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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hugs a mourner at the Kilbirnie Mosque on March 17, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New Zealand attack

Jacinda Ardern is redefining leadership in an age of terror

March 17, 2019

As New Zealand reels from a mass shooting apparently fueled by anti-Muslim bigotry, its prime minister is being hailed for her compassion and resolute leadership during a time of national crisis.

In the days following the attack that left 50 dead at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, Jacinda Ardern labeled the tragedy terrorism and called for swift changes to the nation’s gun laws. She reassured the country’s migrant communities that “New Zealand is their home — they are us.” And she told U.S. President Donald Trump that the only thing she needed from him was “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.”

“Ardern’s performance has been extraordinary, and I believe she will be strongly lauded for it both domestically and internationally,” said Bryce Edwards, a political analyst at Victoria University in Wellington.

The day after the attack, Ardern laid a wreath at Kilbirnie Mosque in the capital city of Wellington. Wearing a headscarf and visibly crying, she hugged relatives of the dead and expressed solidarity with the country’s Muslims. Reports noted that she allowed the mourners to set the pace and agenda of the visit, and spent most of her time listening to them talk and offering comfort.

A message from the Prime Minister to those affected by the terrible tragedy in Christchurch.

Posted by Duncan Webb Labour MP for Christchurch Central on Friday, March 15, 2019

Ardern’s determination to tighten New Zealand’s gun laws amounts to a bold political move in a country where acquiring a semi-automatic weapon is relatively easy. Gun rights groups immediately began pushing back, but Arden has been adamant that the tragedy in Christchurch will serve as a transformative moment. “Now is the time for change,” she said.

At 38 years old, Ardern is the world’s youngest female head of state, and her age and gender have informed her progressive ideals and style of leadership. Swept into power as part of a wave of progressive, young leaders alongside France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, she learned she was pregnant just days before being sworn into office in 2017.

On June 21, 2018, she became only the second government leader to give birth while in office. (Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto was the first, in 1990.) After her daughter was born, Ardern handed over power to her deputy prime minister for six weeks as she went on maternity leave, a move that was applauded by many as a symbol of progress for working women.

Now, many are praising her response to a tragedy that has become all too familiar — one fueled by xenophobia and hate, and enabled by lax regulation of firearms. Her empathy for the victims, outreach to the country’s Muslims, and resolve to implement sensible gun laws is creating a model for other world leaders to follow during terror attacks.

During her run for office, critics often dismissed what they claimed was a substance-free campaign, and warned that her celebrity — dubbed “Jacinda-mania” — masked the candidate’s lack of depth. Now, however, it appears that Ardern will be known as the leader who deftly guided her country through its gravest crisis, and showed others how to do the same.

Read more at Mother Jones.

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