New Zealand: PM Jacinda Ardern responds to mosque terror with outstanding steely integrity Print E-mail

 Sunday March 17 2019

Christchurch mosque shootings: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's response - solace and steel

Video: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with the community and lays a wreath at Wellington's Kilbirnie Mosque in memory of the victims of the Christhurch attack. / AP

By: Claire Trevett - Deputy political editor, NZ Herald
There could have been no more powerful a symbolic response to the terror inflicted on people killed as they prayed in mosques than images of the Prime Minister in a head scarf, her face dragged with grief as she stood before people from the Islamic community in Christchurch.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was confronting an absolutely sickening situation for any country's leader to have to deal with - a fresh hell, utterly different to the Christchurch earthquake because it was the result of hate, rather than nature, and the ramifications world-wide.

It was while watching coverage on the international television networks that it truly sunk in.

There was the BBC and CNN running 24-hour coverage of the attack on those two mosques in Christchurch, just as they had many times before for other terrorist attacks overseas.

This time the startling words "New Zealand" were attached.

Dear quaint New Zealand where police don't usually carry firearms, which is not quite paradise for everybody but certainly a lot closer to it than many other countries.

Until now.

There was no bigger test than this and it is hard to think how anybody could have stepped up to it better than Ardern has.

The first job was reassurance for the Islamic community and New Zealand as a whole. Her second was to try to disassociate New Zealand from the motives for it in the eyes of the international community.

Here she was helped by Islamic leaders, who stood to calm things with her.

Ardern acknowledged the enormity of what had happened. She also did New Zealanders the favour of giving them facts, providing as much detail as she could about what had happened, the numbers killed and injured, what was being done, the man who now stands charged, and the apparent motives. She set out that the alleged terrorist was an Australian who had visited sporadically.

She set out what the increase in the threat level meant to ensure it did not provoke wider panic when people saw armed police in places they were not used to.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with members of the Muslim community, accompanied by other political leaders in Christchurch.

Facts help offer certainty and Ardern set them out in a matter of fact way.

It is to her immense credit that Ardern also confronted obvious and glaring questions immediately, rather than say things would have to wait for wider investigations to take their course.

These included questions of how such a person had evaded the authorities' attention, despite securing a gun licence and openly sharing his views on social media.

Ardern has tried to assure people that security agencies had not taken their eye off right-wing extremists in dealing with other forms of radicalism, such as those subscribing to Islamic State.

However, agencies were now checking whether anything on social media should have triggered an alert. She promised gun law reform. No ifs, maybes or buts. It would happen.

The who, what, when, where and how were hard enough. The why was a whole lot harder to comprehend.

So just as importantly as facts, Ardern gave people words. It was Ardern's words many used to voice their own sadness: "They are us," "this is not New Zealand" and "this is your home, you should have been safe here" were used on cards outside mosques and on social media.

The solace was followed by the steel. She addressed the attacker directly: "You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you."

There was steel too when asked about US President Donald Trump. Asked if she agreed with his view that right-wing extremism was not growing, and was simply a few individuals she delivered a sharp "no".

Again after her conversation with Trump, she said he asked how the US could help. Her reply was pointed: "Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities."

Blame was being cast about domestically too, and part of Ardern's job was to stop that seeding. So when Ardern headed to Christchurch she took with her the leaders of all political parties, one force.

There were also things she could not spell out. Chief among these was the possibility of a retaliatory attack - a very real concern but one which could not be voiced.

What New Zealand didn't need was for even more suspicion and fear. So the police and Ardern issued a general warning to report anything suspicious.

Major public events from Polyfest to the Wellington Pride march and sporting events were cancelled, not only because they were potential targets for an attack but because police were focusing resources on Christchurch and could not adequately guard them.

New Zealand has drawn into itself for comfort, but Ardern is also dealing with an international audience, and leaders of both Western and Muslim countries.

Ardern set about distancing New Zealand from the terrorist and the views that drove him.

She emphasised New Zealand was not a safe haven for extremists and was chosen precisely because its values of tolerance and diversity were the very opposite of the terrorist's.

New Zealand was not a soft target, necessarily, but it was certainly an unsuspecting target.

It was not the day New Zealand lost its innocence as such. But it was certainly the day it lost its blissful obliviousness, its feeling of immunity. It is also the day it lost complacency.

