Let’s reflect as we hail Ardern

March 23, 2019

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The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

IF there were an opinion poll asking Pakistanis who their favourite leader is today, one could be certain that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would be a hot favourite, if not occupy the top spot herself.

Her conduct has been exceptional and exemplary since the March 15 terrorist attack on two Christchurch mosques that killed 50 Muslims gathered for Juma prayers. She has not put a foot wrong and has led her nation with incredible amounts of empathy and displayed remarkable compassion for the tiny Muslim community in New Zealand.

Her decision to address a commemoration event yesterday — attired in black and wearing a headscarf like she wore when she first met some of the affected families — and asking state television and radio to broadcast live the Friday azan were also indicative of how keen she was to reach out to the Muslims. She quoted the Prophet (PBUH) in her address to the Friday gathering which was followed by the azan broadcast by television and radio across the countrywide network.

Who knows how much Muslim rage at the Christchurch atrocity Jacinda Ardern has single-handedly defused?

Ms Ardern did not feel constrained by the views of her own coalition partners, the New Zealand First party, that seems to take inspiration from US Pres­ident Donald Trump, and its leader and her Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who has made outrageous remarks in the past such as saying that moderate and militant Muslims were hand in glove.

Ms Ardern’s words and gestures seem to suggest that she deeply feels the pain of the Muslim community that forms a mere one per cent of the country’s population so one can be sure that her response was no political stunt aimed at winning a sizeable chunk of electoral support.

If you ask me, her leadership over a mere week has done more to douse the flames of hatred based on faith, race and other such considerations than the entire terms in office of many of her peers across the world in what should be an example for these leaders to emulate.

Jacinda Ardern has obviously blunted any edge that the mass-murdering Australian terrorist’s message may have had for anyone beyond white supremacists. By refusing to even repeat his name, she may also have nipped in the bud homicidal fantasies of other publicity-hungry white supremacists.

By the same token, her compassion for the Muslim community may also have diluted the stereotypical image painted by Muslim extremists that the entire West and its leadership are against Muslims and are out to eliminate them.

Who knows how much Muslim rage at the Christchurch atrocity she has single-handedly defused? And how much damage such mad rage may have heaped on the world? One can only say thank you, Jacinda Ardern, for demonstrating leadership qualities that are rarely witnessed in today’s world.

Over the course of the past week, one would be hard-pressed to find a single Pakistani, among those who normally express a range of diverse opinions, who has not expressed huge admiration for the New Zealand leader.

But, I am shattered and sad to report, if there was any expectation that anyone of us would likely take a leaf out of her book, we are mistaken, and miserably so. Compassion is such an admirable trait and yet so many of us are bereft of it.

Yes, we may have had members of minority communities — whether a minority at the time or since declared one, or a minority Muslim sect — among the leading lights of the Pakistan Movement; we have had them in our pantheon of writers, scientists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, jurists and soldiers, to name just a few.

They have made us proud on innumerable occasions, and sacrificed their lives for us and our country. Have we bothered to collectively reflect on how we have treated them? We are quick to judge other faiths and societies and proudly declare our ‘values, traditions and culture’ as superior to all. I would be careful not to add faith to the list. But what about us the faithful?

The media in our country may be tightly controlled and largely allowed to say the state-sanctioned truth but social media is another story. The horrible and utterly tragic murder of a professor of English at a Bahawalpur college at the hands of one of his students was yet another jolt to the system.

If that was not soul-destroying enough, what followed on social media was. One of the students from that very college was contemptuous of how I had expressed shock and horror at the murder and condemned it.

This because, in his words, “you” did not say a word to “condemn” the murdered professor who had “shredded” the dominant faith by organising a “mixed” welcome party for students who, like my detractor, were enrolled in a co-educational college. “This was unacceptable and we won’t allow anyone to do such ‘besharmi’ as Islam forbids it.”

It seemed pointless to say to such zealots that to my knowledge Islam and most other faiths forbid their followers from taking the law into their own hands, let alone sanctioning cold-blooded murder, — while the talk of the murder of someone imparting education is unthinkable. I persisted anyway but it was like banging your head against a wall.

Prof Khalid Waheed, whom acquaintances described as a soft-spoken gentleman, was killed because, according to some of the students, he was ‘promoting obscenity’. If his killer is to be believed, the professor repeatedly committed ‘gustakhi’.

Even those who wanted him silenced didn’t seem to know exactly what his ‘crime’ was. Such minor details didn’t matter to them. Our abject failure in stemming the flow of poison in our own society has led to what looks like a production line of monsters, mass murderers and confused killers.

So, yes, as we hail the New Zealand Prime Minister, we must also reflect on this failure.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2019