Reykjavík
6°C
NE

What Next? (ZR)

Views

Zoë Robert's picture

“All Muslims must be sent to Saudi Arabia where they belong,” according to Rafn Einarsson, representative for the Progressive Party on the district council of Reykjavík suburb Breiðholt in a post on his personal Facebook page.

Stundin was first to report on the comment yesterday morning, stating that it was just one of many in which Rafn has publicly expresses anti-Muslim sentiment. He has also referred to Muslims as “rapists,” as “violent” and as “untrustworthy.”

(Paul Fontaine at the Reykjavík Grapevine has conveniently posted screenshots of some of Rafn’s publicly-shared comments, providing readers with further examples of the nature of some of his posts).

It may be of interest that at 25 percent, Breiðholt is the suburb with the highest proportion of immigrants in Reykjavík. The number of Muslims in Iceland is estimated to be around 2,000.

Over and Over

When asked whether his comments were in line with the Progressive Party’s policy, Rafn said that he was a “no-name” in the party, would not comment on the matter and instead claimed that the debate on politics and Muslims had been created by the press.

In response, the youth wing of the party issued a statement distancing itself from the comments and Guðfinna Jóhanna Guðmundsdóttir, city councilor for the Progressive Party in Reykjavík, branded them unacceptable and emphasized that hatred against Muslims is not something that the party stands for.

Predictably perhaps, Guðfinna pointed to the fact that the comments were made on Rafn’s personal Facebook page and were not made on behalf of the party.

However, this is far from the first time that individuals representing the party have made such comments.

In the lead-up to last year’s municipal elections, now party chair in Reykjavík Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir said that she did not want to fulfill a promise to provide land for the Muslim Association of Iceland to build a mosque, saying, “While we have a national church we shouldn’t allocate lots for buildings like mosques or churches for the Greek Orthodox Church [she meant the Russian Orthodox Church].”

Sveinbjörg argued that her opinion was not based on prejudice but on experience, having lived in Saudi Arabia for one year. She said that it was important for people to abide by the customs in a country to which they move.

Poorly Thought Through or Clever Strategy?

Sveinbjörg later said on news magazine Kastljós on March 30 that her comments had not been in line with the party’s policy and her words had been rather rash and poorly thought through.

During the campaign, the debate, such as on the Progressive Party’s Facebook page, quickly turned into both opposition towards Muslims and a mosque in Reykjavík, resulting in support for the party surging and achieving two seats on the city council.

Prior to Sveinbjörg’s statements, polls had suggested that the Progressive Party would not gain any seats in the capital. The party was accused of using the mosque issue as part of their election strategy.

More recently, the appointment of Gústaf Níelsson as a representative of the Progressive Party to Reykjavík City Council’s Human Rights Committee (despite being a member of the Independence Party) caused controversy.

To many, Gústaf’s opinions of Muslims were no secret—among other things, he has ‘liked’ the Facebook page of PEGIDA in Iceland, an organization fighting what it considers the Islamization of Europe, and has called for Islam to be prohibited in Iceland to serve as an example for all of Europe—yet Sveinbjörg initially said she had read his articles and that they simply “raised certain questions without making a judgment call,” i.e., she did not have an issue with his opinions.

Once she was made aware of his opinions on LGBT individuals, however, the party withdrew his appointment, following which Sóley Tómasdóttir, the Left-Green’s representative on Reykjavík City Council and the council’s chair claimed that the party “... just wanted racism—not homophobia.”

Sveinbjörg later said she “should have Googled better and looked better at what he has written.”

Rafn’s comments on Muslims came as a surprise too, she said yesterday.

What kind of an excuse is that and is it really possible to not be aware that your party member or representative is sharing such comments in the media or on Facebook? Comments which many others also agree are totally unacceptable?

Empty Promises?

The comments come a week after the presentation of the Progressive Party’s draft resolution. The resolution welcomes the contribution of immigrants to society, yet stresses the need to “work against violence towards and among them,” the meaning of which is unclear.

On the face of it, some of the points in the resolution sound somewhat promising but given the aforementioned comments it was news to me that the party planned to emphasize the issues below.

- Individuals’ diverse backgrounds should be promoted to create a better and more competitive labor market.

- Immigrants bring knowledge that benefits Icelandic society.

- Immigrants have the same rights as others in society.

- Mother tongue teaching in schools should be strengthened.

- Iceland should receive refugees in line with international agreements.

- International agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination provide a guiding light.

What Next?

Whether or not the comments over the last year or so represent the party, some of its members have made it clear that they do not represent their personal beliefs at least.

Þorsteinn Magnússon resigned in July as Alternate MP for the Progressive Party citing the party’s handling of the mosque issue and Hreiðar Eiríksson, asked to be removed from the party’s list in protest of the mosque comments ahead of the election.

The party chair, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, has been rather quiet on the matter over the last year. In May he did, however, post on Facebook that “… It’s incredible how low some people will go to attack their political opponents. When people go as far as to accuse entire groups of racism for nothing, that’s not just serious for those who are being accused but for society as a whole.”

So no grand statements about tolerance a la Merkel: the German Chancellor condemned the PEGIDA rallies in Germany, warning Germans that “there’s no place for incitement and lies regarding people who come to us from other countries.”

Rafn stood down from his position after a meeting with party members yesterday. Sveinbjörg, who recently moved to Breiðholt, will replace him on the district council.

These anti-Muslim sentiments are held by a minority and don’t represent the party, we’re told.

The question is what will the party do to rid itself of its xenophobic image? How long before the next scandal?

Convincing the public that anti-Muslim sentiment and distrust of foreigners is not representative of the party as a whole will take more than some carefully worded statements.

Zoë Robert – zoe(at)icelandreview.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.