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Can ‘Jacindian Way’ Of Leading In Turbulent Times Help Set The Equilibrium Right Between The West And Islam?

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New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has shown the world how leaders should behave in crisis but the crisis of Islamophobia in the west is getting severer each passing year, and the western leaders haven’t been able to emulate the Jacindan model, argues Syed Khuram Shahzad.

Politicians often call themselves ‘leaders’, but how many can actually be called great leaders? While the political arena is often considered a dirty game where participants fight for power, influence and money

“Historical forces create the circumstances in which leaders emerge, but the characteristics of the particular leader in turn have their impact on history.” John Gardner

Leaders are born out of crises. New Zealand PM had demonstrated her abilities in leadership many times before she was exposed to handle the Christchurch Mosque Attack crisis.

It was a situation where New Zealand needed someone who could lead them out of the grief and trauma caused by an act of terror and into an uncompromising war against hate. Jacinda delivered one of the greatest performances of the century.

Forces of history determine rise and fall of leaders but in this time of crisis she appeared on world stage and left a unique ‘Jacindian mark’ on the course of events.

Historical performances are born out of extraordinary circumstances. Great leaders face the odds with courage and persistence. Jacinda led New Zealand out of crisis as a compassionate but defiant and decisive leader.

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, has been exemplary in her response to the massacre in Christchurch, where 50 Muslims were killed in two mosques by an Australian white supremacist and his accomplices. There was lot of discontent among New Zealanders. They felt appalled, shocked and unhappy.

Last Friday, Jacinda Ardern went from being a Prime Minister of New Zealand to a world leader who represents humankind in its most glorious form. Jacinda chose a meaningful path of kindness and inclusivity. She has shown that not only is she deeply empathetic, she has nerves of steel – and can lead in times of chaos and tragedy.

In the hours after the shooting, she wore a black headscarf while meeting victims’ families, embracing and grieving along with them. The world has witnessed her sincerely engaging with the community in the hour of national grief, announcing clear national policy on gun control, setting limits on social media streaming and religious freedom.

It baffles the mind that all these issues were effectively negotiated with all stakeholders by the world’s youngest female head of government.

Ardern showed absolute ‘clarity of mind’ to call it ‘Christchurch Terror Attack’ instead of choosing the diplomatic language to call the massacre a “mass shooting” or a “hate crime.” She also demonstrated her ability to go against the grains and showed conviction to announce changes in gun laws. She then quickly managed to effectively engage with law makers in the parliament to finalize amendments in just 72 hours.

The New Zealand Herald, a conservative newspaper that has been a vocal critic of her government in the past, said she had shown a powerful combination of “solace and steel” in her response to the attacks. Judith Collins, a senior National party MP and regular critic of Ms Ardern, praised her actions this week as “outstanding”.

Decent people all over the world came together to support the Muslim community. People around the world vowed to step up the fight against far-right extremism and white-supremacist terror, believed to be a major threat but remaining unnoticed and underestimated.

Muslim community in New Zealand as well as leaders of Islamic countries appreciated a very humane response by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and extended their support in any way possible.

Notwithstanding the fact that in the Western world, people have certainly shown sympathy for the victims and those affected by the tragedy, there is little consensus reached between Muslims and their fellow citizens about ‘how diverse democracies should respond in the longer term’.

Muslim leaders and commentators insisted that the rampage in New Zealand simply marked the far end of a spectrum of anti-Islamic feeling which they experience every day.

While addressing an ‘Extraordinary OIC Summit’ in Istanbul, leaders of Islamic countries urged UN ‘tackle Islamophobia, declare it a form of racism’. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a global fight against rising anti-Islam sentiment. He told the meeting that the global fight against rising Islamophobia should be like the fight against anti-Semitism.

“Just as humanity fought against anti-Semitism after the Holocaust disaster, it should fight against rising Islamophobia in the same determined fashion,” he said. “Right now we are facing Islamophobia and Muslim hatred.”

Also read: ‘Islam a Savage Belief’: Mainstreaming Of Extremism In Australia

Collective against Islamophobia in France (CIF), a group fighting hate against Muslim community in France, published annual assessment report on March 15, because on March 15, 2004 wearing headscarves and other religious outfits was banned in French schools.

According to the CIF 2019 report, there has been significant increase in Islamophobic acts during 2018.  52% increase in recorded acts compared to 2017. Whereas 84% of the recorded acts are discrimination and 70% of the persons affected by these acts are women.

The massacre in Christchurch is just an indicator of the shared extremist tendencies of far-right white-nationalists and jihadi organisations.

Both the jihadists and white supremacists target and kill innocent, unarmed people. During the last decade, there has been a rising trend of far right extremist violence. By one estimate, between 2009 and 2018, white supremacists killed more than three-quarters of the 313 people murdered by extremists in America.

White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist. Data compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database shows that the number of terror-related incidents has more than tripled in the United States since 2013, and the number of those killed has quadrupled.

In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. According to German Police Report, police recorded 578 hate crimes against Muslims in Germany between January and September of 2018, resulting in 40 injuries, up from 27 injuries in the same period of 2017.  And in England and Wales, just over half the 5,680 “religious hate” incidents recorded in the year ending March 2018 concerned victims whose “perceived religion” was Islam.

This continues even after the Christchurch terror attack. There have been multiple incidents of mosques being vandalized in UK and Australia, let alone talking about approximately 60,000 people march in Poland calling for ‘Islamic Holocaust’.

In response to all this, Muslim representatives frequently stress that the problem of Islamophobia (a term that remains contentious in many countries) is by no means confined to a far-right fringe. They insist that an anti-Muslim climate has been created by politicians much closer to the respectable centre-right, or in the French case by zealous advocates of the century-old doctrine of laïcité, or strict secularism.

According to the Muslims living in western countries, the problem is not just limited to hate speech or merely public assault of Muslim minorities. They have serious concerns and feel insecure.

Salma Yaqoob, a local politician of the left who may be Birmingham’s best-known Muslim woman, has been adamant that the problem goes far beyond an extremist white-nationalist fringe. While holding a rally against racism and Islamophobia exhibited in Birmingham Mosques attack, she insisted on “calling out” mainstream Tory politicians who in her view played to the gallery with anti-Muslim innuendos.

In an ideal world, the Christchurch horror would be galvanising people in every democracy, across a broad political, ideological and cultural spectrum, to defend common values, including tolerance, freedom, mutual respect and the rule of law. To some extent this is happening. But neither before nor after Christchurch has there been much sign of a clear consensus over what exactly those values are. Nor is there much agreement over how those values should be acted out by society’s representatives, be they police officers, judges or teachers. Sadly, the image of a respectable, democratic mainstream fighting a violent fringe is too simple.

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