimants gone to them for refuge, they would have politely declined. The world media would not have berated the Bhutanese government for this. In fact no one would have seen it as other than their personal right to choose. Why on the one hand would people uphold Bhutan’s right to self-determination through protection and exclusion, and not New Zealand’s? Why are we bigots for excluding an Algerian whilst Bhutanese are heroes for excluding an American? Clearly our attitude towards protection and preservation is two-faced, confused and heavily coloured by the unconscious prejudice that Westerners owe something to the rest of the world.
I have spent much of my life travelling, often involved in voluntary schemes to alleviate suffering, to bring health and education to people whose governments either can’t or don’t care to provide for. I do not lack compassion but one thing I have learned about the world is that poverty, disease, and most forms of suffering I have witnessed stem from attitude, culture, belief and behaviour, not by an accident of nature, and not by Western greed.
New Zealand is a safe, healthy and caring place to live because of a culture we have carefully cultivated, argued over and altered over generations. Now we take this culture for granted, as if it is not a creation, a possession of ours. Rather, we see only a land that we possess by dubious rights, that we have little right to restrict others from.
In Bhutan culture is seen as their greatest asset, coming before land, before wealth. Part of treasuring this is in saying the word no.
If it is New Zealand’s choice to become multi-cultural then I support that. This also is our right. But let us not think it is our obligation. Unwise immigration schemes are crippling countries and diminishing cultures that seem to have no right to protect themselves. We must be able to do both; celebrate and protect our way of life as well as invite other cultures and expand our boundaries. To do this we inevitably have to say no along the way, in between the yes’s.