Mosque attacks handling: Root of Ardern’s extraordinary leadership

By: News Desk
Published: 02:54 PM, 19 Jan, 2023
Mosque attacks handling: Root of Ardern’s extraordinary leadership
Caption: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced quitting her office after a tumultuous five years that shot her to global stardom as a progressive leader and the way she handled the country’s worst terrorist attack on two mosques.

Ardern won widespread praise for her response to the March 2019 Christchurch attacks, when a white supremacist gunman targeted two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and seriously injuring another 40.

She had been in office barely 18 months when a white supremacist gunman opened fire in two Christchurch mosques. Her deft and compassionate response to the rampage of hate defined the charismatic centre-left leader's image around the world.

When she donned a headscarf and comforted victims' families after the shooting, it resonated globally. She would later describe it as a spontaneous gesture of respect to the Muslim community.

Ardern also won plaudits for decisive policy action, including swiftly enacted gun law reforms and a push to force social media giants to address online hate speech.

The New Zealand public emphatically backed her performance, giving her a second three-year term in October 2020.

We are one

New Zealand PM Ardern had addressed a crowd of thousands who had gathered for a memorial service at Hagley Park two weeks after the mosque attacks on March 28, 2019. Following is the text of the speech: 

“We gather here, 14 days on from our darkest of hours. In the days that have followed the terrorist attack on the 15th of March, we have often found ourselves without words.

What words adequately express the pain and suffering of 50 men, women and children lost, and so many injured? What words capture the anguish of our Muslim community being the target of hatred and violence? What words express the grief of a city that has already known so much pain?

I thought there were none. And then I came here and was met with this simple greeting. As-salaam Alaikum. Peace be upon you.

They were simple words, repeated by community leaders who witnessed the loss of their friends and loved ones. Simple words, whispered by the injured from their hospital beds. Simple words, spoken by the bereaved and everyone I met who has been affected by this attack.

They were words spoken by a community who, in the face of hate and violence, had every right to express anger but instead opened their doors for all of us to grieve with them. And so we say to those who have lost the most, we may not have always had the words.

We may have left flowers, performed the haka, sung songs or simply embraced. But even when we had no words, we still heard yours, and they have left us humbled and they have left us united.

Over the past two weeks we have heard the stories of those impacted by this terrorist attack. They were stories of bravery. They were stories of those who were born here, grew up here, or who had made New Zealand their home. Who had sought refuge, or sought a better life for themselves or their families.

These stories, they now form part of our collective memories. They will remain with us forever. They are us.

But with that memory comes a responsibility. A responsibility to be the place that we wish to be. A place that is diverse, that is welcoming, that is kind and compassionate. Those values represent the very best of us.

But even the ugliest of viruses can exist in places they are not welcome. Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practices their faith or religion, is not welcome here. Violence, and extremism in all its forms, is not welcome here. And over the last two weeks we have shown that, you have shown that, in your actions.

From the thousands at vigils to the 95 year old man who took four buses to attend a rally because he couldn’t sleep from the sadness of seeing the hurt and suffering of others. Our challenge now is to make the very best of us, a daily reality.

Because we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.

And so to each of us as we go from here, we have work to do, but do not leave the job of combatting hate to the government alone. We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. Let that be the legacy of the 15th of March. To be the nation we believe ourselves to be.

To the global community who have joined us today, who reached out to embrace New Zealand, and our Muslim community, to all of those who have gathered here today, we say thank you.

And we also ask that the condemnation of violence and terrorism turns now to a collective response. The world has been stuck in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism and it must end.

We cannot confront these issues alone, none of us can. But the answer to them lies in a simple concept that is not bound by domestic borders, that isn’t based on ethnicity, power base or even forms of governance. The answer lies in our humanity.

But for now, we will remember those who have left this place. We will remember the first responders who gave so much of themselves to save others.

We will remember the tears of our nation, and the new resolve we have formed.

And we remember, that ours is a home that does not and cannot claim perfection. But we can strive to be true to the words embedded in our national anthem

As-salaam Alaikum”

- Baby makes UN history -

Ardern won accolades in September 2018 when she was photographed kissing and bouncing her then three-month-old daughter, Neve, inside the hall of the United Nations General Assembly -- the first such appearance by a baby in the organisation's history.

She was only the second prime minister to give birth while in office after Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto in 1990.

"I want to normalise it," Ardern told CNN.

"By being more open it might create a path for other women."

Popularity wanes

Ardern's popularity waned as she battled declining trust in government, a deteriorating economic situation, and a resurgent conservative opposition.

Recent polls put the centre-right coalition ahead, with elections to be held on October 14.

The stress has been evident in recent months -- Ardern showed a rare lapse of poise when she was unwittingly caught on microphone calling an opposition politician an "arrogant prick".

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