The public hunger for compassion in politics registered in March with the rapturous praise heaped on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her empathetic response after the horrific attacks on Christchurch mosques that killed 51 and injured dozens. Ardern’s first words, “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” a Muslim greeting meaning “Peace be upon you,” were followed by a bid to unify: “We feel grief, we feel injustice, we feel anger, and we share that with you.” She offered more than “thoughts and prayers”: her government gave financial assistance to help families with burial expenses, then passed legislation to ban most semi-automatic weapons. A photograph of the PM embracing a Muslim woman went viral—reproduced by artist Loretta Lizzio as an 18-metre mural on a silo in Melbourne, and illuminated on a Dubai skyscraper.
Ardern, and her call for “kindness over fear,” as she put it in a United Nations address last fall, is viewed by many as a flower growing through concrete at a time of rising isolationism, tribalism, racism and authoritarianism. Cruelty is used to divide and win votes—Donald Trump mocking a disabled New York Times journalist, Boris Johnson, a front-runner for British PM, objectifying Muslim women.