“He cannot take any pictures of the guests. He needs to stay there with the rest of the photographers,” said Valdimar Jóhannson, one of the coordinators of the event held earlier this month at the Grand Hotel, as he held my upper arm in a firm grip and looked straight to my eyes. Pressing harder on my arm, he added: “You will be sure that you do not twist anything which will be said here.”
As we entered the hall I could see a lot of familiar faces, mostly of people known for their controversial opinions about immigrants, and especially Muslims. But there were also a few people that were there just to see what all the fuss was about regarding keynote speaker Robert Spencer, whose website Jihadwatch publishes articles about Islam, and the dangers Spencer and others believe come with it.
Snake oil and baldness
As I take a seat, I note that this conference would be a perfect venue to sell hair-growth products to older men—and probably plenty of snake oil as well. Next to me sits a older women, “the cheerleader,” as I like to think of her. She cannot hide her excitement to hear Spencer talk, and is contentiously saying that he is a hero to her. When the meeting starts, Valdimar presents the first speaker, Christine Williams. There is no way that this woman can be a racist, he avers, since she has so many races in her: she is one-quarter Indian, one-quarter Scottish, one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter black (Valdimar doesn’t specify the nationality).
The cheerleader can’t understand why Williams is speaking for so long. “I came here to listen to Spencer, not this ‘nigger,’” she says.
“This meeting is not for you”
When the Q&A starts, the imam of one of Iceland’s Muslim congregations stands up to ask Williams a question. You can smell the tension in the air. Before he’s finished asking the question she’s already talking over him, and the crowd follows suit. The cheerleader screams “Sit down! This meeting is not for you.” The crowd cheers and jeers, obviously uninterested in starting a dialogue about the ostensible subject of the conference.
Then, the moment we’ve all have been waiting for: the rock star is introduced, and the fans go wild. The cheerleader jumps from her seat and claps her hands at a fanatic pace. Spencer enters the hall escorted by a bodyguard, in a country where not even the president or prime minister has one. When he starts to speak, silence falls in the room. The admiration and energy in the eyes of the audience could be used to power a Tesla.
Cannot trust them
Robert is charming, but that’s what is scary about him. He is well spoken, and good at finding out what scared people want to hear to fuel their hatred of Muslims. He uses his gifts of salesmanship to push on people the idea that you should be scared of 1.6 billion people on this planet. His main argument is that all Muslims are a possible threat, since it says in the Quran, according to one interpretation, that Muslims can lie to non believers about their actual beliefs. Therefore, you cannot trust them. We should not allow them to take part in politics, business or charities, since the Muslim Brotherhood has a plan to use these channels to take over the Western world. At the same time, Spencer repeats, he has nothing against Muslims. He wants to do everything possible to integrate them into our community—we should just be on guard regarding their activities.
Here’s the problem with his argument: we live in a democracy, and Spencer’s position is an attack on individual rights protected by a constitution that says we cannot discriminate against people based on their religion. Even if we actually believe that Muslims are really trying to take over Western civilization, that belief does not trump the constitution. Spencer’s argument is an attack on democracy and human rights. We have a justice system that guarantees you’re innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. Spencer wants to have the power of the investigator, the prosecutor and the judge.
To Spencer, this is a business—and let me tell you all, business is booming.