Jehan Casinader: Not enough to say 'Yeah, nah' to Muslim ban

Bill English's response to Donald Trump's 'Muslim ban' can be summed up with two classic Kiwi words: 'Yeah, nah'.

Thousands march outside 10 Downing Street in the UK, calling to the British Government to clarify the consequences of Trump's immigration ban for citizens. Source: 1 NEWS

While the ban was met with a chorus of criticism from other world leaders, our own Government barely let out a whimper.

The PM is given the chance to join other global leaders in saying he is 'disgusted' by Trump's policy. Source: Breakfast

After staying silent on the issue, the PM eventually said that the ban is "not the New Zealand way" – although it's "not our job to tell [the Americans] how to run their country".

It's the kind of bob-each-way comment made by a seven-year-old who doesn't like the school bully, but is desperate to be invited to his birthday party.

Can you blame Bill? After all, his old boss would have sidestepped this issue in the same way.

John Key had mastered the art of expressing just the right amount of concern to pacify the electorate – but not enough to raise the ire of a foreign power.

He knew how to identify with Kiwis' concerns, while reassuring us that everything was just fine.

Under Mr Key's leadership, the Government avoided making strong statements on race, immigration and foreign affairs.

Remember how the Syrian crisis led to protests and petitions last year? Campaigners urged the Government to increase the refugee quota.

Key was circumspect for many months, before announcing an increase in the quota from 750 to 1000 people a year.

He knew that increasing the refugee quota would not be a big vote-winner for National.

Mr English knows he is not going to win votes by standing up to Mr Trump. In fact, he risks alienating Mr Trump and brassing off his officials.

Just days ago, Mr Trump took an axe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It could be argued that now, more than ever, New Zealand should just sit down and shut up.

For our mates closer to the United States, that strategy just won't work.

Our Europe Correspondent Emma Keeling is at Downing Street where people are protesting against Donald Trump's pending UK visit. Source: Breakfast

Right now, I'm in London, where thousands are marching outside 10 Downing St, calling for the British Government to clarify the consequences of the Muslim ban for British citizens.

Many of them have dual citizenship. Some have family in the States. They are scared that they will be shut out. They are scared that they will be victimised.

There are also calls for Britain to withdraw its offer of a full state visit for President Trump, who is due to fly to London in the months to come.

Today, I watched as protesters spread onto the road and blocked Whitehall in both directions, bringing Westminster to a standstill at rush hour.

Britain's Prime Minister, like ours, is playing her hand cautiously. Theresa May had a cordial meeting with Mr Trump last week in Washington DC, where she was snapped holding hands with him as they walked down a path.

When Mr Trump meets Bill English, he may have to settle for a firm Southland handshake.

But New Zealand's sentiment is likely to be the same as Britain's: It's better to be in the same room as Mr Trump, rather than listening with a tin can from the other side of the door.

Here's the thing: The New Zealand that Bill English leads is increasingly multicultural. Many young Kiwis have cultural ties to the seven countries on the 'Muslim ban' list.

They deserve a Prime Minister who speaks up for them.

They deserve a Government that will raise its voice in the face of injustice and intolerance, despite the possible political consequences.

They deserve to live in a country in which their rights are protected – not passively, but proactively – by leaders who are willing to engage in difficult conversations on unpopular topics.

Immigration is a thorny issue. However, if there's anything we can learn from the election of Donald Trump, it is that silence is no longer an option.

The issues we ignore are the issues that will eventually come back to bite us.

Saying 'Yeah, nah' to Mr Trump is a start. But a few more words wouldn't go amiss.