Wanted: Compassionate leaders

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gestures as she departs following a gathering for congregational Friday prayers and two minutes of silence for victims of the twin mosque massacre, at Hagley Park in Christchurch on March 22, 2019 - AFPpic

IT IS a case which can be best described as the insensitivity of a state leader.

More than 4,000 people in his state were affected by the toxic fumes in Pasir Gudang and Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian went ahead on a working trip to Batam to promote Visit Johor Year 2020 at the height of the illegal chemical dumping case in a river.

Critics castigated the Mentri Besar for being insensitive, especially when he told the media that the toxic fumes affected mainly schools and not residential areas in Pasir Gudang because the open nature of the buildings allowed the hazardous vapour to enter through the wind.

Osman’s state was in crisis and for many, he did not rise to the occasion.

For me, two leaders – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar – rose to the occasion during the toxic fume crisis.

The Prime Minister postponed an event in Putrajaya to give out Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia membership cards to eight politicians formerly with Sabah Umno.

Instead he flew to Johor for an impromptu visit to personally inspect the situation.

The Johor Ruler cancelled two events – an afternoon tea party and a state dinner – which were supposed to be held in conjunction with His Majesty’s birthday.

The reason? His Majesty was saddened with the rakyat’s suffering in Pasir Gudang.

When there is a crisis, there are leaders who are perceived to be clowning around and there are those who rise to the occasion.

An international leader who received worldwide praise for her response to her country’s “darkest of days” is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The 37-year-old Ardern was applauded for rising to the occasion in the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, which left 50 dead including 17-year-old Malaysian Muhammad Haziq Mohd Tarmizi.

Swiftly, she labelled the attack as terrorism. And she bluntly called Australian senator Fraser Anning’s comment, that the Islamic community was to be blamed for the Christchurch mosque massacre, as a disgrace.

The day after the attacks, Ardern visited Christchurch to meet with the Muslim community, she wore black and a hijab to show the whole country was “united in grief”.

In addressing a special Parliament gathering on Tuesday, the Prime Minister opened her remarks with “Assalamualaikum” (peace be with you).

“For the families, it was more than that. It was the day that the simple act of prayer – of practising their Muslim faith – led to the loss of their loved one’s lives,” she said.

“Those loved ones were brothers, daughters, fathers and children. They were New Zealanders. They are us. And because they are us, we, as a nation, we mourn them.”

Ardern had used the inclusive phrase “they are us”.

In Malaysia, we still have some politicians who callously labelled other Malaysians as “pendatang” (immigrants) when they are “pendatang” themselves.

This reminds me of a meme that was shared in connection with Anning’s racist comments. The caption was: “Australia: Illegal immigrant must go home”.

The next photograph is of a serious-looking Aborigine with the caption: “Ow! Serious? So, when

are you going?”

There’s a similar meme with Trump saying “All immigrants should leave” and a native American saying, “U better leave then”.

In a tweet, Ardern said: “Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.”

In Malaysia, there are some Malaysians who make other Malaysians feel that they don’t belong in Malaysia.

Instead of “they are us”, these racist Malaysians say, “they are pendatang”. The fact is, “they are us” or “we are they”.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, there were Malaysian politicians who tried to score points by saying that it should serve as a lesson for Malaysia on the need to curb extremism.

The politician, who has since apologised for his insensitive comment, said Umno-PAS cooperation “can also be taken advantage of by foreign terrorist groups”.

It was heartening that a senior leader of his party condemned the politician’s distasteful remarks on Christchurch massacre.

The New Zealand Prime Minister also told Parliament that she would not use the Christchurch terrorist’s name.

Ardern speculated that the shooter sought notoriety from the attack and she wouldn’t allow it.

“That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” she said.

“Speak the name of those who were lost, rather than of the man who took them.

Yesterday, New Zealand broadcast live the “azan” (Islamic call to prayer) and observed a two-minute silence in ceremonies to mark one week after the Christchurch massacre.

Addressing the Muslim community when she joined mourners at Al-Noor mosque, which is one of two mosques attacked, Ardern said: “New Zealand mourns with you, we are one”.

A great leader is one who rises to the occasion and doesn’t go overseas when there is a crisis. A great leader should be on the ground with the rakyat when they are facing problem.

Is it too much to ask a leader to show a little compassion in times of crisis?

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