Rabat – When a terrorist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50, one week ago, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately sprang into action.
Jacinda Ardern, one of New Zealand’s youngest ever prime ministers at just 38 years old, is receiving praise globally for her calm and compassionate attitude following the tragedy on Friday, March 15. Just hours after the attack, Ardern called a press conference with the clear aim of informing the public as much as possible and dubbing the incident an act of terrorism.
She also called for unity after a tragedy that could cause division, pointing out that “many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand.” “They may even be refugees,” she said.
But seeking to dispel an “us versus them” mentality, she reminded the nation, “They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”
The next day, on Saturday, March 16, Ardern flew to Christchurch to lay flowers at Kilbirnie Mosque and offer her condolences to the city’s Muslim community in person. She wore a black hijab as a sign of respect with an expression of grief and empathy. Photographs show her embracing and walking hand in hand with the mourning relatives of the victims.
One picture in particular of the prime minister that day has gone viral, showing Ardern through a window in her black hijab with a pained expression on her face. Kirk Hargreaves, Christchurch’s city council photographer, took the photo.
“The moment I saw her face pop up, and what was happening with the flowers, I fully knew [it was important]. It’s a religious photo in a way, a photo of a mix of religious symbolism. It looks like stain glass, there’s the Muslim hijab, and colours of Hindu religion. It’s a universal picture,” Hargreaves told the Sydney Morning Herald.
While in Christchurch, Ardern also addressed concerns that the victims’ bodies would not be returned in time for burial within 24 hours of death, a Muslim tradition, and reassured families that the deceased would be returned to their loved ones as quickly as possible. She also told the community that the state would be offering NZ $10,000 grants to cover the funeral cost of victims.
The families are also eligible for “one-off payments, and ongoing assistance provisions for things like childcare and of course compensation for the loss of income.”
Ardern also immediately pledged to make long-term government changes to prevent tragedies like the Christchurch terror attack from happening again. On Saturday, March 16, she announced her intentions to strengthen New Zealand’s gun laws.
During a press conference following her visit to Christchurch, Ardern said, “I can tell you one thing right now. Our gun laws will change.”
She referenced Australia’s crackdown on firearms in 1996, just 12 days after a mass shooting killed 35 people in Tasmania. “I reflect, again, Australia, when they experienced a tragedy, a mass shooting in the 1990s, it took them 12 days. We will do it in less but only through extraordinary effort,” she said.
And she stuck true to her word.
On March 21, just six days after the Christchurch terror attack, Ardern announced “that New Zealand will ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons. We will also ban all assault rifles. We will ban all high capacity magazines. We will ban all parts with the ability to convert semi-automatic or any other type of firearm into a military-style semi-automatic weapon. We will ban parts that cause a firearm to generate semi-automatic, automatic or close to automatic gunfire.”
She continued, “In short, every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned in this country.” The government will implement a gun buyback scheme after seeking advice from Australia on the matter according to Ardern.
It seems her work to tighten gun control is far from over. “It is about all of us. It is in the national interest and it is about safety. I will work hard to retain that support as we work on the remaining tranches of reform that we must make to prevent an act of terror happening in our country ever again,” she said. The New Zealand Parliament has yet to vote on the proposed changes.
Ardern’s quick crackdown has received praise from Democrats advocating for similar changes in the US. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compared Ardern’s ban to the US’s failure to implement any new gun control laws after deadly shootings such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, in which 20 children and six school staff died.
“Sandy Hook happened 6 years ago and we can’t even get the Senate to hold a vote on universal background checks,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Christchurch happened, and within days New Zealand acted to get weapons of war out of the consumer market. This is what leadership looks like.”
Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders echoed a similar sentiment, tweeting, “This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like. We must follow New Zealand’s lead, take on the [National Rifle Association] and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons in the United States.”
Morocco has similar tough gun laws to Australia, with laws to regulate civilian access, mandatory background checks in place, and strict regulations in place on all types of guns from handguns to assault rifles.
Jacinda Ardern is also being praised for her decision not to give the Christchurch attacker any notoriety. While speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, March 19, she expressed, “He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety – that is why you will never hear me mention his name.”
Ardern urged people to “speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
She also assured New Zealanders that he would “face the full force of New Zealand’s law.”
Ardern also used the address to call on social media platforms to do more to combat extremism online, as the attacker live-streamed the shooting on Facebook for 17 minutes.
Speaking to Parliament, she said, “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility.”
In an official statement, Facebook said the live-stream was online for an hour before being removed and received over 4,000 views. The social media platform also said it had blocked 1.2 million copies of the video at the point of upload and deleted another 300,000.
According to Facebook, the alt-right website 8chan reposted the video to its own platform before Facebook removed it from the attacker’s profile.
BBC’s technology consultant Rory Cellan-Jones told BBC that even though it was an 8chan user who made the video go viral, he questioned “whether it was sensible to give between two and three billion people instant access to a live broadcasting platform Facebook must have known would be impossible to moderate in real time.”
In a simple but powerful nod to the Muslim community, Ardern finished Tuesday’s address to Parliament by saying, “Al Salaam Alaikum. Peace be upon you, and peace be upon all of us.”