Real Life

Jacinda Ardern sets the tone for New Zealand’s outpouring of love and support for the Muslim community

When a picture says a thousand words.

From the outset she has talked about kindness and compassion being a strong component of her government and its policies.

In a BBC interview last November Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had made a conscious decision to be a “proudly empathetic, compassionately-driven” leader.

She said she was “trying to chart a different path”, explaining, “We teach kindness and empathy and compassion to our children but then we somehow, when it comes to political leadership, want a complete absence of that. So I am trying to chart a different path. That will attract critics. But I can only be true to myself and the form of leadership that I believe in.”

No one could have foreseen the horrific events that unfolded on 15 March in Christchurch, when a gunman opened fire on hundreds of innocent people from the Muslim community as they prayed at two mosques in Christchurch, killing 50.

Australian Brenton Terrant appeared in court on Saturday on a charge of murder. He was remanded in custody without plea and will appear again on April 5.

The unprecedented violence, swiftly acknowledged as an act of terrorism, sent the nation into a state of deep shock and disbelief.

Never before has New Zealand seen anything like it and if there was ever a time for the country to have a leader who values kindness and compassion as highly as fiscal responsibility, it is now.

Jacinda Ardern is walking her talk and has undoubtedly set the tone for the huge outpouring of love and support that New Zealanders have shown to the Muslim community in recent days.

Could there have been a more powerfully symbolic response to the carnage of Friday afternoon than the footage and images that emerged on Saturday of Ardern in a head scarf, face drawn, embracing members of the Islamic community in Christchurch?

When Donald Trump asked her how the US could help, she replied: “Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.”

On Friday and over the weekend, thousands of New Zealanders turned out to mosques and other places of significance all over the country to lay flowers and pay their respects. Vigils have been kept and prayers shared.

“They are us,” she said of the victims at the earliest opportunity on Friday. “This is your home, you should have been safe here… This is not the New Zealand we know.”

At the same time she told the perpetrators: “You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”

Ardern tellingly said in November, “Now it’s a global market. And with that comes, I think, a little bit of fear. Fear of job security, fear around whether or not your children will have the same opportunities that you had.

“So our response as political leaders can be twofold. We can capitalise on that fear by blaming others, and saying that the answer is to become more and more insular, to become protectionist, to build up those walls around us, so that we can retreat back to yesteryear.

“The alternative for us is actually to give a message of hope that we can provide for our domestic constituencies… And if we choose not to blame. And so I put myself firmly in that constituency. We have a responsibility as politicians for the language that we use, but also the policies that we provide and the hope that we deliver.”

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While no leader would ever want to have to lead a country through an event like this, Jacinda Ardern, with her distinctive style of leadership and unwavering focus on humanity, has perhaps united New Zealanders in a way that few leaders could.

The rest of the world could do well to take note.

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