New Zealand’s prime minister has rewritten the script for how a nation grieves after a terrorist attack

By | March 24, 2019

Masha Gessen writes:

Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has staged a revolution. In the wake of a shooting that killed fifty people, in two mosques, in the city of Christchurch last Friday, Ardern has quietly upended every expectation about the way Western states and their leaders respond to terrorist attacks.

Ardern has resisted war rhetoric. Since the modern era of terrorism began, on September 11, 2001, world leaders have responded to terror by promising vengeance and waged war, rhetorically and militarily. George W. Bush set the tone, with a statement on the morning of the World Trade Center attacks: “Make no mistake. The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” He elaborated in a televised address later that day. “Today, our fellow-citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack,” he said. He named the emotions evoked by the chaos in lower Manhattan: “disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger.” He pledged war. “A great people has been moved to defend a great nation,” he said. “Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. . . . America and our friends and allies . . . stand together to win the war against terrorism. . . . America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.”

In the years since then, many other leaders have given speeches that shared key elements of Bush’s rhetoric: interpreting acts of terrorism as a declaration of war on an entire country; calling the attackers cowardly and asserting the country’s own courage; and promising to hunt down the terrorists. “Today, France was attacked at its very heart, in Paris, at the offices of a newspaper,” the French President Francois Hollande said, on January 7, 2015, the day twelve people were killed at the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. “We will not be intimidated,” the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said, in a statement following a massacre carried out by the white supremacist Anders Breivik, in July, 2011. Stoltenberg called Breivik’s attack an “act of cowardice.” And, while Barack Obama avoided war rhetoric in his responses to terror, in his first statement on the Boston Marathon bombing, in 2013, he promised to “get to the bottom of this.” In 2015, responding to a shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, he twice called the attacker a coward.

Ardern, on the other hand, immediately showed that she had no time for the perpetrator of the mosque shootings. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.