Jacinda Ardern is a prominent politician who became New Zealand’s youngest prime minister and who spearheaded a counter-extremism and terrorism initiative. She was widely acclaimed for her outstanding efforts in the aftermath of her country›s worst terrorist attack in modern history. The 37-year-old prime minister assumed office in 2017.
In mid-March 2019, New Zealand, a nation known for its tranquility and low incidence of extremism and violence, woke up to the deadliest terrorist attack it had ever witnessed. A right-wing extremist, Brenton Tarrant, stormed into two mosques in Christchurch and shot Muslim worshippers, killing and injuring around a hundred Muslims.
New Zealand’s prime minister was quick to respond on several fronts. She promptly called what happened an ‘act of terrorism’, unlike much of the media that was reluctant to do so. In her speech in the Parliament, she said: “He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless”.
She showed heartfelt sympathy for the victims’ families. She moved from Wellington, Capital of New Zealand, to Christchurch, leading a delegation of prominent figures from different parties to pay their condolences, give them a sense of safety, and listen to what they think should be done after such a tragic incident.
During her visit, she wore a headscarf and greeted Muslims in Arabic. Her actions were greatly admired by Muslims as she tried to console them by hugging the victims’ relatives. Observers believed her attire was not a random choice, but rather an intentional one in response to the populist surge and nationalist extremism that have been on the rise for years.
Jacinda Ardern was exceptionally brave when she denounced right-wing nationalism and white-supremacist ideologies. She publicly apologized to Muslims after the inquiry report had confirmed that security services had been observing Islam-driven terrorism for years and disregarding, meanwhile, the threats posed by the far-right.
Ardern prioritized tightening anti-terrorism laws and restricting the issuance of arms licences in order to promote security and combat extremism. She launched an urgent significant campaign to stop hate, violence, and extremism online. The perpetrator of the Christchurch shootings broadcast them live on social media. Extremist online content is thus a phenomenon that has tragically and uncharacteristically been on the rise. It demonstrates how inadequately technology corporations have responded to the online streaming of terrorist content.
The initiative was named Christchurch Call after Christchurch city where the shootings took place. It is an action plan that obliges governments and technology companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online in an attempt to bring to an end the misuse of social media by extremists and terrorists. The initiative is an international call to action to counter extremism online, and it calls for using technologies ethically to prevent social media users from slipping into extremism. It also includes pledges to promote peace, cooperation, and mutual respect among different cultures, religions, and races.
Ardern met world leaders and heads of major internet companies to ensure the initiative can be operationalized, which was positively received. 50 countries joined the initiative, including France, Canada, Ireland, Senegal, and Indonesia, as well as representatives of giant corporations: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Quant, Twitter, and YouTube.
Following Ardern›s resignation in February 2023, the new Prime Minister of New Zealand, Chris Hipkins, appointed Jacinda Ardern as Special Envoy for the Christchurch Call. The position was created recently to advocate for increased protection from extremism. He stated that Ardern›s commitment to combating violent extremist online content is critical to why she should continue this work.
Ardern said she was resigning because she ‘no longer had enough in the tank’ to do the job. She nevertheless emphasized her continued efforts to spread the initiative and delightedly accepted the new role in the fight against terrorist and extremist content online to work alongside world leaders and officials in transnational companies. She said she felt she owed a duty to the society afflicted by this tragedy.