CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on Tuesday for a halt to the spread of messages of hate and extremism after a terror attack against two mosques in Christchurch killed 50 people and wounded another 50.
Ardern was addressing parliament for the first time since the shootings on Friday, which she described as one of New Zealand’s “darkest days.”
“We are one, they are us,” Ardern said, a slogan she coined following the attacks to promote unity, during the special session that began with a prayer led by an imam.
In her address, which she opened with “As Salaam Alaikum,” the traditional Muslim greeting, the prime minister said she would never utter the name of the man who allegedly perpetrated the massacre.
“He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless,” Ardern said in an emotional speech in Wellington.
Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant, 28, who the police believe acted alone, has been in preventive custody since March 16 when he was charged with murder. He is due to appear before the judge on April 5.
“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name,” said Ardern, who added that the attacker would be punished by “the full force of the law.”
The prime minister implored people to “speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them.”
Ardern also said the role that social media played in the spread of messages of hate would be evaluated and urged the sites to take responsibility for the content they publish.
“We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher, not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility,” she said.
“This of course doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation, to confront racism, violence and extremism,” she added.
Tarrant allegedly broadcast the 17-minute attack on the first mosque on Facebook, and also posted a 70-page manifesto detailing his extreme right-wing ideology and his hatred of Muslims.
Facebook took down 1.5 million copies of the video in the 24 hours after the attack, while YouTube announced that it had removed tens of thousands of videos of the assault, an “unprecedented” number in terms of its reach and the speed with which it spread online.
Several companies in New Zealand have said they would remove their ads from social media or would consider doing so to force the platforms to take steps to moderate extremist content and stop the spread of hate.
Ardern’s call for unity and condemnation of intolerance, as well as her displays of compassion and cultural sensitivity, such as wearing a hijab while visiting the victims, have gained her worldwide praise.
Following the attack, the prime minister has reaffirmed the multicultural and tolerant values of her country, whose doors, she said, would remain to anyone who respects those values.
“The only thing that must change after the events of Friday, is that this same door must close on all of those who espouse hate and fear,” she said.
Ardern has been unwavering in her calls for solidarity and unity during her response to the attack, including in her reply to US President Donald Trump’s offer of support, to which she requested “sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.”