New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern was met with a standing ovation on Friday, as she appeared before a crowd of thousands, at an event in Christchurch to honor the 50 victims of the nation’s worst terrorist attack.
An estimated 20,000 people gathered in Hagley Park, to commemorate those who died two weeks ago when a gunman stormed two mosques in the city’s center. Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Ardern was joined onstage by Muslim leaders and a survivor of the attack. Among the assembled mourners, including heads of state and survivors of the attacks, was British musician Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, who also sang. Before performing an acoustic version of ‘Peace Train’, the artist said his heart went out to those affected and highlighted the amazing response of New Zealanders to the shocking attack. “It’s only when good people stay sitting that evil rises,” he said. “We’ve seen the opposite in this country.”
As well as being praised for her empathy and kindness in the days since the mass shooting, Ardern has also demonstrated her courage and resolve as a leader, announcing a ban on all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles.
“The world has been stuck in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism and it must end,” Ardern said. “We cannot confront these issues alone, none of us can … The answer lies in our humanity. But for now we will remember the tears of our nation and the new resolve we have formed.”
“We each hold the power – in our words, in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness – let that be the legacy of the 15th of March,” she said.
The service, known as Ko T?tou, T?tou We Are One, was broadcast around New Zealand to many other gatherings.
Farid Ahmed, who survived the Al Noor mosque attack but whose wife died, said when he is asked why he has forgiven the attacker, he says Allah loves those who “control their anger and pardon their fellow human.”
He added that he wanted to offer prayers for the victims and also the people who survived. “I would like to honor you for your presence today … I want to thank New Zealanders for coming together; for showing the world that New Zealand is a peaceful country.”
Yusuf Islam – Cat Stevens – has a pretty strong message for the huge crowds at Hagley Park for the #Christchurch remembrance service – we could all do with a little more peace. pic.twitter.com/v7D2ponnJj
— Dominic Harris (@DominicHarris8) March 28, 2019
Ardern addressed the anomaly of such an extreme attack having taken place in the largely peaceful nation. “[E]ven the ugliest of viruses can exist in places they are not welcome,” she observed. “Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practices their faith or religion, is not welcome here. Violence, and extremism in all its forms, is not welcome here. And over the last two weeks we have shown that, you have shown that, in your actions.
“From the thousands at vigils to the 95 year old man who took four buses to attend a rally because he couldn’t sleep from the sadness of seeing the hurt and suffering of others. Our challenge now is to make the very best of us a daily reality.
“Because we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.”
Watch Jacinda Ardern’s powerful address below, which she opens in the indigenous Maori language: