By Michael Laws
It was the worst of timing for one aiming for political martyrdom – being sandwiched in between the second Shane Jones affair and the Budget.
But as Tame Iti and his lesser revolutionary Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara began their jail sentences they can at least be satisfied they are New Zealand's first political prisoners of the new millennium.
And make no mistake: they are political prisoners. Their ideologies and actions were based upon overthrowing – by fair means or foul – our national orthodoxy.
It is entirely possible that future generations will come to regard their efforts and energies as principled and patriotic. They may well have suburban streets named after them and their images taught to new tranches of school children. In fact, I do not doubt that some schoolteacher somewhere is planning that outrage already.
Because, ultimately, no-one died in this escapade. No-one , it appeared, was even hurt.
Apart from a few faux feelings of post-traumatic stress, this country has yet again proven incapable of growing terrorists. We leave the petty stuff to ethnic and motorcycle gangs, and let liberal arts patrons and buckets of KFC account for the rest.
Which is, when you think about it, rather reassuring. Even if Police Commissioner Peter Marshall is fundamentally right when he states we can also thank police actions associated with the Urewera raids. They did nip some nutters in the bud, and the most thankful of all should be Iti, Kemera, Emily Bailey and her Swiss boyfriend Urs Signer.
They were saved from themselves and from their rhetoric. If they had not been stopped one of them may have lost an eye. Or blown off a hand in a training accident. And no wananga certificate of bushcraft could have compensated.
Of course their aim and intent, from the evidence presented at trial and in other media forums, was a lot more scary than self-mutilation. But if we are honest, then that's all they were ever capable of. They were jokes. Pitiful alQaeda wannabes with a revenge fantasy. Assassination by falling bus was one of their more fanciful options.
Now the police collectively have an outstanding sense of humour. I know this because when I laid my burglary complaint and inquired as to a resolution, they laughed until they wept. So the boys and girls in blue appreciate a good joke. And scaring the bejesus out of various political malcontents, and their various sympathisers, wasn't a bad attempt back in 2007. It was shock and awe and it achieved its purpose. Don't be silly, was the message. We can do this dress-in-black stuff and shake down the whanau, just for starters.
And they did. And most of New Zealand just happen to agree. We don't think the police overreacted: they reacted exactly as they should have. Shock and awe.
If a few Tuhoe sympathisers filled their pants in fright, then so much the better. Short, sharp shocks tend to be the most powerful of lessons learned. We are watching. Don't do it again.
The fact only the Mana madness – led by John Minto – were protesting against the sentences on Thursday afternoon, rather proves the point. There won't be a hikoi. There won't be a Waitangi Tribunal claim. There won't be sausage sizzles. The lesson has been absorbed.
We do have a level of malcontents – an odd compendium of Maori activists, extreme environmentalists and anarchists – who are still inspired by Che Guevara. And who have the loving support of the welfare and legal aid systems to finance their fantasies.
In fact, one might argue that the $4 million-plus cost associated with their capture was outrage enough. At a time when the government is taxing the pocket money of paper boys and girls, that represents some outlay.
Of course there will be new Maori malcontents, already failing at school and drifting towards gang colours, who may see Iti and his ragtag mob as inspirational. But they have been such categoric failures, and their ineptness so overwhelming, even the meanest intellect will look elsewhere.
Besides, yesterday's Maori revolutionaries have an unnatural tendency to become today's respectable spokespeople.
Two decades ago, the names of Tariana Turia, Hone Harawira, Donna Awatere and Ken Mair had the combined effect of unsettling most Pakeha households.
Joe Hawke played the same role a generation before.
All subsequently found solace in mainstream politics. And the rest of us found solace in them finding solace. They discovered, and so did we, that our political and legal structures actually work. They daily dissipate racial tension, and they regularly undermine racial resentment. It isn't a perfect system – and occasionally it costs. And if Iti and his mates are all that's left to mop up then we should be very happy indeed.
Sunday Star Times, 27th May 2012