An Open Letter to Jacinda Ardern

Dear Jacinda Ardern,

Before the fateful afternoon of 15th of March, I knew you as the progressive Prime Minister of New Zealand. I knew you as a feminist who stood with the LGBTQ community, and a social democrat. I liked you for your politics. I had admired your political stands from afar. When you took your newborn to the United Nations General Assembly meeting, you embodied a modern day feminist. The working mother. The go-getter.

But on that tragic day, we were reeling from having lost our brothers and sisters to an attack that was the ultimate manifestation of the ever-growing Islamophobic rhetoric. It felt like we weren’t safe. It felt like we were attacked for existing — for being Muslims. To be attacked during something that is routine to us, it leaves an unimaginable impression on one.

When an attack like that is all over social media, the hate damages. It leaves families distraught and under constant fear of another attack. It traumatizes a community with an unexplainable fear of constantly looking out for and dreading another attack. So in the aftermath of such an attack, the kind of leadership that we receive, and the stand the authorities take is so very crucial. They can create lasting impressions.

Thereon, you could have done what has been the norm — to condemn the attack, obfuscate, set up an inquiry, and move on with your business. But what you did instead was to show love and nerve in equal measure.

As you vehemently rejected the ideology of the terrorist behind these heinous crimes in your first address, we felt your leadership deal with this tragedy with passion, grace and honesty.

When you came out in your first press conference, you spoke to your people about what was known, giving out information and reaching out to the population in order to stop them from falling into the clasps of rumor and fear-mongering. You proclaimed the victims — many of whom were immigrants — as the country’s own. It was not just a case of reminding citizens that the grief was everyone’s, not just the victims; it was also an assurance to everyone distressed by the attack that they were not alone. As you vehemently rejected the ideology of the terrorist behind these heinous crimes in your first address, we felt your leadership deal with this tragedy with passion, grace and honesty.

In your subsequent briefings, your conduct amplified your narrative of “they are us.” As prominent leaders refused to pin down on racial supremacy as a driving force behind Islamophobia, your forthright disagreement gives us hope for justice. When you took leaders of all political parties to Christchurch next day, it told us that you weren’t interested in politicising the tragedy. That the entire political class was united in their support for the victims. And more importantly, it spoke of compassion. Of warmth that the country had for the victims, so that they didn’t feel marginalized. In times of distress, you give me hope that there is a country where the religious minorities and the migrants aren’t seen as the other. Your decision to take care of the funeral arrangements and provide assistance to the families of the victims tells me that you stand in solidarity with us.

Your promise to tighten gun laws speaks of your courage to take strong steps and your intent to make sure such attacks are avoided in the future. Let me tell you that such assurances go a long way in telling people like me that the victims won’t be forgotten.

In your parliamentary address, your speech moved me. To say it was an epochal speech would be an understatement:

“I implore you, speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them…You will never hear me mention his name.”

These statements were not mere words. They were a gesture. As someone who has witnessed tragedy, I can tell you that the best way to commemorate the departed is to celebrate them. And to remember them. Often in the blur of a tragedy, the victims are forgotten and the terrorist politicised. Thank you for understanding that the lives lost are more valuable than everything else.

Thank you for setting an example for the world of how to show solidarity with the “others.” Thank you for being a great leader. Thank you for telling the world why women leaders are important.

As the political powers around the world shift to right, and some leaders even went as far as blaming the migrants for the increase in right wing extremism, your leadership in the past few days comes as a breath of fresh air. As you chose not to differentiate between the victims on the basis of their nationality when you extended support, I hope you will continue to do the same in future.

In light of recent events, I also hope you rethink your stance on your migration policy. For someone whose anti-immigration stance was once compared to Trump’s, I hope your future policies do justice to the leadership you have exhibited in the past week. As a coalition partner of a right-wing party that strongly advocates anti-migrant sentiments, I hope you also recognise the serious role such narratives play in legitimisation of xenophobia and Islamophobia. Nevertheless, I wish to see the leadership across the world learn compassion from you today. For now, that will be a great start to fight Islamophobia and hate!

Words really aren’t enough to describe how filled with gratitude I am as I pen this letter. You have given us hope. This hope, I wish, helps the people get past their tragedy and hope for justice. This hope shall increase our resolve to fight for another day. This hope is a start.

– A Muslimah