Opinion: World leaders, take note of Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in full hijab to mourn the victims of Friday's terrorist attack. Taesa Hodel illustration
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By Kirsten Clarke

Jacinda Ardern is sincere. Her response as prime minister of New Zealand to the two terror attacks in Christchurch left no doubt that she mourns with her country.

When a tragedy occurs, politicians feel the need to respond – fast. But this tactic often results in their words feeling empty, their statements rote and generic. You expect them to hit the same talking points: community, resilience, compassion. Thoughts and prayers.

But thoughts and prayers are on the same level as asking for Facebook likes. It’s become a joke.

Taking action

In her statements delivered in the minutes and hours after the attacks, Ardern denounced the attacks as “terrorism.” She vowed to overhaul the country’s gun control laws. She stressed that the victims were New Zealanders.

She was speaking, not just as a leader addressing her nation, but as someone who was actively grieved and appalled by what had taken place in Christchurch.

On Saturday, the day after the attacks, Ardern wore hijab and mourned with the Christchurch victims and the city’s Muslim and refugee community. She was one of them, not just a figurehead.

Her reaction has been lauded around the world. Iranian-American journalist Negar Mortazavi tweeted that Ardern was telling victims “You are us.”

This was not a response to devastation that felt formulaic. Other global leaders would do well to follow Ardern’s example.

A detached address

In January 2017, a shooter killed six people and injured 19 more shortly after evening prayer at a Quebec City mosque. Trudeau condemned the attack as a terrorist act against all of Canada.

But his tone felt detached, his words carefully crafted. There was usual talk of how Canada is a diverse society, how the nation would stand together, would unify, and that an entire nation of hearts was breaking. While the intention might have been genuine, his delivery missed the mark.

Unlike Ardern, who addressed her nation directly, Trudeau’s response to the Quebec mosque attack was read before the House of Commons, his peers, not the victims and all Canadians.

Ardern’s genuine response and concrete actions – her cabinet will announce reforms to the country’s gun laws within 10 days of the attacks – are what’s needed from world leaders. Not just thoughts and prayers.

Read Liam Hill-Allan’s related article about a vigil held in Vancouver for the victims of Friday’s terrorist attack.

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