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This past Friday, at least 50 people were killed during shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. At least 50 more people were left injured in what’s now considered the country’s deadliest mass shooting, one perpetrated by a suspected killer who left behind a manifesto, making his anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views crystal clear. A country was left reeling, as the vibrations of the violence of white supremacy were felt around the world.
In the midst of terror and confusion, Jacinda Ardern knew what to say.
The 38-year-old prime minister of New Zealand spoke before her country, and the globe, on Friday, saying, “It is clear this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days. Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence. Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.”
She was quick to say it, but her message was clear: The New Zealand government would stand by the victims and the Muslim community and wholly denounce this violence. In the days to come, Ardern would become a paragon of leadership, gaining praise for her graceful and empathetic response to the attacks.
Ardern became New Zealand’s youngest female prime minister in October 2017, on the heels of what some called “Jacindamania,” due to her ability to drum up support and connect with the public. And the frenzy only continued as Ardern took office, gave birth in the office, and then took her baby to general assembly meetings at the United Nations.
Back in 2018, she was named to TIME’s list of 100 most influential people; Sheryl Sandberg wrote about her, “She’s not just leading a country. She’s changing the game. And women and girls around the world will be the better for it.”
And since the shooting, Ardern has proven it to be true. She met with families of the victims, laying wreaths to honor those who were killed.
She announced that the government would be paying for all of the victims’ funerals, as well as providing financial assistance to those affected. The Washington Post reported she went to Christchurch soon after the shooting, visiting refugees and members of the Muslim community, all while wearing a hijab, which many took to be a sign of respect.
On Monday, she announced that there would be significant gun law reform in New Zealand, saying that within 10 days of the shooting, they will share the specifics. She let New Zealanders know that there would be an inquiry into the shooting, including the events leading up to the attack and what all relevant agencies knew or could have or should have known about the shooter.
Then during her first address to Parliament since the attack, Ardern said that she will not speak the name of the suspected shooter, explaining, “He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety. And that is why you will never hear me mention his name. Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.” She finished her speech with the Arabic greeting “Al salam Alaikum,” which means “Peace be upon you.”
And now The Guardian reports that Ardern announced there will be two minutes of silence on Friday to mark the attack, and the call to prayer will be broadcasted on television and radio throughout New Zealand.
In an op-ed for The Guardian, Suzanne Moore wrote, “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.”
Her poise and compassion have been lauded by politicians and celebrities and noted across social media. Sitting in America, it’s almost too easy to see the stark contrast between Ardern and Trump. While members of the Trump administration tweeted their thoughts and prayers for those in Christchurch–all while continuing to support Muslim travel bans and perpetuate anti-immigrant rhetoric—Ardern was standing beside her citizens, letting them know that, without question, she wants them to be safe and welcome. While he condemned “both sides” after a violent white supremacist protest and failed to pass sweeping gun reform after students were gunned down in their classrooms, Ardern let only days go by before acknowledging the issue of white nationalism, before announcing they would change gun laws.
Ardern, a 38-year-old history-making mother, has shown herself to be effective, sensitive, and thoughtful—but when it comes to our leaders, why should we expect anything less?