Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s astonishingly flawless response to Christchurch terror attacks has instantaneously made her an international star, with many pinning hopes on her to lead the charge against rising global rightwing populism.
Indeed, the world has been experiencing - much to the discomfort of many, particularly liberal-intellectual academia - the steady rise of global right-wing populism in recent years.
Till around late last year right-wing populist and nationalist governments were in power in countries as big and diverse as Russia, Turkey, Israel, Hungary, Poland, India, and the United States (US) - with the rise of President Donald Trump in the US being portrayed as the single most significant source of concern and disappointment in the global western media.
Such has been the dissatisfaction in the mainstream media of these respective nations reeling under the surge right-wing populism that they have been pinning their hopes on any possible liberal-leadership around the world.
Our PM Jacinda Ardern has long been clubbed in the new generation of the global left-wing liberal leaders along with Justin Trudeau and Jeremy Corbyn, who offered hope to many disillusioned by the unabated rise of global rightwing politics.
However, none would have anticipated that Jacinda Ardern’s empathetic response to “an act of grave-violence” that has now become etched in public memory as the darkest phase of New Zealand history, would catapult her far ahead of any of her peers, in left-wing global leaders who can show light to the world.
The favourable commentary that Ms Ardern’s views on terrorism, the perils of Islamophobia, challenges of immigration and integration, dealing with alt-right extremist ideologies – in one way or the other – in the global western media is nothing but exemplary.
However, it might not be an exaggeration to say that this could, in part, be a reflection of western media’s disappointment with their own domestic rightwing populist political environment, which seems to be stifling the very basis of their mutually shared “liberal-thinking.”
To some extent, this might explain why western media is so keen to project Jacinda Ardern – a leader from a seeming remote South Pacific country which has seldom struggled to find legitimate representation within the world maps – as the new hope of leftwing liberal populism.
They have seen in Jacinda – a leadership style so neatly coated with the ideologies of egalitarianism, morality and righteousness – that they so badly want to be imitated and reflected in their respective politics.
This leadership style is perfectly fine for us in New Zealand – a nation so badly shaken by this horrendous act of violence – at this moment where it that could potentially threaten to disturb the delicate balance of peace, unity and multiculturalism.
However, will this leadership-style alone will be able to counter the surging global right-wing populism around the world in the near future, still remains to be seen, and at best is wishful thinking.
One of the major reasons of this pessimism is that this resurgent leftwing liberal populism is focussed more on addressing or attacking the so-called “leaders” of the global rightwing populism, than actually addressing the core issues which led to their rise at the first place.
Ms Ardern dealt directly with President Trump when offered with an opportunity to advise him to extend compassion to all Muslims and Islamic communities.
Similarly, in countries like India, the now resurgent leftwing liberal populist leaders, who are trying to win back lost ground are focusing more on launching personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi – in the hope that their direct full-blown frontal attacks will weaken him and shrink his support-base.
Like in Jacinda’s case (as a part of global effort), these domestic efforts in individual countries like India, are more wishful thinking, and less a tangible long-term solution.
Because, in both these examples, the so-called leftwing liberal populist leadership, are failing to acknowledge the real ‘social anxiety’ that has propelled the right-wing populist leaders at the first place.
There seems to be a convenient and deliberate ignorance of the fact that the rightwing populism and there seemingly divisive, but extremely popular leaders are a product of the ‘long-unaddressed social anxiety’ that was created at first place by the so-called left-wing liberal populism.
To make it worse, these leaders largely, have risen to power after being democratically elected, thus signalling the fact that a vast mass of humanity has been quietly reeling under the social anxiety that seems to emanate from the so-called hyperbole left-wing populism.
Two examples worth mentioning here!
Firstly, recently there was news in mainstream media that Muslim group wanted $2 million donations to be returned to China for their concerns on the persecution of Muslim Uighurs in North-West China.
Undoubtedly China's treatment of the Muslim Uighurs has concerned human rights watchers.
Understandably, the desired intention of these Muslim humanitarian groups in rejecting Chinese money is of countering the growing monster of Islamophobia all around the world, by expressing their solidarity with Muslim Uighurs, especially in today’s compassionate environment.
To many, this could be a tricky assertion, as first, it refuses to offer any love and compassion to the Chinese diasporic community, while expecting the same for all fellow migrants and Muslim communities during these difficult times. On top of that, by taking this seemingly humanitarian stand, our local Muslim community groups have innocuously affirmed Islam’s pan-global identity – which to many ordinary people is a source of social anxiety.
Make no mistake; there is no intention to delve into the profoundly complex issues of Islamophobia in this piece, and not to condone any form of hatred or prejudice against the Islamic religion or Muslims.
Instead, the intention is to expose the seeming fickleness in now resurgent leftwing liberal populism, which is once again failing to acknowledge kind of social anxieties that propel the rise of right-wing populism.
The exact definition of Islamophobia continues to be discussed with different academics offering different explanations, and the likes of academics S. Sayyid and Abdoolkarim Vakil maintain that Islamophobia is a response to the emergence of a distinct Muslim public identity globally.
The Muslim group’s response to reject Chinese donations for the victims of Christchurch terror attack goes a long way in accentuating to the social anxiety around the emergence of a global Muslim public identity.
More so when the current Chinese government is under the grips of right-wing populism (Chinese President Xi Jinping has risen to power on the rightwing populist themes) – the anxieties are likely to persist and linger – much to the dislike of the hopeful of a quick defeat anytime soon.
Indeed, the challenges are complex, and Islamophobia is one of the major challenges of our generations that surely need to be defeated and dusted, on which global rightwing populism seems to thrive upon.
However, the leftwing liberal populism will also need to acknowledge the fact they need to amend its ways in which it fails to acknowledge the social, religious, ethnic diversity and divisions within our world.
Indeed, the road ahead is a long and arduous one, with no easy victory in sight – not as easy as being conceived by the current wave of the liberal intellectual intelligentsia.