Ardern delivers a lesson in leadership
It is reassuring to see that not all has been lost, and reminders of good leaders and leadership in a leaderless world can come from countries such as New Zealand, and specifically from Christchurch, where a small community was hit by a heinous act of violence in the name of hate, fear and the rejection of difference.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shown us all what a difference leaders can make in critical, divisive and hatred-filled times.
The exemplary stand taken by Ardern after the twin mosque attacks by an intolerant terrorist, who killed 50 and injured dozens of New Zealand’s Muslim community in their place of worship, is a reminder to us all after a decade (at least) of leadership voids at the helm of many countries and multilateral institutions around the world.
Ardern’s name should be remembered and quoted if we — the global, peaceful human beings of this planet, and we are a majority — are to survive and defeat this lurch toward extremism by populist scaremongers bent on reinterpreting the world and its institutions along thin lines of racism, apartheid and religious hatred.
Ardern’s actions and words rose above fear and showed faith in humanity. She held on to the idea of a peaceful world being stronger than the minority of “evil-doers,” as ex-US President George W. Bush termed those who carried out the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
On the other hand, instead of condemning the attacks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked global outrage by screening excerpts of the attacker’s own video at campaign rallies. He aimed to denounce Islamophobia but also to shore up Islamic and nationalist sentiments before the March 31 local elections.
At an emergency session of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, the words of Winston Peters, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, must have shamed Erdogan and his supporters. Peters said that the Christchurch atrocity was “an attack on all of us” in his country of “religious tolerance,” while assuring leaders from the Muslim world that the perpetrator will spend the rest of his life in isolation in prison and calling for solidarity to eradicate “hate-filled ideologies.”
Erdogan was not alone. Other leaders have responded with cliched condemnations devoid of leadership and political acumen that should have prevailed in such times. Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and others fell short next to the towering Ardern. Donald Trump denied that white supremacists posed a growing risk to world peace.
Ardern’s name should be remembered and quoted if we — the global, peaceful human beings of this planet, and we are a majority — are to survive and defeat this lurch toward extremism by populist scaremongers bent on reinterpreting the world and its institutions along thin lines of racism, apartheid and religious hatred
Ardern was quick to respond to racist comments made by an anti-immigration Australian senator, who blamed the Christchurch attack on the immigration programs that allowed Muslim so-called “fanatics” to reach the shores of New Zealand and Australia. She called such comments “a disgrace.”
Though Facebook is to be commended for the speed with which it removed the video game-style images filmed by the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre, much of the world’s mainstream media fell into the pothole of posting and then rescinding excerpts of the video. Some even felt no shame in analyzing the shooter’s manifesto. Others went even further, digging deep to find angelic baby photos of him, as if insinuating that the killer had no extremist views as a baby. I doubt Baruch Goldstein, who entered a Palestinian mosque in 1994 and killed 29 worshippers, showed any signs of violent extremism at birth.
In Britain, the Brexit saga has exacerbated the need for a responsible political leadership instead of the current bunch of quarreling politicians who are unable to see that the vote to leave the EU was symptomatic of a lurch to the right and the fear of a wave of migrants coming over from a united Europe.
Ardern reminded us all of our interconnected destiny and showed exceptional political leadership, which has been worryingly absent from the world stage in the last two decades.
Extremism, terrorism, criminality, greed and hate are traits of human existence that must be fought against, just as Ardern did as she promoted hope, faith and coexistence in a borderless, even shrinking world. Political leadership helped the world survive similar junctures if you look back at history.
New Zealand PM Ardern, with her genuine compassion and political leadership, has demonstrated that all is not lost to populism, the narrative of hate, or simple indifference, and that politicians must believe and lead despite the fog of distortion that currently engulfs us.
• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.