The man who opened fire on two New Zealand mosques last week may have succeeded in killing 50 people, but the country’s leader has promised to deny him the one thing he truly wanted: Notoriety.
“You will never hear me mention his name,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the New Zealand Parliament Tuesday.
“He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing – not even his name.”
Since the massacre, Ardern, at 37 the world’s youngest female head of government, has spoken with emotion and empathy, reassuring families and updating the public with the latest on the investigation.
It has been her face – and not that of the suspected shooter – that has come to dominate media coverage.
As the suspect– thanks in part to a ban on publishing certain details about him – has been forced into the background, facing punishment but denied the fame he desired, Ardern has earned international praise for her handling of the event, which has thrust her into the unwelcome role of, as she put it, voicing the grief of a nation.
While Ardern has provided a point of stability for all New Zealanders as the country continues to reel from a terror attack that weeks ago would have seemed implausible, her actions have personally touched the relatives of those who died in the massacre, which tore apart a close Muslim community in this small city of around 400,000 people.
The day after the attack in Christchurch, Ardern wore a hijab as she stood in the center of a room, surrounded by families desperate to hear words of reassurance. They were tired, worried and many were grieving loved ones presumed killed in the hail of bullets fired by a man who singled them out for their beliefs.
Even before she said a word, Ardern’s simple decision to cover her hair served to show families she respected them and wanted to ease their pain.
“People were quite surprised. I saw people’s faces when she was wearing the hijab – there were smiles on their faces,” said Ahmed Khan, a survivor of the attack who lost his uncle at the Al Noor mosque.
Ali Akil, a member of Syrian Solidarity New Zealand who came to Christchurch to support the community, said wearing the hjiab was “a symbolic thing.”
“It’s saying I respect you, what you believe, and I’m here to help,” he said. “I’m very impressed.”