Charismatic, liberal and young – Jacinda Ardern is the world leader we’ve all yearned for. The 38-year-old is known to be active in the fight against climate change and has championed to prioritize the economic and the social well-being of her country. She gained popularity in 2017 when her magnetic personality drove her Labour Party to win the elections. Her pregnancy, maternity leave and birth of a baby in office have branded her image as a global feminist icon and symbolizing progress for women as leaders. Besides her, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto is the only other government leader to have given birth in office.
There even was a term for her personage: “Jacindamania.”
Though she has also been criticized by the media for having ‘an easier country to run,’Ardern has had plenty of political trials and tribulations because of the criticisms. Her handling of the economy has been critiqued; her struggle to introduce more affordable housing has been beleaguered by embarrassing bureaucratic blunders. Cynics said she was all style and no substance.
And, then, the terrorist attack in Christchurch occurred.
When a racist and a white supremacist entered into two mosques in the South Island city Friday, murdering at least 50 people and wounding dozens more, sorrow struck New Zealand. Apprehended by the authorities, the Australian-born suspect made it clear that his attacks were fuelled by pure hatred of Muslim immigrants. In a 70 page manifesto, he described the Muslim population as invaders threatening the integrity of a white nation. With a warped notion in mind, he had inscribed the names of medieval Christian warriors who fought Islamic empires on his weapons.
In this heartbreaking time for New Zealand, Ardern has become the face of her nation’s sorrow and grief, and its resolve.
In her first speech to her Nation’s Parliament after the terrorist attacks on the two mosques, Ardern insisted that the gunman should be denied the publicity he was seeking.
“That’s why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name “- Ardern
Facebook has come under heavy scrutiny after the attack. Her government will look into the role social media played in the dehumanizing attacks. It will not be acceptable anymore for companies running social media platforms to not take any responsibility for what is published on their sites.
Spectators first witnessed the calm and compassionate demeanor of Ardern when she led the country in the wake of the worst mass killing the world has recently seen. She donned a black scarf and led a multiparty delegation from the country’s capital, Wellington to Christchurch to mourn with relatives and friends of the victims. She promised to cover the funeral costs of all those slain.
Following through in rhetoric and action, Ardern immediately denounced the white-nationalist ideology portrayed by the murderer and spoke firmly about her country’s ideals. She insisted that her country represented diversity, kindness, compassion and is a home for those who share their values. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack. Addressing the suspected shooter, she cautioned: “You may have chosen us — we utterly reject and condemn you.”
Ardern has announced that she will pursue changing New Zealand’s gun laws and the plans will be announced within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism that she believes will make the community safer. That could also mean that the measures could include limiting the military-style semiautomatic weapons that were used in the attacks.
The United States and New Zealand are the only nations without universal gun registration rules, and both have strong gun lobbies that have stalled previous attempts to do so.
Underlining her nation’s self-image as a welcoming country, Ardern referred to the Muslims who died while attending the Friday prayer service.
“They are New Zealand,” she said. “They are us.” Jacinda Ardern has been praised for exuding strength, calm and composure in public settings laying down a marker for other leaders to follow.