Ardern has already set out what her job will be over the next weeks, months and years. It is making sure something like this never happens again.

New Zealand has already made changes to its security in response to attacks overseas. It has stricter gun laws than many other countries, had boosted aviation and border security, and overhauled its intelligence agencies and anti-terrorism powers in a bid to make sure no such attack happened on New Zealand's shores.

Many thought at the time these changes were being made that New Zealand need not have bothered, that it was safe. Ardern will also have to help New Zealand adjust to knowing that is no longer the case, and possibly never was.

By Friday night the supermarkets in the Wellington suburb of Kilbirnie had sold out of flowers. They were all up the road, piled against the stairs and fence at the Islamic Centre where the rarely closed gate was shut.

There were bright chalk drawings of hearts and messages on the footpath and road outside, children adding to the rainbow. Beside all of this stood two policemen with guns.
 Tuesday 19 March 2019

Jacinda Ardern is showing the world what real leadership is: sympathy, love and integrity

By  Suzanne Moore

The New Zealand prime minister has reacted to the Christchurch shootings with steel, compassion and absolute clarity. And she has given us a vision of a better world

Video: Jacinda Ardern lays wreath and meets families of Christchurch shooting victims

Out of the horror inflicted by those who cannot accept the world as it is, comes a vision of a better world. It comes from above and it comes from below. It comes from ordinary people. Supermarkets in Wellington suburbs have sold out of flowers, tough old football coaches are talking about love and, most powerful of all, there are the stories of the Christchurch shooting survivors themselves. Those who risked – and lost – their lives to save their fellow worshippers or – astonishingly – found it in their hearts to forgive the gunman.

Then there is this 38-year-old woman: the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. We have watched as she shows the world what real leadership is. Jacinda–mania had died down since 2017, when she became the country’s youngest prime minister. She gave birth in office, taking her baby to the United Nations general assembly meeting. She became something of a celebrity, appearing on US chatshows. But was there any substance to her? That question is asked of all women leaders. What is underneath? Where is the steel?

Now, in the most horrific of circumstances, we have seen the steel. We have seen the qualities that define leadership in such a way that it is clear she is a lioness and that to call so many of our current leaders donkeys is a disservice to hardworking donkeys the world over.

She has communicated quickly and immediately, giving New Zealanders as much information as she could. She has given them a language in which to talk about the unspeakable, to vocalise the shock and sadness. “They are us,” she said simply of the dead and wounded. The “othering” of Muslims as separate, as somehow different, as not quite belonging, was felled in one swoop. “They are us.” New Zealand had been chosen because it was safe, because it was no place for hatred or racism. “Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it.”

These values would not be shaken by the murders. To the killer, she said with absolute clarity: “You may have chosen us – we utterly reject and condemn you.”

Video: Jacinda Ardern condemns Christchurch mosque shootings

This was swiftly followed by a promise to tighten gun laws, making sure that costs of the funerals were paid and that there was financial assistance for those affected. The next day, she went to Christchurch, taking leaders of all political parties, not just her own. She stood with Islamic leaders and hugged the grieving. This showed respect and real compassion, and those striking images flew around the world. A counter to the picture of the stubby bullish killer who was still flashing signs apparently to white supremacists.

Asked directly whether she agreed with Donald Trump that rightwing terrorism was not growing, she answered clearly: “No.” How could the US help? “Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.”

Sympathy and love, what kind of leader talks like that in a world where to be tough is to build walls and imprison children or, on our own shores, elevate intransigence and prevarication to new heights?

Trump threatens all with the military in his quasi–Mussolini style. While Theresa May could not communicate any of this warmth or leadership in the aftermath of Grenfell.

That leadership could be about compassion and that overused word “empathy” feels freeing to us now. It wasn’t always this way. Dwight Eisenhower once said: “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity.” Ardern embodies this; meaning what she says, saying what she means, unafraid and unbowed.

Maori doing their immensely powerful hakas, Ardern’s face full of sorrow but also fearlessness, ordinary citizens with aftershocks of expression of love and bravery – this will stay with me. Martin Luther King said genuine leaders did not search for consensus but moulded it.

Ardern has moulded a different consensus, demonstrating action, care, unity. Terrorism sees difference and wants to annihilate it. Ardern sees difference and wants to respect it, embrace it and connect with it. Here is an atheist showing that love will dismantle hate. This is leadership, this light she shines, guiding us though to a world where we see the best of us as well as the worst.


