The incident in which a ‘Lone Wolf’ attacker stabbed and wounded at least six shoppers at the Countdown Supermarket at Lynn Mall in the Auckland district of New Lynn on Friday afternoon, rightly earned universal condemnation.
According to media reports the unnamed and unidentified individual had been a person of interest since 2016 and the subject of surveillance by the New Zealand Police for a considerable period of time. This enabled the New Zealand Police to gun down the attacker within 60 seconds of him moving into action.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was quick to brief the public about the incident at a media conference. Choosing her words carefully she said: “The attacker was a Sri Lankan national who had been in New Zealand for ten years and had been “a person of interest” for about five years.”
Describing the incident as a terrorist attack she called it despicable and added that “it was hateful, it was wrong, and it was carried out by an individual, not a faith. He alone carries the responsibility for these acts.”
Neither the New Zealand Prime Minister nor any official of the Government has yet identified the attacker beyond stating that he is a Sri Lankan who had arrived in the country in 2011. When questioned about the attacker’s motivation she said that he was “ISIS inspired.” According to one media report his internet search history and bookmarks included heroes of ISIS, Islamic State dress, and New Zealand prison clothes and food.
Authorities are confident the attacker was acting alone and that there was no further danger to the community, according to New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.
This callous and horrific act in Auckland brings back painful memories of the deadly mosque attacks at Christchurch in 2019 in which a lone gunman – a self-confessed white supremacist – murdered 51 worshippers.
On that occasion the New Zealand Premier earned respect and admiration for the leadership she gave her country in the wake of the horrendous attack that shattered her country which had no history of violence.
Her sensitive, courageous and caring leadership gave New Zealanders in general, and Muslims of New Zealand in particular, the strength to cope with the fall out of such attacks.
Her response to Friday’s attack in Auckland is another lesson in humane and caring leadership for world leaders in general as well as Sri Lankan leaders in particular. Her words and actions on both occasions are worthy of emulation by Sri Lankan leaders in the context of the hatred spread against the minorities in the country.
The New Zealand High Commission in Colombo on Friday echoed the policy enunciated by Prime Minister Ardern and said that “New Zealand’s Sri Lankan community is, and will always be, an integral and treasured part of Kiwi society.”
Issuing a statement, the High Commission also stated: “The New Zealand High Commission in Colombo acknowledges, with sadness, the terrorist attack carried out in Auckland today. Our thoughts are with those injured in, or otherwise affected by, the attacks at this very difficult time.”
As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “the perpetrator alone bears responsibility for these acts. The attack was carried out by an individual, not a faith, ethnicity or culture.”
The inspirational leadership of the New Zealand Premier to the two horrendous attacks in Christchurch and Auckland has many lessons for those who care in Sri Lanka. In one of her earliest speeches after the Christchurch attack she refused to mention the name of the attacker and give him the notoriety that he desired. Addressing parliament for the first time after the Christchurch attack, the New Zealand Prime Minister said although the attack would be a day forever etched in their collective memories, the accused would face “the full force of the law in New Zealand,” but she would never speak his name.
A video showing Ardern hugging a Muslim woman and consoling her after the Christchurch attack drew the plaudits of many.
“Can you imagine having a leader of a country showing this kind of empathy? Thank you, Jacinda Ardern, for reminding the world what a Leader is and could be,” said London literary agent Jonny Geller in a post he wrote.
The fact that she covered her hair to meet Muslims quickly became a symbol of Ardern’s approach.
One particular photo captured the public imagination. It is a photo of Ardern head covered, listening intently with an agonised look on her face and her hands clasped together. It has been shared widely on social networks, lauded as a portrait of a compassionate leader.
Despite all the accolades received Ardern showed remarkable humility when she said that a film entitled “They are us” described as an “inspirational story” about Ardern’s response to the violence should focus on the Muslim community who were the victims rather than her.
Unfortunately the scenario in Sri Lanka seems to be the exact opposite of the New Zealand experience. The name of Zahran is deliberately kept alive with the media depicting him and the other suicide bombers involved in the Easter Sunday attack at every possible opportunity.
Social media and hate mongers keep the pot of hate boiling holding the Muslims responsible for the attacks without any contradiction from any Government leader. Only Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has had the courage to publicly absolve the Muslim community for the attack.
Meanwhile the reaction to the Auckland attack on Friday saw varied reactions from different quarters in the country.
The Foreign Ministry in a statement condemned the attack and said “Sri Lanka condemns this senseless violence, and stands ready to cooperate with the New Zealand authorities in whatever manner necessary.”
The statement went on to add that, “Reports have been received that the particular attack had been carried out by a person of Sri Lankan origin. More information has been sought from the New Zealand authorities. While commending the quick response of the New Zealand authorities in dealing with this attacker, Sri Lanka wishes a speedy recovery to those injured during the horrific incident.”
While the Foreign Ministry pointed out that it was awaiting more information regarding the identity of the attacker a group of 22 Muslim organisations issued a statement condemning the violence. The statement which seems to have been drafted at lightning speed within hours of the attack condemned the violence perpetrated at the supermarket in Auckland.
What was puzzling was how the organisations came to the conclusion that the attacker was a Muslim when the New Zealand authorities had not yet officially announced details of the identity of the attack. Equally puzzling was the fact that some of these organisations had maintained a deafening silence when Muslim rights are being targeted through attempts to repeal the core provisions of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.
Not to be outdone, the Bodu Bala Sena whose raison d’etre seems to be to demonise the Muslims, have issued a statement with regard to the Auckland attacks describing Islam as a terrorist religion and making their customary allegations on Islam and the Muslims, while at the same time throwing a challenge to the 22 Muslim organisations. One has to await the response of the Muslim organisations to this challenge.
It is up to Sri Lanka to learn lessons from the compassionate and inspirational leadership of Jacinda Ardern. In fact such an approach is consistent with the Sri Lankan ethos of co-existence and harmony, which existed from the time of the Sinhala kings.
Disclaimer: Jacinda Arden’s inspirational and humane leadership worthy of emulation - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view