After New Zealand Attack, PM Jacinda Ardern Praised For "Grace, Empathy"

Dressed in black and wearing a hijab, Jacinda Ardern tearfully told mosque attack survivors that the whole country was "united in grief."

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After New Zealand Attack, PM Jacinda Ardern Praised For 'Grace, Empathy'

Jacinda Ardern has pledged to cover funeral costs the victims and financial assistance to the families.


For the first 16 months of her tenure, Jacinda Ardern was feted around an increasingly populist world for being young, female and progressive.

The 37-year-old New Zealand prime minister, together with Justin Trudeau of Canada and France's Emmanuel Macron, were celebrated as the antidote to Donald Trump. Vogue magazine ran a glamorous photo spread of her. She appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Sheryl Sandberg described her as a "political prodigy" when Ardern made Time magazine's list of 100 "Most Influential People."

A term was coined to describe the phenomenon: "Jacindamania."

The sentiment only grew when she announced she was pregnant, becoming the second world leader to have a baby in office (Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto was the first) and grew again when she took her three-month-old daughter to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

At home, however, she has plenty of political trials and tribulations, with her handling of the economy criticized and her efforts to introduce more affordable housing plagued by embarrassing bureaucratic blunders. Detractors said she was all style and no substance.

But these domestic problems didn't dent the perception of her abroad as an inspirational leader for the modern age.

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As New Zealand deals with the aftermath of tragedy, Jacinda Ardern is being seen as a compassionate leader. (AFP)

Now, Jacindamania has taken on a new and totally different dimension in the last few days, since the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, which left 50 dead and 40 injured.

New Zealand has never experienced this kind of attack before, and it has shaken the country.

But many have lauded the response by Ardern, who had never served in government before becoming prime minister. She swiftly labeled the attacks "terrorism" and bluntly called an Australian MP's suggestion there was a link between Muslim immigration and violence "a disgrace."

"Ardern's performance has been extraordinary - and I believe she will be strongly lauded for it both domestically and internationally," political commentator Bryce Edwards told Reuters.

When she visited Christchurch on Saturday, a day after the attacks, Ardern visited members of the refugee and Muslim community. Dressed in black and wearing a Muslim-style headscarf known as a hijab, she tearfully told them that the whole country was "united in grief."

Wearing hijab was "a sign of respect," wrote Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and commentator.

It was not just her dress that won her more fans abroad. Many people also praised her pledge to cover the funeral costs of all 50 victims and offer financial assistance to the families, and also her swift action on gun control. Her government will introduce gun reforms in parliament next week.

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50 people were killed after a shooting at crowded mosques in Chirstchurch, New Zealand. 

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, tweeted a photo of Ardern hugging a Muslim woman and noted that, when in London last year, she had talked about "the importance of inclusivity and equality in society."

Adil Ray, a British actor and TV presenter, said he was "really impressed" with Ardern for her "swift, strong leadership."

Cihangir Islam, a Turkish lawmaker from an opposition Islamist party, also praised Ardern. She "says to Muslims in pain, 'You, you're us!' She symbolically covers her head when she goes to a home for condolences; she boldly underlines her respect and solidarity. How thirsty we have become for justice and mercy in state administration," Islam wrote.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science in Dubai, said she was "stoic and firm."

A video showing Ardern hugging a Muslim woman and consoling her caused a similar reaction.

"Can you imagine having a leader of a country showing this kind of empathy? Thank you, Jacinda Ardern, for reminding the world what a Leader is and could be," London literary agent Jonny Geller wrote in a post that has garnered 58,000 likes.

The fact that a world leader covered her hair to meet Muslims quickly became a symbol of Ardern's approach.

One particular photo captured the public imagination. It is a photo of Ardern, listening intently with an agonized look on her face and her hands clasped together. It has been shared widely on social networks, lauded as a portrait of a compassionate leader.

The photo taken by Kirk Hargreaves, who used to be a photographer for Christchurch newspaper The Press but now works for the Christchurch City Council. It was shared on the council's Twitter page.

"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.

"The human empathy and all those amazing human traits she's showing in the picture, I'm glad people resonated with that," he said.

Faiza Ali, a community organizer in Brooklyn, N.Y., tweeted the photo, calling Ardern a "remarkable leader."

The Crisis Magazine, the official publication of the NAACP, tweeted the photo, saying Ardern showed "Dignity. Grace. Courage."



(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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