In the days since the terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand, from which the death toll is now at 50, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won plaudits from Western media and high-profile observers for her response, which has included vowing to tighten gun laws and telling President Trump that New Zealand needs sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.
Ardern said Trump called her and asked what the United States could do. “I said to Donald Trump that New Zealand needed sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” Ardern told reporters after the conversation. Ardern added that Trump “acknowledged that and agreed.”
Ardern’s cabinet has reportedly agreed in principle on measures to make gun laws more restrictive. Ardern is also calling on New Zealanders to turn in their guns voluntarily, which some of them are doing out of a surge of emotion following the attack.
John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton … said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted that “on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country”.
Ardern’s appeal didn’t seem to have a convincing logic behind it:
She also encouraged owners to surrender unnecessary firearms after it emerged that the accused mosque attacker, Australia white nationalist Brenton Tarrant, had legally acquired the guns he used in the rampage.
It isn’t clear why the legal acquisition of misused guns would indicate a need for peaceful, non-criminal owners to surrender them. But that probably factors into why Ardern is being roundly praised for her leadership over the last few days – at least by some.
In the U.S., documentary director Michael Moore is a fan. A big one:
What a true world leader looks like. The prime minister of New Zealand put on a hijab, said “They are us,” announced the gun laws we’re going to change and called out white supremacists, haters and Donald Trump. She’s 38. SHE. https://t.co/X8lmFCP01k pic.twitter.com/lv9Zlze2dz
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) March 18, 2019
His favorite response by the prime minister is the hijab, which she wore to visit and condole with the Muslim community in Christchurch. Moore is not alone; the Sydney Morning Herald hailed Ardern as “the face of empathy,” mainly, it’s clear, because she wore a hijab for the outing. At a minimum, the implication seems to be that showing up in your own cultural attire can’t convey the most desirable level of empathy.
The Morning Herald quotes photographer Kirk Hargreaves (who works for the city council of Christchurch and snapped the viral image of Ardern in the hijab, her face framed by the reflection of flowers on glass):
The mix of colour, the Prime Minister’s hijab and the framing of the picture led Hargreaves to call it “religious”.
“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,” he said.
An inevitable question arises. Would it be considered such evidence of respectful inclusiveness to invoke religious images, as Hargreaves does, if the victims had been Christians?
Along those lines, it appears that the terror attack last week is prompting the New Zealand rugby team to seriously consider changing its name: the Crusaders. LU’s J.E. Dyer has pointed out that according to the terror attacker, his act was not motivated by any of the pretexts commonly associated with Western aggression (and reduced by the media to a formula of “white supremacy”). But the New Zealand rugby team is taking itself at fault anyway.
Perhaps New Zealanders all agree that if they want to show empathy properly, the only way to do it is to disavow their own heritage and adopt someone else’s. It appears Michael Moore would approve. Food for thought.