17 Mar 2016

Stop 'fear-mongering' about Muslims

10:05 am on 17 March 2016

The Islamic Women's Council says the government needs to stop "fear-mongering" after it inaccurately implied women were leaving New Zealand to become "jihadi brides".

Anjum Rahman, Islamic Women's Council spokesperson.

Anjum Rahman says the government should stop "fear mongering". Photo: SUPPLIED

The government has said it did not deliberately mislead the public with suggestions last year that New Zealand Muslim women were leaving to become jihadi brides to Islamic fighters.

The Green Party has been calling for an apology to Muslim New Zealanders over the issue.

Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director Rebecca Kitteridge had told a select committee in December that New Zealand women were travelling to Iraq and Syria.

"Something that has changed over the last year is the issue of New Zealand women travelling to Iraq and Syria, which is something we haven't seen previously or been aware of," she said.

Prime Minister John Key, who chairs the committee, then asked if some of the women could be "jihadi brides".

"It's difficult to see what they do when they go," Ms Kitteridge replied. "We definitely do have intelligence that they went. Whether they are going to fight or whether they are going to support other fighters is not clear."

Documents obtained by RNZ News show none of the women actually left from New Zealand and all were living in Australia.

Rebecca Ketteridge and John Key

John Key, left, and Rebecca Kitteridge Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Islamic Women's Council spokesperson Anjum Rahman told Morning Report the initial information was a real shock, and they had queried whether it was true.

Finding out the women were not leaving from New Zealand had left them feeling very disappointed, she said.

"Those kinds of statements put a spotlight on our community. They have impact on our daily lives and the way that we're treated in the community.

"To put out that information without including this vital fact is hugely unfair."

The Muslim community was constantly asking to engage with security services and the government and it was just not happening, Ms Rahman said.

"We'd like positive engagement with the government and less fear-mongering, please."

Call for apology

Metiria Turei

Metiria Turei Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Mr Key and Ms Kitteridge deliberately whipped up fear about Muslim women in New Zealand. They both needed to apologise, she said.

"Every implication was that it was New Zealand women leaving New Zealand for Syria," she told Morning Report.

"If they knew that actually they were talking about women leaving from Australia, they should have said so at the time - and they never clarified that."

The public was misled to heighten the level of threat New Zealand faced, she said.

"We now need to rebuild, if that's possible, trust in the information we get from Rebecca Kitteridge, from John Key and the SIS, about their spying activities.

"Because time and time again they've just shown that they can't be trusted to give decent information to New Zealanders about what they're doing."

The Labour Party also said the statements had created an impression of a greater security risk than actually existed.

The Minister in Charge of the SIS, Chris Finlayson, yesterday denied the government deliberately created the wrong impression.

"We didn't give that impression at all ... If you go back to the statements that were made, there were no implications or 'winks and nods' that they were not resident in New Zealand."

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