It is exactly nine days since the 50 unfortunate killings of Muslim devotees, perpetrated by a supremacist Australian gunman in two Christchurch mosques kicking off a huge international storm.
The 38-year-old, forward thinking and dynamic Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, singlehandedly dealt with the aftermath of the killings, leading from the front like a statesman providing a healing touch to bereaved families and the Islamic fraternity in particular. She also displayed adequate maturity, vision and wisdom in assuaging the deeply hurt sentiments of Muslims.
In fact , in the backdrop of huge bankruptcy prevailing amongst world leaders with statesman-like qualities and foresight, Ardern stands out (alongside Angela Merkel of Germany) as an inspiring international figure to be emulated in addressing serious issues of global terror and politics of revenge and reprisal by competing faiths.
The New Zealand Prime Minister not only reached out to bereaved families in person but also surfaced twice, that too in quick succession, on national media calling for peace and tranquillity while condemning the act of terror in very categorical terms. She vowed never to use the name of the killer in her references sending a clear signal to potential perpetrators of such hate crime to refrain from any Christchurch-like misadventure for seeking publicity. Her message is loud and clear.
Prime Minister Ardern, completely uninhibited, covered her head to show solidarity with grieving Muslims and entered the mosque and Muslim gatherings, winning hearts by her embrace and comforting words. She also instilled a sense of security amongst the shaken Muslims reassuring them of safety by not allowing any recurrence of such shootings. She won international acclaim as well by her acts of positivity and attempts to restore confidence and normalcy.
Further, the fearless Jacinda outlined her government’s new policy on firearms by banning (March 21) military-style Semi Automatics (MSSA), assault rifles and high capacity magazines which were so conveniently acquired by the Christchurch mosques’ killer. This was no easy decision. By implication, she went against the wishes of a majority of New Zealanders who may not be necessarily happy with decision of the Prime Minister to circumscribe the liberal gun laws prevalent in the country.
It may be of academic and statistical interest that out of a total population of less than 5 million in New Zealand, about 1.5 million hold firearms and 13,500 have MSSA in their holdings. The farsighted Prime Minister is also considering placing a hold on a ‘buy back’ policy of firearms. The Prime Minister is clearly determined.
Amid such positive steps, there are always some spoilsports who try to sabotage such efforts for narrow, parochial and short-term political gains.
President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is one such character who wants to be the international leader of Islam by always trying to be the champion of global Muslims’ cause. At his behest, his Vice President, Fuat Oaktay and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Christchurch in the wake of the killings. This was clearly aimed at Islamising the issue and also to send word that Turkey is the only policeman in the world protecting the interests of Islam.
Also, Erdogan has been competing with adversary Saudi Arabia which is known to be exporting Wahabbism – a cult vehemently opposed by Erdogan who is known to be pushing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is not the first time Erdogan is trying to meddle in the internal affairs of another country where Muslims are affected. The same ambitious Erdogan and his wife were the first to reach Bangladesh in 2017 soon after the Rohingya refugees started arriving after their push back from Myanmar. Erdogan is forever in a race to outdo Saudi Arabia in his game of oneupmanship.
More interestingly, to exploit the Christchurch killings to his electoral advantage, Erdogan described (March 18) the mass shootings as part of a wider attack on Turkey and threatened to send back in caskets the bodies of those who tried to take the battle to Istanbul. His outburst came on the 104th anniversary of the battle of Conakkale (Gallipoli Campaign) where he boasted about defeat of the combined military of Australia and New Zealand by the Ottoman forces. In the same vein, Erdogan claimed that the gunman responsible for the Christchurch killings had issued threats against Turkey and was reported to have visited Turkey twice in 2016.
Erdogan’s attempts to politicise the Christchurch murders are a clear move at influencing the upcoming local elections scheduled on March 31 where his ruling Islamic AK party is a major contestant. Erdogan’s attempts to polarise and cause divisions between Christians and Muslims in New Zealand led Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to summon the Turkish Ambassador for immediate withdrawal of such derogatory remarks.
Erdogan is incorrigible as seen in his acts in dealing with international affairs. What he is seeking to do is to perilously divide the two religions and undo what Jacinda Ardern is striving to achieve. Under no circumstances should Muslim leaders of international stature allow Erdogan to get the better of them. Leaders like Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamed and others must counsel Erdogan for restraint so that a pacifist sanity prevails in the world and the supermacists are kept in check to prevent further acts of revenge and reprisals. Also, Western nations should brainstorm to review their liberal gun policy to make living safer. Ardern has shown the way and provided a practical prescription. Others should follow it and prevent spoilers like Erdogan from having the last word.
(The writer is a retired IPS officer and a security analyst. The views expressed are personal)