New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s immediate response to the Christchurch shootings as a far-right terrorist attack have been praised. In vowing to never utter the name of the individual responsible for the killings, calling him an ‘extremist, criminal, terrorist’ in Parliament, in many eyes she has become a model for the world to follow.
Most victims of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting were migrants or refugees, with 50 people confirmed dead.Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the attack. The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, praised the handling of the leader of the Labour sister party. Across the pond, President Donald Trump expressed sympathy on Twitter. Most world leaders across the globe offered words of solidarity but failed to explicitly condemn it as a terrorist incident, or the growing threat of far-right extremism and the ideology of white supremacy. This is where Jacinda Ardern sought triumph.
During the subsequent Friday prayer, the week after the attack, the adhaan (Islamic call to prayer) and khutbah(sermon) was broadcasted live in New Zealand. Al Noor Mosque’sImamGamal Foudaexpressed gratitude: “To our Prime Minister, thank you. Thank you for your leadership, thank you for honouring us with a simple scarf, thank you for your words and tears of compassion, thank you for being one with us… Thank you to the New Zealand government and to all the wonderful people that we matter [sic.] and are not forgotten. Thank you to our police force and front-line services.” Jacinda was seen wearing the headscarf, a garment that some Muslim women wear, when conciliating with the families of the victims. This encouraged other New Zealanders to follow suit. An armed police constable was seen at the memorial wearing a black headscarf and a red rose as a sign of respect, alongside many other non-Muslim New Zealanders who gathered. Instances such as these showed the true spirit and humanity of the New Zealand people, irrespective of race or background.
The strong message of unity was not lost: “you are us” asserted Ardern, a dialogue both to New Zealand’s Muslims and to wider New Zealand. The collective language: “we feel grief, we feel injustice, we feel anger, and we share that with you,” said Ardern, when addressing the Muslim community. A message that the Muslims of New Zealand are a part of their shared society is a message which promoted community cohesion, an undeniably strong response.
The mantra of ‘thoughts and prayers’ are often ridiculed as empty platitudes, particularly in the United States where the issue of gun control is swept aside – if ‘now is not the time to discuss gun control’, when is? Within 48 hours, Jacinda Ardern introduced emergency legislature by powers given under the Legislation Act 2012. She announced the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms) Order 2019 which amended the Arms Act 1983 by banning all ‘semi-automatic firearms and shotguns that are capable of being used in combination with a detachable magazine and are capable of holding more than 5 cartridges’ by re-classifying them as prohibited military firearms. Those that own the now-illicit firearms will be able to get a refund by a buy-back compensation scheme that is estimated to cost NZ$500,000,000 (£262,000,000). This swift response was accredited to the Prime Minister internationally by those calling for gun reform in other countries where change has been minimal or stagnant. In placing the good of her country over economic costs, she has triumphed.
Jacinda Ardern announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attack. This will be run by a High Court judge independent of the government and will have powers to compel witnesses to testify. It would involve a review on how social media platforms and their responsibility in distributing the illicit content, how the security services could prevent future terrorist attacks and question whether current legislation is suitable to tackle it. The chief censor of New Zealand announced it is illegal to possess and share the video of the attack.
When speaking to Waleed Aly on The Project, Jacinda Ardern reflected personally on the incident, discussed her motherhood, off-camera moments with the families affected, and pondered on her response. Prime Minister Jacinda provided reassurance and a sense of security to Muslim women by wearing the hijab (modesty, typically refers to a headscarf) which was done spontaneously. She reinstated the values of New Zealand as of that being tolerant and peaceful and was appreciative of the response from her citizens citing the flowers laid and the Maori hymn. Sincere human empathy was the reason why Jacinda Ardern was effective in her response, a lesson for other world leaders to learn. Her final message was to the world leaders - ‘share love and support to the Muslim community’ which perfectly sums up her leadership. In a world racked by fear and mistrust, the leadership displayed by Jacinda Ardern is a beacon for other world leaders to follow.