The Christchurch shooting is a major crisis for New Zealand. Leading the country is a woman in her 30s who - despite questions around her youth, her inexperience and her gender - is showing the rest of the world what leadership looks like. Here’s how New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is getting it right:
1. Showing empathy and respect to the community affected
Right from the start Ardern showed the families of victims that she was coming from a place of genuine respect. She covered her head before meeting grieving families and community members and comforted them with empathy and heart. “The prime minister, when she came wearing her scarf, that was big for us,” said Dalia Mohamed, who was mourning the death of one of the victims, Hussein Mustafa. When later Ms Ardern spoke in Parliament about the attack, she started her speech with the Islamic greeting of “Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh” – “May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you too”, as another sign of reverence towards the community affected. She’s backed up this concern by pledging to provide financial assistance to the victims’ families and pay for the funerals of all victims.
2. Tightening New Zealand’s gun laws
Days after the shooting Ardern publicly announced that New Zealand’s gun laws were going to be reformed. “Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer,” she said at a news conference. As New York magazine stated: “(this) represents a radically different approach to gun reform than in the United States, which averaged at least one deadly mass shooting per month in 2018.” Ardern however, is wasting no time to ensure her country remains a safe place for all its citizens without the threat of gun violence hanging over them.
3. Refusing to name the attacker but calling him what he is – a terrorist
“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name,” she said. “He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.” She implored the media and the public to follow her lead and not say the gunman’s name either as it will give him the fame he so desperately wants. It’s also worth noting she didn’t fall into the trap of calling him a “lone wolf,” or a “disaffected loner,” or any of the terms used when white men are responsible for killing many people. She called him what he was – a terrorist.
4. Offering a contrast to Trump’s politics
When US President Donald Trump called Ardern to offer his condolences after the attack, her message back to him was simple – she wanted him to show “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities”. Trump has refused to blame the rise of white supremacy as being a problem. He also refused to point out that the worshippers who died in the attack were Muslim, when in the past he has been quick to point to the religious motivations of other such killings. Ardern on the other hand used her very first major speech after the attack to underline “They are Us” – a phrase that has stuck and has underscored her response in the days that followed. And rather than the cliched “thoughts and prayers” that Trump has previously used before she has followed up her response with hard action (see points above) along with launching an enquiry into whether this tragedy could have been prevented.
5. She has united rather than divided
Ardern has been at pains to point out the Muslim community in New Zealand is very much a part of their nation. Her actions as outlined above have been done to unite all communities together in such a moment of crisis, rather than tear them apart.
Saman Shad is a Sydney-based writer and commentator. You can follow her on Twitter at @muminprogress