People who care for a tolerant and peaceful world and recognise that our peaceful existence is under threat cannot abdicate their responsibility to address the challenge facing us. We cannot watch supinely as a culture of hate driven violence threaten our very existence. History is full of horrid tales of human conflicts. But this dangerous trend did not exist and hate never took possession of so many in such a virulent fashion before. You need a consequential event to concentrate your mind. Let us hope that the gruesome terror attacks on the two mosques in Christchurch supplied that catalyst.
The celebrated British scholar Edmund Burke made this important observation: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good men to do nothing.” What a relevance his words have in today's painful context! Led by their noble Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealanders, in the wake of a colossal tragedy, have done an act which raises the hope of a new dawn. Good people cannot but find “a relish of salvation” in the template set by this peace-loving, tolerant nation.
The TV footages showing Jacinda sharing solemnly and seamlessly in the grief of the family members of the terror victims will long endure in our memory. The power of her humanity and compassion, the way she expressed oneness with the bereaved families was something divinely uplifting. Her black scarf had a symbolism that not just moved the Muslim world but made profound impression across the global spectrum. She exemplified in soul-stirring fashion Hamlet's great words: “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! … The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”
Her mourning sorrow was so overwhelming that her wounded soul, it seemed, peeped through her moist eyes and pain-stricken visage. Her primal emotion found a sublime utterance: “We are one, they are us”.
One should not forget that Jacinda was trying to reach out to a community of a different faith. Her expression had an aura of sincerity we have rarely seen, if ever, in any leader. We only wish our ailing world had more leaders of her breed, more leaders with such compelling unifying passion, more leaders with such a healing power. A particularly revealing moment came when Donald Trump asked what support US could provide. “Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities”, she answered. Her reaction to Australian senator Fraser Anning's comments blaming the attack on immigration was: “A disgrace”. A remark made by Suzanne Moore in The Guardian is worth quoting: “Terrorism sees difference and wants to annihilate it. Ardern sees difference and wants to respect it, embrace it and connect it.”
Today, we have become familiar with leaders at the helm—in bigger nations—who have suspended their instinct of humanity in order to advance political agendas. Ethno- religious minorities, the migrants in those nations are in serious peril. To populist leaders, these migrant communities and some minority communities are expendable political pawns. What is happening is that the idea that this world is for all human beings, regardless of what is their faith or colour or ethnicity, has been cast aside. It cannot be forgotten that forbearer of some of the nations where hate crimes are on the rise themselves came from other countries and occupied the lands and pushed the original inhabitants to the margins.
Enlightened leadership means that you try to tap into and nurture good instincts of the people being governed. Instead we are watching how societies are being vitiated by leaderships bringing out the destructive instincts of their citizenry. Political leadership in troubling numbers are using hate rhetoric as an electoral weapon. It is hard to believe that they do not realise the dark implications of their tactics. Will Jacinda Ardern's example prompt a process of soul-searching in them? The disturbing trend is happening more in the counties that are prosperous, have better resource-endowments and offer better opportunities of livelihood and where people want to come for a better future and no malign intent.
It is wrong to think that the migrants only take and not give anything. In fact, countries which attract migrants follow a system designed to ensure that the new arrivals reinforce their economy and well-being. Talking about how immigration helps America, the first prime minister of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew once said: “The US recreates itself by attracting the best and the brightest from the rest of the world and integrate them into a diverse culture of creativity.” Unfortunately, the right-wing narrative in most western nations about the immigrants tend to tar them with a sharply disparaging brush, portraying them as terrorists, criminals and drug-dealers, against all empirical evidence to the contrary.
While the focus on the admirable way Jacinda Ardern dealt with the horrors that was visited on New Zealand will fade as time passes, the electric effect it had globally, and the gushing tributes that keep flowing to her role suggests that the conscience of the world has been shaken.
You cannot ignore the fact that her fine example was behind the pledge made by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday, March 22, in New York, during a visit to an Islamic Centre, for protection of religious sites. “Worshippers must feel safe to worship”. He said. The London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted a photo of Jacinda hugging a Muslim woman. He recalled his meeting with her in London last year and remembers her talking about “inclusivity and equality in society”.
One photo in particular of her shot by a Christchurch press photographer Kirk Hargreaves is reported to have been widely shared on social network. The photo shows “her listening intently with an agonised look on her face and her hand clasped together” (The Washington Post).
The forbearance shown by the Muslim community in Christchurch after the mosque massacre will also go a long way in debunking a tendency to portray all Muslims as sold to a violent ideology. These people have shown what is the real Islam.
Let us hope that the many who want peace and harmony among people, whatever may be their race or religions, will unite in a good cause against the few who, driven by rancour, are pushing the world in a wrong direction.
Ziaus Shams Chowdhury is a former ambassador.