Peace Under Siege (JB)


Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

Before getting to the topic of today’s column, I would like to share with you something that ultimately shattered my belief in the Icelandic justice system.

Last week, rape charges made by two young women ended with yet another not guilty verdict. Both were under the age of 18 when the charges were pressed. I won’t go into details but from my perspective, it was a conclusion that was hard to wrap my head around. From what I’ve read about said cases, and based only on that, I was shocked and bewildered.

On Friday, November 20, when the latter sentencing was made public, Stígamót Education and Counseling Center for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Violence made an announcement on their Facebook page, saying explicitly that they hesitate to recommend a victim of sexual abuse and violence press charges.

The system is too hostile.

In a moment of outrage, I said to my colleague who was equally outraged—if that word is even sufficient to cover the feelings we felt—that the government might as well decriminalize the said crimes.

It seems from a layman’s perspective that the legal framework makes it nigh-impossible to prosecute a case, no matter how stable the foundations seem to be.

And so, Iceland, the number one country in the world for gender equality, is a place where this crime is seemingly, in my opinion, not taken seriously at all.

I say no more of this. To another subject which has been on my mind, and the minds of others, in recent days.

Millions of people—from Syria and elsewhere—have been forced in recent years to abandon their homes, desperately seeking shelter in Europe and elsewhere, because they’ve lost everything as a result of war.

These people, in particular those adhering to Islam, are conspicuous for their religion alone, a horrible prejudice indeed to have to live with.

I just wonder, in all sincerity or perhaps to some degree due to my naivety, where the unity is. Why do we not care about people who need help? And why are some of Iceland’s leaders so worried about letting in people in need of a new home, for, it seems to me, the duty of religion?

Why do I avoid watching the news? Well, that’s an easy answer. It breaks my heart every single time. If it’s not people streaming into Europe with no other intention but to start a life in peace and give their loved ones a future, it’s a politician or a president trying to argue against helping these very same people.

In 1985, the Live Aid concert was held to bring a voice to a passionate call for help in East Africa. At the time, I was five years old, but I understood the desperate situation the people on the footage suffered was life-threatening. I asked my parents to join the aid work but the idea was dismissed, perhaps understandably, as it is a hard work to do.

We Are the World’ by USA FOR AFRICA was the outcry from the United States.

Why was the solidarity there? Was it because the relief efforts depended on aid organizations that operated locally? Was it so much easier to reach out because the horror was so distant, in the continent that was perceived (and still is today, unfortunately) to be a wilderness of a kind?

Is it perhaps so hard to reach out because this time the desperation and call for help is in our backyard?

People with criminal intention may use a certain religion to recruit and in which name they fight, and all too recently in Paris were we reminded of the threat.

But when we choose hatred, and even when we choose fear over trust in the good (and it can be hard to not fall into that trap) in humanity, we let these forces separate us.

And by doing so, dig an even deeper hole.

I received an email from a reader the other day, a reader with whom I have much in common. We bonded over our mutual love for our native countries, hers for mine and mine for hers.

At the end of the day, and in my opinion, it is the human touch that matters, the human spirit with empathy, compassion and kindness, that will defeat the troubles of the world. If we let it.

There may be reason enough to increase security measures for the time being, but it cannot be the compass in our attitude towards one another.

In all my naivety, I believe that.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir(at)

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