Time International - 02.03.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1
That message, and her authentic em­
brace of New Zealand’s Muslim commu­
nity, resonated around the world at a time
when many nations are defined more by
the abundance of dividing lines than the
boldness of their unity. When she then
wore a headscarf to visit a mosque in
Wellington, the images hit screens from
Dar es Salaam to Dublin.
Her demonstration that during a crisis
it is possible to lead without telegraphing
aggression or playing on anxieties was a
beacon in a world where the kinds of prin­
ciples Ardern champions seem to be on
the wane. She made a plausible case that
kindness was a strength, compassion was
actionable, and inclusion was possible. “I
think this whole model of leadership that
says you’ve got to be tough, and tough
means you can’t be kind, is just wrong,”

says Robertson. “And she’s showing that.”
Ardern claims she was at first un­
aware of her impact, because she was fo­
cused on more immediate problems. “I
can’t overstate how difficult I found the
victim­ identification process,” she says.
She knew that Islamic tradition calls for
burial within 24 hours of death, which
would clash with crime­scene protocols.
“I felt that pressure every single hour
that we still had those loved ones’ bod­
ies in the state’s care.” When she arrived
at Christchurch, the communication be­
tween the police and families was already
agitated, as people clamored for access to

their relatives’ remains before forensics
had been performed. “I remember just
asking people if they could sit. And we
had silence for a moment, and then I just
tried to talk it through.”
While allowing room for the nation
to mourn, Ardern was moving swiftly on
other fronts. Within days, she had pro­
posed and passed New Zealand’s first
meaningful gun legislation in decades;
only one member of Parliament voted
against it. “It was definitely heartening to
see how quickly she and her administra­
tion acted,” says Shannon Watts of Moms
Demand Action, a U.S. nonprofit group
advocating for gun­ safety legislation. “It
was a very important lesson across the
world that we don’t have to live like this.”
Ardern also made a point of never say­
ing the shooter’s name, which jolted a lot


“I just still feel a closeness to the people
I’m meant to be representing,” says
Ardern, shown here visiting a school in July



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