As New Zealand found itself catapulted last week from a sleepy paradise to the site of a terror attack, the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emerged as a unifying figure.
“New Zealand is their home. They are us,”Ardern said of the victims of Friday’s Mar 15 attack, which was carried out by a self-proclaimed white supremacist who stormed into two mosques in Christchurch, killing 50 people and injuring dozens more.
In the aftermath of the attack, the 38-year-old Ardern has drawn nearly universal praise from New Zealanders and others who have hailed her leadership amid the crisis as strong and compassionate.
“We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because were an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things, because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion,” Ardern has said.
“And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack,” she added.
At her first meeting with the Muslim community on Saturday (Mar 16), Ardern wore a black hijab and embraced grieving families. “We feel deeply in our hearts what has happened to you. We feel grief. We feel injustice. We feel anger. And we share that with you,” Ardern told them.
Ardern has also worked quickly to channel her emotions into action. She has pledged that the country’s gun laws will be changed within 10 days of the attack.
Her handling of the Christchurch terrorism atrocity has been absolutely superb, political commentator Bryce Edwards told dpa. While there have been doubts previously about Arderns experience and capabilities, these questions have been more than answered over the last five days, Edwards said.
Ardern has been sensitive yet strong, Edwards added, which “speaks to [her] extraordinary emotional intelligence and her natural leadership skills.”
Internationally, especially in the Muslim world, Arderns reputation has escalated in the wake of the attack. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan praised Ardern in the Washington Post, writing, “All Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries.”
In 2017 Ardern was deputy of a struggling opposition party. She took over as leader of the Labour Party seven weeks out from the September 2017 election, and her “relentless positivity” captured New Zealand’s electorate with what was dubbed “Jacindamania.”
Six days before assuming office, Ardern found out she was expecting her first child with her partner, fishing TV show host Clarke Gayford. Since then, she has become the first political leader to give birth while in office since 1990, and has made history as the first world leader to attend the United Nations general assembly meeting with a baby in tow.
More recently she displayed her brand of compassion-led politics on the world stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I hope other leaders will come to see more compassionate domestic policy settings as a compelling alternative to the false promise of protectionism and isolation,” Ardern said.
Ardern is known as sharp and personable, with a good sense of humour, and driven by passions for human rights and social justice. She grew up in the only Mormon family in a small town and describes herself as a pragmatic idealist. – By Jule Scherer/dpa