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LEADERS ARE DEFINED BY HOW THEY HANDLE CRISES AND INSPIRE CONFIDENCE

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LEADERS ARE DEFINED BY HOW THEY HANDLE CRISES AND INSPIRE CONFIDENCE

Leaders pics: Screen Shots TheGuardian.com
By Meena Yeggina
Pic by Yash Doshi

Comparing Leaders' Reactions to a Tragedy

In the wake of deep-rooted prejudice, violence and hatred toward a particular minority, was there a leader who solicited courage today, preserving the values of secularism, equality and, above all, humanity?

It was not the current leader of the free world, the United States, nor the leader of the largest democracy of the world, India. It was Jacinda Ardern, a young prime minister from a relatively small country, New Zealand.

During a terrorist attack on Muslims praying at the Christchurch, 50 men, women, and children were killed. In the wake of this horror, Ms. Arden and stood steadily by the minority immigrant community. Wearing the community's traditional garb, the hijab, she addressed the bereaved families of the victims, trying to place some hope in their terrorized hearts.

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand promised to cover the funeral costs of the 50 Christchurch terror victims, assured every family of the victims financial assistance moving forward, changed the gun laws, exhibited solidarity and inclusiveness by wearing hijab while addressing the victims' families, refused to name the terrorist, instead focusing on the victims. Now THAT is leadership.

"What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities - New Zealand is their home - they are us," she said. While those words were powerful, it was their implicit non-denial that stood out. She called a spade a spade: not a lone wolf or a psycho killer; just terrorist. In sharp contrast, the U.S. President's tweet came after 13 hours to the tragedy. "My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!"

This tweet neither condemned the terrorist, who thinks the President is "a symbol of renewed white identity," nor is it ardent or sincere enough to provide hope to those grieving.

The Washington Post admonished the president of the United States for not expressing "explicit sympathy with Muslims across the Globe." And we agree. On the other end of the globe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's response to the tragedy is even more bizarre. Five of the victims amongst the 50 dead are Indians. Yet, the minister did not tweet any condolences. The Indian High Commission in New Zealand identified the Indian victims as Meheboob Khokhar, Ramiz Vora, Asif Vora, Ansi Alibaba and Ozair Kadir.

On the day of the incident, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement on Twitter that said Modi had written to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to express his "deep shock and sadness" at the attacks on "places of worship". That's it. Nothing personal or reassuring from the prime minister, who otherwise tweeted on several other tragedies to express his sympathy.

In the midst of such leaders who measure their leadership and power in terms of how many votes they can garner in the next general election, a young female leader of a relatively small country stands out as a solid symbol of equality, justice, strength and inclusivity. And by doing so she has become the face of comfort and justice within a mayhem of tragedy and denial. In one single bold move she refused to acknowledge even the name of the terrorist and denied him the notoriety that they thrive on. "He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing -- not even his name," she told the Parliament. She made sure that she would be standing on the right side of the history, and be a hero for the children of her nation. The reason I highlight the disparity of these leaders is because of the true impact they have had. Those who instill fear, can catalyze pain, tragedy, and suffering; while those who espouse truth and integrity, can influence young minds to stop pain, tragedy and suffering. Positive radicalization and negative radicalization are tangible consequences of our leadership. Take this incident, for example. While the terrorist behind this crime initially lived a normal life, the Internet radicalized his views. Powerful leaders spewing venom on minority communities gave him a purpose: to eradicate that very problem and bring justice to white supremacy.

Those leaders who instill fear, can catalyze pain, tragedy, and suffering; while those who espouse inclusiveness and integrity, can influence young minds to stop pain, tragedy and suffering.

In the midst of such leaders who measure their leadership and power in terms of how many votes they can garner in the next general election, a young female leader of a relatively small country stands out as a solid symbol of equality, justice, strength and inclusivity. And by doing so she has become the face of comfort and justice within a mayhem of tragedy and denial. In one single bold move she refused to acknowledge even the name of the terrorist and denied him the notoriety that they thrive on.

"He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing -- not even his name," she told the Parliament. She made sure that she would be standing on the right side of the history, and be a hero for the children of her nation.

The reason I highlight the disparity of these leaders is because of the true impact they have had. Those who instill fear, can catalyze pain, tragedy, and suffering; while those who espouse truth and integrity, can influence young minds to stop pain, tragedy and suffering. Positive radicalization and negative radicalization are tangible consequences of our leadership. Take this incident, for example. While the terrorist behind this crime initially lived a normal life, the Internet radicalized his views. Powerful leaders spewing venom on minority communities gave him a purpose: to eradicate that very problem and bring justice to white supremacy.

Majoritarian victimhood and othering "aliens" is not just visible in the context of white supremacy. In my quotidian life as a Hindu, I have encountered many relatives who would casually say, "Anybody but a Muslim, I hope our kids will not chose Muslims as their partners!" I cannot express how anguished I feel about such words. Modi and Trump's inability to support the Islamic community sprouts from the same seed as these comments we hear daily.

"Othering" a community to achieve some sort of following is a tactic as old as Hitler. And many politicians employ the same tactic, using hate as their currency. Our everyday frustrations, often originating from things like irregular water supplies, inadequate provision of electricity, criminally low pay scales, lack of attention or love, and other similar issues can end up accumulating in the same corner of our hearts. It brews hate. That very hate burns down houses and lives while politicians use it to blame at the "OTHER."

Such politicians may win temporary gains, but it's the common man that will bear the brunt of that power struggle. That is why I hope and pray that, in the manufactured struggle between "morality" fueled by terrorism and prejudice, and basic compassion for each other, we do not lose ourselves. We stand together. Otherwise, all minorities will grow to hate each other, forgetting the common threads that tie us, and our religions: our desire to be good for each other, for whatever God we believe in, and for our families. A utopian society is an impossibility, but in its pursuit, we must establish truth as the source of every human endeavor, instead of letting humanity slide further into a Trumpian and Modian white supremacist and majoritarian post-truth world.

And we must choose the right people to be in power to help us get there. Someone like Ardern has shown the way by rejecting the message of hate and championing a diverse, multicultural, accepting society. If there's one thing about our world we most need to protect right now, it is each other.

Freedom is not the right to do what you want, but an opportunity to do what is right. Coming to America gave us the freedom to do what we wanted to in a democracy, so let's not close our minds to others' independence and right to live the way they desire.

 
Sindhu

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