Peter Williams: Calling out the woke

Peter Williams 29/03/2021

OPINION: Nelson mayor Rachel Reese has taken it upon herself to cancel an anti-vaccine meeting at the Greenmeadows Community Centre, which is owned by the Nelson City Council. 

This meeting was to have featured a video from a doctor in Belgium named Gert Vanden Bosche, who from what I can read, doesn't want a mass worldwide Covid vaccination programme because he says they won’t work and the pandemic will get increasingly out of control.  

But Reese, in a move very similar to what Auckland mayor Phil Goff did in 2018 with Canadian speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, has cancelled the event, saying it undermines critical public health outcomes. Now, don’t we have a bit of an issue here? An issue of free speech, an issue of freedom of association, an issue of your human right to receive whatever information you want to receive? 

Look, I know nothing about Gert van den Boshce apart from that he is a virologist from Belgium, he has had some involvement in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI, the international vaccine alliance. But he has some misgivings about what’s going on in the world. It may not be true. But the mayor of Nelson is having none of it. 

She’s shut down the meeting, and in typical local body weasel action, she’s cited health and safety concerns for doing it, even though as a non-scientist and non-doctor she has said he is undermining public health. Now, I’m not supporting Gert van den Bosche. He may well be talking a load of nonsense. But I’m just worried about the actions of a mayor in unilaterally shutting down a public meeting because she doesn’t like what might be said. 

Is this the New Zealand you want? There is no health and safety issue here. That’s just a pathetic excuse. But don’t we have the right to say and to listen to things in this country that others may not want to hear. And isn’t that the key issue here? Not the anti-vax message, but the right to say things that others may not like?

Meanwhile, Upper Hutt’s Heretaunga College has made its entry into the “who can be the wokest school in the country” competition. It’s changed the name of mufti day at school to “be yourself day” because using the term mufti is disrespectful to the Islam scholars called the Mufti, they say. 

Apparently, their style of dress was adopted by British military officers in colonial India and that led to the British military, in general, using the term “mufti” for any attire that was worn on days and time off, and the phrase mufti, meaning essentially “not wearing a uniform” is in common use around the English speaking world. Now an academic at Canterbury University has written that the original use of the Mufti attire back in the 19th century could be regarded as “slightly mocking.” 

Therefore, these kids at Heretaunga College have decided, despite there not actually being any complaints, that the name of Mufti day should be changed to “be yourself day” because saying mufti might be disrespectful to Islam. Can you understand this? Why is it that almost constantly people have to find somebody or something that may offend others?  

It got me thinking about the whole concept of what I think are still called “fancy dress” parties or themed parties? What is acceptable and what is not acceptable as a theme these days? Is it OK to wear a police uniform to a fancy dress do, or a nun or a priest? 

Why change the name of mufti day when nobody is offended or upset about it? There is this constant push to be as woke as you can be. And as Heretaunga College has banned bandanas and gang attire from “be yourself day”, are they being too restrictive anyway?