A victim mentality makes only victims. There is a better way

Ted Lapkin, of the Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, contrived last week to imply from the jailed Israeli spies affair that Helen Clark favours Al Qaeda over Israel. That says more about Lapkin than about Clark the warrior in Afghanistan.

In 2003 academic historian Joel Hayward was broken when the Jewish Council demanded Canterbury University review his 1991 master’s thesis which contained errors about the Holocaust. The university complied, even though an undergraduate paper is unlikely to start a pogrom and Hayward corrected his errors.

Both incidents betray a victim mentality that serves Jews ill for it risks ill-feeling towards all Jews.

Across the fence minority Islam also harbours a victim culture. Unholy clerics nurture anger among young acolytes at the material success of post-christian culture and send them out to kill — to make victims of innocents to requite their own self-willed victimhood.

Most of Islam is tolerant and the best is forward-looking. Islamic Turkey is on the brink of acceptance into rich, post-christian Europe.

But the killer “victims” have been taught to reject modernity in favour of what we would call the medieval. A state run according to such principles must fail economically because it makes unholy the technology and social organisation that delivers economic success.

Medievalism makes these misguided acolytes victims not of the west but of their refusal of the west. It doesn’t help that almost all states in which Arabs grow up in are poorly organised and corrupt, ideal incubators of “victims”.

Let’s be clear: for Jews and Arabs there is reason to succumb to victimhood. They or their ancestors have been victims. Palestinians are right now. Jews endured centuries of gross mistreatment, then Hitler’s and Stalin’s slaughter and more recently Israelis have had to fight for every millimetre of territory and security. The victim mentality is self-defeating but it is understandable.

So with Maori.

At a Human Rights Commission symposium in Wanganui last week a conservatively dressed middle-aged Maori said, undemonstratively but firmly, that Maori had “nothing”.

What he meant, I presume, was that Maori had much of their land and other assets stripped from them by fair means and foul — and even much of the “fair” was foul by any objective assessment. There is much reason to feel victimised.

And no doubt it does feel as if there is “nothing” left. Moreover, the colonisers’ descendants are at it again. Parliament is confiscating the right to seek title to the foreshore and seabed.

But my decent interlocutor at Wanganui was wrong. I pointed out that considerable land (which, if better managed, would produce a higher income), half the fish, a fifth of shellfish and considerable forests are in Maori hands. That is not “nothing”.

More important, however, Maori have their heads. Human capital makes more riches faster these days than land. That is the capital entrepreneurs and professionals and footballers use. Even modest levels of human capital, some skill coupled with aspiration and attitude, enables participation in the world economy and a modicum of prosperity.

Develop those natural resources and that human capital and Maori would be a powerful economic force. When I suggested that, a young Maori woman said “rules” stopped them. Translation: Maori are victims.

Victims feel paralysed. They feel their fate lies in others’ hands.

Contrast the Jews. Though persecuted abominably, they prospered in the tiny niches left to them. They valued education and self-improvement and self-help.

Societies which embraced Jews, notably in recent centuries Britain and the United States, benefited enormously from their energy and invention. And the world has benefited as a result.

Or note the Chinese here. Denied citizenship, forced to the margins, they made the best of a much worse lot than that of Maori. Now they are disproportionately school duxes and an economic force bigger than their numbers. “Rules” didn’t stop them.

That is John Tamihere’s ambition. His focus is on educational and economic development. That is the point of his Maori economic summit, now timed for next March. He wants an end to the victim mentality which creates only victims.

That is not the Maori party’s ambition. Its genesis lies not in development but in “rights” and in particular the right to the foreshore and seabed.

There is a case for that kaupapa but it can’t win. Either the government’s bill will pass or a more unfriendly one will.

So the Maori party risks irrelevancy. It will not win the battle it is founded to win. And it will not be a force for development if it perpetuates victimhood.

Contrast Ngai Tahu. It concedes nothing on tradition. But it focuses tightly on educational and economic development and uses modern instruments to achieve that.

Such Maori, like the remarkable Jews, will be an economic, social and political power far beyond their numbers. Victimhood does the opposite.