** This article was amended on 19 March 2019 to state that Ardern is an agnostic not an atheist.
 Tuesday 19 March 2019

Jacinda Ardern just proved typically 'feminine' behaviour is powerful

By Jamila Rizvi

Donald Trump telephoned a grieving Jacinda Ardern in the aftermath of New Zealand’s largest ever mass murder. The President asked what the United States could do and received an answer he can’t have been expecting. “Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” the Prime Minister told him.

Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised as doing a magnificent job in a situation no national leader should have to face. In response to unimaginable horror, she is deliberately employing language of empathy not hate. She has chosen a message of togetherness instead of reaching for the easy, crude politics of division that have worked so effectively, and for so many, in the past.

  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens to the Muslim community in Christchurch on Saturday following Friday's mosque massacres.Credit:Kirk Hargreaves

In these circumstances, kindness is a radical act.

The traditional script for a world leader reacting to a terrorist attack on home soil is one of power and retribution, to prosecute an "us and them" case. By way of example, you might recall that US President George Bush wanted to "find out who did this and kick their ass" in the wake of 9/11. He later declared that Osama Bin Laden would be taken "dead or alive".

Ardern is taking a markedly different approach. She’s barely wasted a word on the perpetrator of this crime, instead focusing her energies on the victims, their loved ones, and a nation that needs to heal. By declaring "they are us", she set the tone for how people should respond to this tragedy. The unspoken message? Victims of this crime may not share your faith or ethnicity, but they are New Zealanders and that is all that matters.

We tend to understand leadership as being about position and power, usually delivered through aggressively worded speeches, laden with commanding rhetoric and, these days, uncompromising three-word slogans. Complexity can’t be reduced to a sound bite and so issues are framed as black or white and people as good or bad. There is no room for shades of grey when our public debate is conducted in 240 characters.

 We’ve all seen the videos where little kids are asked to draw people with powerful jobs – CEOs, doctors, judges and, of course, politicians. They draw men each and every time before being shocked when women who do those jobs walk into the room. It makes for a cute 30-second clip, but those stereotypes stick with people well beyond 30 seconds. They’re with us for life.

Some Australian media still use coded, gender-biased language to describe women politicians. Recall recent descriptions of Julie Bishop as "poised" and "graceful" during her press conference after losing the Liberal Party’s leadership ballot, words that would never be applied to a man.

Women CEOs who cry publicly are "too emotional" for the role and those who don’t are callous, cold-hearted robots. Dreamworld’s Deborah Thomas actually copped both of these criticisms within the space of a week in 2018.

Traditionally masculine leadership remains what is expected, and it is why women leaders can never seem to win. They can either meet the expectations placed on them as leaders, or the expectations that come with their gender. Society considers the two as incompatible and women get slammed whatever path they choose.

A new model that allows leaders – women or men – to pursue their personally preferred approach is well overdue. A model that says gender norms are a historical relic best left to the past. Jacinda Ardern is providing exactly that model of leadership. It’s something that Australian – and indeed global – politics could use more of.
Authenticity and compassion go beyond gender, or race, or religion, or next week’s polling numbers. Authenticity is an atheist leader donning hijab without thinking about the "optics", but simply because it’s the right and respectful thing to do. Compassion is setting aside the rhetoric of retribution and standing alongside those who are navigating the muddy waters of shock and grief.

This week the world watched as a woman, new mother, and Prime Minister demonstrated typically "feminine" behaviour – and proved just how powerful it can be.

This article first appeared on Future Women, a club connecting women through community, events and journalism. You can join here. Jamila Rizvi is editor-at-large of Future Women.
 Monday March 19 2019

The world is watching New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern

Video: Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, gives speech in parliament on Christchurch shooting.

By: Ishaan Tharoor /Washington Post

A couple of months ago, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hobnobbed among the billionaires and global cognoscenti gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. She extolled the fight against climate change alongside Britain's Prince William and championed her government's plans to prioritize the societal ­ not just economic ­ "well-being" of her country. In a polite rebuke of President Trump and other right-wing politicians, Ardern said she hoped world leaders would recognize the virtue of "more compassionate" domestic policies that would obviate "the false promise of protectionism and isolation." Then she partied with Google.

