Jacinda Ardern: A visionary leader


By Zaeem Mumtaz Bhatti


  • Muslim leaders can learn from her


It is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who has become the first drop of rain. It is she who has thrown her weight behind the Muslims in the most devastating times of their lives.

A gauntlet was thrown down to her by a ruthless and cold-blooded terrorist, who brutally sprayed Muslims with bullets on Friday, 15th of March, in two mosques at Christchurch, martyring 50 of them and injuring many. She took up the gauntlet bravely, going the extra mile in addressing the concerns, problems, travails and woes facing the Muslims.

She was under tremendous pressure to address the immense damage caused to the image of the New Zealand by the attack and to give a clear message to the Muslim community, healing their wounds and pulling them out of the state of shock and profound distress, they were plunged into by the terrorist. They say extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Much to the relief of the Muslim community and to the enormous surprise of the world, she did not mince her words; calling a spade a spade; she condemned the terrorist attack in so many words and termed the assailant “a terrorist”. Also, she said that the day of the attack would go down in New Zealand’s history as its darkest one. This was her first reaction.

The USA, which has so far failed miserably to address the thorny problems stemming from Islamophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy and gun violence, must take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book

Teary-eyed, swathed in black shalwar-qameez, covering her head with a dupatta, she visited the Muslim community of Christchurch in showing her solidarity and support with them. She listened to them quite attentively and made an impromptu speech, promising to address the situation immediately. Videos show her embracing a woman while her facial expressions clearly betraying that she was deeply saddened by the loss and the deaths inflicted on the Muslim community. These symbolic steps would have been sufficient for the Muslim community in New Zealand in particular, and for the Muslims across the world in general, not least when they are facing attacks arising out of Islamophobia and xenophobia on a day-to-day basis across the Western world. Needless to add that the Western world largely acts as a silent spectator when it comes to dealing with such incidents, sitting on its hands and refusing to term the assailants “terrorists”. And in point of fact, people, irrespective of their religion and creed, heaped praise on Jacinda for taking the initial steps in assuaging and alleviating the excruciating mental torture, suffering and unspeakable pain of the bereaved Muslim families. Nonetheless, she did not regard these steps sufficient. She had more drastic steps to take.

She walked the walk instead of talking the talk: in her address to the New Zealand Parliament immediately after the attack, she began by a Muslim greeting, “Assalam-o-Alaikum”, declining to name the terrorist and had said that she would not call his name no matter what, and he would be left nameless forever, winning the hearts of the Muslims across the world. Additionally, she announced that strictest gun laws would be introduced in order to ban the military style guns. Later on, she lived up to her promise. On 10th of April, the Parliament of New Zealand voted overwhelmingly 119 to 1 in favour of putting a ban in place in less than a month of the horrific incident.

A more pleasant surprise was lying in store for the world. For the first time in the history of the Western world, the Quran was recited in a western parliament; New Zealand’s parliament, while all were listening quietly and attentively, and the female members were wearing dupattas, bowing their heads in respect. Azan was broadcast across New Zealand as well, while New Zealand’s women were standing with dupattas on their heads. There is no two ways about it: these are all unprecedented steps. People are still in awe. Much ink has been spilled in eulogising Jacinda Ardern, who has taken unparalleled steps for addressing the scourge of the terrorism. She really deserves a Nobel Peace Prize and her name should be written with golden words in history. She has become a face of the change, compassion, empathy, humanity and resistance; a visionary leader, who does not look the other way in the crunch time.

The terrorist that attacked New Zealand made an attempt to tear the social fabric in which New Zealand as a nation is woven, and to drive a wedge between the Muslim community and the rest of the New Zealanders. However, he failed and failed miserably. On the very next Friday after the attack, the world saw a spectacle never witnessed before: thousands of New Zealanders attended the Friday prayer, standing behind the rows of the worshippers, thereby strenuously rejecting the ideology of hatred adopted by the terrorist. In the meanwhile, New Zealand’s female reporters and anchorwomen wore headscarfs to give live coverage and reporting of the Friday prayers. Not only this, the country fell silent for two minutes to remember the tragedy that had shaken New Zealand to the core, sending shockwaves across the world.

That Ms Ardern has set an extraordinary example goes without saying. Now it is for the other countries to follow suit. The USA, which has so far failed miserably to address the thorny problems stemming from Islamophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy and gun violence, must take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book. On the one hand, a single incident has positively changed New Zealand and, on the other, countless incidents of the same nature happening in the USA have not shocked it out of her lethargy and inaction. As for the Muslim countries’ supremos, they should learn a lesson from Ms Ardern on how to handle effectively and efficaciously such incidents, healing the emotional scars of the victims and bereaved families.


The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He tweets at @zaeem8825. He can be contacted at [email protected]