Jacinda Ardern and Pauline Hanson. Photos: Getty

Jacinda Ardern changed the way we talk in Australia

A month ago the ABC published an open letter to Jacinda Ardern from Summer Joyan, a 13-year-old Australian Muslim. Ardern replied personally. Here, Summer Joyan writes on the impact of the Christchurch attack, and the NZ prime minister’s response, in her country.

I recently wrote an open letter to Jacinda Ardern. I wrote to her after the Christchurch terrorist attack to thank her for how she has supported and comforted the Muslim community through their grieving period.

After it was published, I received an overwhelming amount of positive responses and encouragement from people around the world. I also received one very special and unexpected response. It was from Prime Minister Ardern, telling me how she felt about the letter and how she supported me. By replying to my letter, she reinforced to me her genuineness and sincerity as a leader that cares about everyone, no matter their race, religion or even age.

I have heard my whole life that one person can make a great difference, but I had never actually seen it happen. Then I saw that it was possible, because Ardern changed the tone of the media, freeing it from hate speech against Muslims. She has done such an amazing thing, that no other political leader could have managed.

Ardern is not just New Zealand’s prime minister. She is a global leader, and her approach shifted the political discourse in Australia. This has also naturally paved the way for a shift in tone in the media.

Prior to the Christchurch attack, Channel 7’s programme Sunrise, had for years given a platform for politicians like Pauline Hanson to speak about Muslims and Islam in a negative and divisive manner, fuelling the othering and marginalisation of Muslims. This pattern causes an imbalance of power. When people in positions of power are engaging in such rhetoric that comes at the cost of the minorities who suffer the harm. It is the breeding ground for the incitement of hate and violence. There is nothing wrong with dialogue and exchange, but it is almost propaganda when there is a constant stream of one-sided speech denouncing a group which does not have the same access to powerful platforms.

As soon as the Christchurch attack happened, and political leaders stood in solidarity with Muslims because of Ardern, Sunrise finally confronted Pauline Hanson about all the violence inciting comments against Muslims. While it’s great that the media is beginning to reconsider giving platforms to those who express discriminatory comments, we had to witness a massacre before reflecting on our own rhetoric.

We only have to look at US Representative Ilhan Omar, who has had to introduce extra security measures to ensure her safety after receiving numerous death threats following attacks on Twitter from President Donald Trump. This shows how a person in a greater place of power and platform can really affect people’s lives.

The lesson I think we should all learn from this is to accept everyone and treat everyone the same, no matter their religion, race or ethnicity. While discussion and the right to disagree is the right for all, this should be balanced as a two-sided discussion with people on similar platforms and power. As long as we don’t do this, it leads to hate induced ideologies which are executed in incidents like the Christchurch atrocity or the appalling Sri Lanka attacks. That is why we must stand together and not be a bystander towards discrimination and racism. So that no other barbaric acts of violence are committed against any race, culture, religion or ethnicity.


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