Ardern, whose personal magnetism drove her Labour Party to electoral victory in 2017, has appeared in a Vogue photo spread and on American late-night television. When she gave birth to a baby in office ­ and then brought her 3-month-old daughter to the United Nations General Assembly last year ­ the unusual precedent only burnished her image as a global feminist icon. There even was a term for her celebrity: "Jacindamania."

But not all at Davos were impressed with the charismatic, liberal and young - ­ Ardern is just 38 - ­ world leader.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity to Today's WorldView, one Western fund manager with dealings in the Asia-Pacific region scoffed that Ardern "was just a less annoying Justin Trudeau with an easier country to run" ­ a jab both at her and the Canadian prime minister, another darling of the center left who critics argue has traded too long on his rosy image rather than actual policy achievements.

As my colleague Anna Fifield wrote Monday, Ardern has "had plenty of political trials and tribulations." Fifield explained: "Her handling of the economy has been criticized, and her efforts to introduce more affordable housing have been plagued by embarrassing bureaucratic blunders. Detractors said she was all style and no substance."

And, then, the terrorist attack in Christchurch happened. Since a self-proclaimed white supremacist burst into two mosques in the South Island city Friday, killing at least 50 people and wounding dozens more, Ardern has become the face of her nation's sorrow and grief, and its resolve.

Observers hailed the calm and compassion she has shown in the wake of the worst mass killing in her country's modern history. She led a multiparty delegation from the country's capital, Wellington, to Christchurch, donning a black headscarf and mourning with relatives and friends of the victims. She also promised to cover the funeral costs of all those slain. A photographer who covered her visit marveled at the prime minister's composure and empathy.

"Ardern's performance has been extraordinary ­ and I believe she will be strongly lauded for it both domestically and internationally," political commentator Bryce Edwards of Victoria University in Wellington told Reuters.

Ardern has also followed through in rhetoric and action. She immediately decried the white-nationalist ideology that fueled the massacre and spoke firmly for what she believed were her country's values. The death toll itself was a catalogue of New Zealand's budding diversity. "Among the dead were worshipers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Somalia and Afghanistan," my colleagues noted. "The youngest was a 3-year-old boy born in New Zealand to refugee parents from Somalia."

"We represent diversity, kindness, compassion," Ardern said Friday. "A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack."

She insisted that the victims "are us" and the "perpetrator is not." Addressing the suspected shooter, an Australian national now in police custody, she warned: "You may have chosen us ­ we utterly reject and condemn you."

Now, Ardern says she will pursue changing New Zealand's gun laws. She said that her government will announce plans "within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism" that she believes will make "our community safer." My colleagues reported that the "measures could include restricting the military-style semiautomatic weapons that were used in the attacks." Ardern has discussed full bans on these semiautomatic weapons as well as potentially requiring licenses for individual guns.

  New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets with members of the Moslem community. (AP)

American advocates for gun control can only look on wistfully at the pace with which Ardern can act. Both the United States and New Zealand "are among the only nations without universal gun registration rules, and both have strong gun lobbies that have stalled previous attempts to rein in gun owners' liberties," noted my colleague Rick Noack. But he added that Ardern has less to fear politically in her country than a liberal American leader, who would have to contend with the outsize influence of the National Rifle Association and a political system that gives disproportionate weight to rural, conservative parts of the country.

For good measure, Ardern also gently spoke out against Trump, rejecting his attempts to play down the rising threat of white-supremacist terrorism and urging him to show his solidarity with "all Muslim communities." Such a message of support has yet to come from the White House.

With her reputation burnished in the aftermath of national tragedy, Ardern finds herself in a situation similar to that of former Norwegian prime minister (and now NATO secretary general) Jens Stoltenberg, who won plaudits for his compassion and poise after another white-nationalist terrorist, Anders Breivik, murdered 77 people in 2011. In a speech, he famously vowed to combat "hatred with love." But Stoltenberg's aura soon faded, especially after a 2012 inquiry found that his government could have thwarted the attack. He was voted out of office in 2013.

For now, Ardern's political prospects are more robust. While Trump goes on a weekly Twitter meltdown and British Prime Minister Theresa May fumbles over Brexit, Ardern's decisiveness and conviction have laid down a marker.

"Was there any substance to her? That question is asked of all women leaders," wrote Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore. "What is underneath? Where is the steel? Now, in the most horrific of circumstances, we have seen the steel."