“They are us”

Jatin Desai
Sunday, 31 March 2019


Jacinda Ardern, the young Prime Minister of New Zealand, has shown what a head of government can do during a horrific terror attack. Through her words and deeds in the last week, she has become a role model and set a new standard of leadership during crisis.

Jacinda Ardern, the young Prime Minister of New Zealand, has shown what a head of government can do during a horrific terror attack. Through her words and deeds in the last week, she has become a role model and set a new standard of leadership during crisis.

Ardern, like her country’s people, was shell shocked by the terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch and the brutal gunning down of 50 Muslims by Brenton Tarrant (28), an Australian and a white supremacist. New Zealand, one of the most peaceful countries on the planet, witnessed such a scale of brutality for the first time.

The PM led from the front both in words and deeds. Immediately after, she made sure that her people and the world knew whose side she was on. She addressed parliament and also a press conference during which she said the three most powerful words in this time of hate. She said of those killed whether migrant or refugee that ‘They are us’ and ‘the killer was not.’ In doing so, she had challenged Islamophobia and turned it on its head. They will be historical words and other heads of government or state will be judged henceforth by this standard.

Through the week, she was calm, cool and graceful. She knew what she was doing and what message she was sending out to the Muslim community in New Zealand, as well as to the world at large. She went to a prayer meeting and personally consoled the next of kin, her head covered in black in deference to their faith. A week after the horrific attack, she declared that the Azaan on Friday, exactly a week after the attack, would be broadcast across the tiny nation with a two-minute silence as mourning for the killed. Thousands gathered on Friday to remember the 50 people killed by a white supremacist a week ago. The PM joined around 20,000 people standing quietly at Hagley Park, in front of the Al Noor mosque where most of the Muslims were killed. She said, ”New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”

She also announced that New Zealand will ban all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles following the Christchurch attacks. The new legislation is expected to be in place by April 11. She said, ”Our history changed forever. Now, our laws too.” She is aware that to make the country safer, it is necessary to change the gun laws. In contrast, even after regular incidences of killings, the US has not yet been able to drastically amend their gun laws and control weapons.

In April 2017, a parliamentary inquiry report recommended tighter gun laws, more control on gun dealers and owners, etc. But then ruling centre-right National Party rejected most of the recommendations of the inquiry report. 
 
All this is a lot more than any head of government or state has said or done in response to an attack on Muslims. The Muslims constitutes around one per cent of the population of the country. Most of them are migrants. Few Indian and Pakistani origins were among those who were killed. The nation stood with them. The PM’s immediate response was “They have chosen to make this their home. They are us. The person who perpetrated this is not us”.

According to her official biography, ”Ardern had the most meteoric rise to power of any New Zealand PM – three months prior to being sworn in, she was not even leader of her party.” She is a leader of the Labour Party and became the Prime Minister in late 2017. She graduated from the University of Waikato with bachelors of communications studies in public relations and political science.  

Ardern has received death threats on social media and police are investigating it. A twitter post containing a photo of a gun and captioned “You are next” was sent to the PM.

It is time for the international community to introspect. There is no alternative to peaceful co-existence and respect for each other’s faith and religion. The philosophy of hatred and violence has no place in modern civil society. Ardern, in a way, is a true follower of Mahatma Gandhi, an apostle of peace. Mahatma rightly said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” 

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