The slaughter of civilians in Paris this weekend has struck close to home for a lot of people.  My daughter was at a concert not far from the location of one of the attacks, and she reported “It was so chaotic, sirens everywhere, people on the street shouting . . .”  It has raised many issues, including why ISIS chose to escalate the conflict in this way and attract the inevitable backlash from Europe and the US(French jets have struck ISIS locations in Syria already).

I’ll let the strategic experts answer that one.  The question that I pose has to do with a totally unrelated article about a company that has developed the technology to “grow” diamonds.  The traditional gems are valuable because they are beautiful – and because they’re hard to get.  If we can manufacture diamonds in large quantities, the logic goes, then technology still has the power to deliver all sorts of goods and resources that are currently scarce.

But can technology increase the amount of less tangible resources?  Like safety and security?  It doesn’t appear so.  The sophisticated tools used by governments to search out and neutralise terror threats are no match for the ability of guerrillas to melt into local populations, and even masquerade as refugees to enter the target country.

Security is an increasingly scarce resource.  Its relative abundance in New Zealand is a key reason why many people from the rest of the world want to live here.  It is not manufactured, but built up one person at a time, one law and custom at a time.  People have fought and died for it over the past millennium, from the signing of Magna Carta exactly 800 years ago, to the establishment of the constitutional monarchy which is still the dominant influence on New Zealand’s culture and institutions.  The pro-republic faction should pause to think about that before evicting the Queen – or taking the Union Jack off the flag.

New Zealand does not enjoy absolute security, but it is one of the safer places to be.  One difference between here and Europe is our lack of open borders.  Anyone coming here has to cross an ocean, by ‘plane or by ship.  Interdiction at South East Asian airports already screens and turns back those with the “wrong” profile – for better or for worse.  The EU’s porous frontiers are now its weakness.

Fears about suicide bombers hidden among an influx of Syrian refugees are not entirely groundless, but hysteria about letting them is not warranted.  The comments by Winston Peters MP that Immigration New Zealand has made mistakes before (and will therefore slip up again) are not helpful.  He recently cited the following examples:

  • Entry of the former Iraqi Minister of Agriculture from the Saddam Hussein regime in 2005 (I represented him in a claim for refugee status).  He was nearly 70 at the time and did not represent a physical threat to anyone;
  • Asha Ali Abdille, the Somali refugee who attempted to hijack a local flight in 2008.  Mr Peters overlooks the fact that Ms Abdille had been accepted as a refugee way back in 1994 and was demonstrably suffering psychiatric trauma out of her civil war experiences.

The Paris attacks, and the fear they have engendered in the Northern Hemisphere, should not deflect New Zealand from its commitment to take additional refugees from Syria in the coming years.  If we renege or waver in that resolve, then ISIS will have won a victory.