WHERE IS THE MULTICULTURALSOCIETY - The Reykjavik Grapevine

WHERE IS THE MULTICULTURALSOCIETY

WHERE IS THE MULTICULTURALSOCIETY

Published July 9, 2004

If G. Pomrenke travelled from Virginia, USA expecting to engage in the social and cultural activities and expected to find them Icelandic/Nordic and not African, and presumably disappointed, it would be very easy just to infer that he/she was some sort of racist/bigot/white supremacist or whatever, and dismiss his/her opinions as such. What might be more useful would be to seek to understand why he/she was obviously under the impression that Iceland was not a multicultural society, if indeed it is. It may have something to do with how Iceland is marketed to potential tourists in other countries by the Icelandic Tourist Board and Icelandair. If tourists are sold holidays which promise to take them to the Land of the Vikings/Sagas/Fire and Ice/most beautiful women in the world who all have long blonde hair/a place where the language has remained unchanged for centuries, then why should they not be confused when they find a black woman wearing the national costume, kids wearing American sportswear and rapping and everyone else traipsing around shopping malls while talking on mobile telephones?
As for Reykjavík being a multicultural city, where is it? It seems to me that the City council and a fair number of its inhabitants would like Reykjavík to be thought of as a multicultural city simply because of a desire to be ‘more like other European cities’. It takes more than a handful of ‘ethnic’ restaurants, shops selling Moroccan slippers and Tai Chi classes. Where are the mosques, synagogues, halal and kosher butchers, Diwali celebrations, and the acceptance of these things that a true multicultural society has? It appears more like, “We like your food, nice fabrics and music, but not your traditions, customs and you”. And at the heart of it all, an immigration policy that discriminates on race.
Reykjavík and Iceland have a lot to offer tourists – it does actually have a history from 1700 to the present day – but it seems not many people want to make a feature of it. Could it be because a lot of it is not very glamorous or fits in very well with the romantic ideals that they assume tourists are seeking? In my opinion the history of Iceland of the past 300 years is far more interesting and has done more to shape the modern Iceland than anything the Vikings did.
I found the article about protesting very interesting, but surely Reykjavíkians are amongst the world leaders in non-violent civil disobedience. I was under the impression that all protests took the form of wearing a t-shirt, for one day only, emblazoned with a slogan such as “Men say no to rape”, or “I am a feminist”. Or maybe, if it’s not raining, even a gathering outside the Parliament when it’s empty. And surely the police never have to worry about dragging away protestors as come 7pm they all go home for dinner anyway.
The photograph with the article shows a poster (a reference to the dam construction at Kárahnjúkar), which reads; “It is the duty of all countrymen to protect the country from their government.” Following Birgir Örn Thoroddsen’s comment in issue #3 complaining of ‘the population’s inability to protest against anything’, and Guðbergur Bergsson’s interview in The Guardian Weekend Magazine of November 29, 2003 in which he states: “If the international community can show them [Icelanders] how truly ridiculous it is to destroy nature, the very thing they love most, for one aluminum smelter, they may start to think for themselves. They might finally have the guts to speak up and tell their dictatorial government how absolutely they have got this wrong. You have to shame us into change.” Then surely a more appropriate poster would read, “It is the duty of all non-Icelanders to protect Iceland from the Icelanders.”
For any tourists that would like to see this part of the country, there is now a range of postcards available.

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