“How am I?” Ardern responded. “Thank you for asking. I am very sad.”
To be sure, the specifics of New Zealand’s response—gun control, a call not to publish the shooter’s manifesto—aren’t replicable in the United States, where the Second and First Amendments protect gun rights and press freedom, respectively. Nor would they be effective in Britain, where, despite the absence of constitutional safeguards, a freewheeling press would rather apologize and settle out of court later than contain itself in the immediate aftermath of such an incident. (Indeed, British outlets published not only the attacker’s manifesto, but also footage from the assault itself.) Yet, over the past week, both of these countries, and the rest of the world, have watched the response in New Zealand in no small part because of how rarely it appears countries come together in this way.
The tone was set almost immediately after the attacks took place. Ardern tweeted, “Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities—New Zealand is their home—they are us.” It was a powerful message that resonates nearly a week after the worst massacre in the country’s modern history. When Ardern met with the families of those killed and injured, she covered her head as a mark of respect. “The prime minister, when she came wearing her scarf, that was big for us,” Dalia Mohamed, whose daughter’s father-in-law was among those killed, told reporters. The response from New Zealand’s citizens has been no less gracious.
“I think leadership in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack has defined New Zealand’s reaction,” Rebecca Wright, the New York–based correspondent for New Zealand’s 1 News, told me. “Jacinda Ardern has met this moment with compassion, with empathy, with love, and also, crucially, she has met it with strength.”
Across the country, New Zealanders, unaccustomed to violence on this scale, performed the haka, the traditional Maori dance that has been made famous by the country’s rugby team. Rival motorcycle gangs came together Wednesday to perform the dance outside the Al Noor Mosque, where most of the killings occurred. “We came here out of respect for the fallen, and that’s why we did the haka; it’s a sign of respect,” Hamish Hiroki, the national president of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, told Reuters. In Auckland, students at New Zealand’s largest Muslim school also performed the haka.
The shootings have also prompted self-examination about racism in the country. “For the first time, New Zealanders are having to confront [that] yes, there is racism that exists in our country; that words matter; that casual racism exists here,” Wright said. “And they’re meeting the conversation head-on.”