In the immediate aftermath of the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 50 dead and 40 injured, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern swiftly deemed the attack as a act of terrorism and rejected the notion that the victims, many of them migrants, were not part of the country. "They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home," she said in a press conference following the attack. She then emphasised: "They are us."
The address would set the tone for Ardern's extraordinary display of leadership as New Zealand grapples with one of the darkest chapters of its modern history.
On Saturday, the prime minister traveled to Christchurch to meet with members of the community who are Muslim and refugees. Ardern was clad in black and wearing a hijab, which was interpreted by many as a symbol of respect towards those affected by the attack. As she hugged some of the grieving families, she told them New Zealanders were "united in grief." The gesture was not empty, either. Ardern pledged to cover the funeral costs for every victim and offered additional financial assistance to the families who might need it. She also promised that her cabinet will pursue gun control measures to improve the nation's current laws and announced Monday the reforms would be unveiled "within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism."
In videos from her visit to Christchurch, Ardern is shown visiting a makeshift memorial outside of the Wellington Islamic Centre. She also met with community members, where she spoke clearly about her grief and addressed several logistical issues, such as retrieving the bodies of the victims so their families can begin the burying rituals, with compassion.
Ardern, who at 38 is one of the youngest leaders in the world, is by no means a perfect lawmaker. Domestically, she's been criticised over her handling of New Zealand's economy and other issues, such as her bureaucratic blunders as she tries to create more affordable housing in the nation. But her strong leadership after the shootings in Christchurch, the first attack of its kind in New Zealand's modern history, could teach a thing or two to other world leaders who at times have come short when tragedy strikes.
In the hours after the attack Friday, Ardern gave New Zealanders, as much information as she could at the moment. This decision helped the country at a time where fear and uncertainty reigned. Aldern also spoke clearly against assertions that the attack was not part of a bigger trend in the rise of white nationalism globally. At a press conference, she was asked whether she agreed with President Donald Trump's assertion that there has not been an increase in right-wing terrorism. Ardern answered with a simple, "No." When asked how could the U.S. help fight this trend, she said: "Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities."
Throughout her first 18 months in office, Ardern has been criticised as a weak leader for her openness, but she has not shied away from a style of leadership that relies on hope. "It takes courage and strength to be empathetic," she said last fall. In her country's most horrifying days, that strength has shined through.
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