U.S. House of Representatives
When asked to comment regarding members of the Muslim immigrant community who were brutally slain by a deranged gunman in the country that she leads, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded by saying, “They are us.”
And while addressing the 28-year-old young man who is accused of taking the lives of 50 innocent men, women and children who were participating in prayer services at their mosques she said, “You might have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”
Though not a Muslim, the prime minister wore a headscarf, a practice in the Muslim community, when she met with family members of victims and with community leaders in Christchurch, the city of 375,000 residents where the slayings occurred.
“We represent diversity, kindness and compassion,” she said during an address to the New Zealand Parliament. “We are a home for those who share our values, and we offer refuge for those who need it.”
Throughout New Zealand, a country of approximately 5 million residents located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, gatherings of people, large and small, listened to speakers as they echoed the sentiments of their nation’s leader, one of the youngest in the world to lead a democracy.
When asked, members of the immigrant community said that they had come to New Zealand because they sought peace in a country where they could raise their families and earn a living. They said that they did not believe that the country that welcomed them was to blame for the killings. They said they were grateful and proud to be living in New Zealand.
Leaders throughout the world, including President Trump, condemned the killings, calling them a “horrible disgraceful thing.” Ardern said that during her conversation with the president, she urged him to be sympathetic and loving towards Muslim communities.
I am hopeful that Trump will reflect on the suggestion given to him by Ardern and that he will embrace the Muslim community in America with the same compassion and understanding that the prime minister has displayed.
“They are us,” Ardern proclaimed when speaking of New Zealand’s Muslim community, urging the people of New Zealand to stand together during a painful moment in their nation’s history.
The example that she has set is sorely needed in our country as our people stand apart from one another, unaware of the pain that the other is feeling. Perhaps the example of a smaller nation will help to heal us, a healing that we so desperately need. Perhaps we will realize that they are us.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson Represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives. She also chairs the House committee on Science, Space and Technology.