“What the statesman is most anxious to produce is a certain moral character in his fellow citizens, namely a disposition to virtue and the performance of virtuous actions”—Aristotle
On 11 September 2001, New York was jolted by attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center located in Manhattan, the economic hub of the USA and Pentagon, USA’s defence headquarters in Washington, In addition to a 10 billion dollars damage to infrastructure, more than 3,000 lives were lost and more than 6,000 people were left injured in the wake of these attacks. Undeniably, this was one of the most horrifying and shocking events after the atomic bomb attacks by USA on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. The objective here is not to recall that tragedy but to draw attention to the behavior of George W. Bush Jr., then president of USA who was quick to blame Osama Bin Laden, an alleged Islamist terrorist and leader of Al-Qaeda, even before ordering proper investigation into security lapses by the most technologically advanced country. Consequently, the world got mercilessly torn into two blocks….in the words of Bush: ”either you are with us or the terrorists.”
As a result of this insanity, anyone professing any faith but speaking Arabic or with a beard or turban or veil became a perpetual victim of harassment or murder at the hands of highly charged youth, influenced by the provocative and venomous outpourings of an orthodox Christian president, totally beguiled by his hatred for Islam and the Muslims. Almost 600 such incidents were reported within ten days of occurrence of 9/11. Mosques were targeted, making miserable the lives of ordinary and unassuming people. Since then, the world has never been the same. An odd kind of fear has gripped this beautiful earth leaving its denizens insecure and unhappy. Anyone in Islamic attire is looked upon with suspicion as if he or she is a potential suicide bomber or terrorist. Hate incidents mostly in the ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ countries occurred incessantly.
On the political front, in its determination to eliminate ‘terrorists’ American forces were installed in Afghanistan and for the next couple of decades the whole world witnessed a continuity of 9/11 but only in a changed locale 12,000 Km away from USA. In pursuit of revenge for attacks on the World Trade Centre, many thousands died, as many were left handicapped and homeless in South Asian region. On the pretext of harbouring weapons of mass destruction that were never found, Iraq was raided by United States of America on 20 May 2003 and since then the country remains occupied by American military.
The malaise of suicide bombers seeped into different countries but principally in Afghanistan and Pakistan unleashing a reign of terror for innocent civilians, security forces and the height was an unprecedented attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 that deeply shook the world conscience and demand for putting an end to terrorism began to be raised at all international forums. Although there are now talks about withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan yet the environment all over the globe is full of suspicion about the political outcomes of this decision. What a heavy price was paid by the people of this world in general and the Muslim community in particular for the September 2001 tragedy!
On 15 March 2019, mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand were targets of consecutive and indiscriminate shootings by a 28-year-old Australian man alleged to be part of “alt-right” a predominantly online USA based movement which believes in white supremacy and is constituted by anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, neo-fascists, neo-confederates, Holocaust-deniers etc. Almost 50 people were killed while another 50 got injured. Shockwaves went all around the globe because the shameless terrorist had the audacity to broadcast his crime live on Facebook as if he was performing a laudable feat. He was immediately arrested and charged with murder.
For New Zealand, this was the deadliest mass shootings recorded in its modern history. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern described the attacks as, “One of New Zealand’s darkest days,” but this is not so much of concern here as the remarkable way in which this young stateswoman handled the entire situation. What a far cry from the war-mongering echoes from 9/11! Like a person of substance befitting her status as a woman full of empathy, intelligence and far-sightedness, she ably averted every little chance of fuelling country-wide agitation. Her response to the tragedy was unlike that of other leaders faced with similar circumstances, who mostly react by showing their anger and making promises of revenge. She was quick to own the victims as belonging to New Zealand. She announced: “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand; they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence.”
She refused to give the perpetrator any importance that he may have been seeking in committing this heinous crime. He was deservedly shunned and disregarded while her attitude with the victims and their families won over not only their hearts but those of all other nations that were dumbstruck at this incident and apprehensive about the consequences. Resultantly and following in her footsteps, the whole nation came out in full support in a manner that displayed their respect and honour for other faiths, especially when followers are an insignificant minority. In excruciating times when show of solidarity is discouraged by many Western leaders, Ardern’s nation stood by every move of hers to express condolences to the victims’ families and deter any possibility of country-wide unrest. Allowing recitation from the Holy Quran in the Parliament, wearing a scarf over her head and greeting the public with Islamic salutation, did not convert her to Islam but secured her appreciation of the Muslim world.
Jacinda Ardern has set very high moral standards for all those male leaders of the world, who are quick to pounce on any opportunity to cause war, hatred, destruction and create politics of revenge, prejudice and discrimination on the basis of faith. She has proved that the capability of a strong and devoted leader can have an extremely positive impact on the lives of people as against narrowed, impulsive and short-sightedness of some irrational ones whose actions have left nothing but scars, irreparable losses and a hellish world.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)