Ever since the global economic meltdown, a vitriolic tide of populism has arisen around the world to ensnare and beguile people. Iceland, of course, is no exception. The rhetoric is the same everywhere: simplistic solutions are strewn along the campaign trails. We have to build a wall. We must police entire neighborhoods. Schengen is evil. Free trade is bad. Europe is crumbling. The EU will kill Europe. Christianity is our identity. All these slogans are shouted in the forum of dog-whistle politics. If “truths” cannot be boiled to fifteen-second soundbites, they are impractical.
Easy money is promised and convenient scapegoats are offered as chips in an attempt to cash in on political capital. Here in Iceland, many of us witnessed this firsthand when the Progressive Party jumped on the bandwagon by deploring the idea of building a mosque in Iceland. The rationale, besides blatant fear and racism, was that it was not part of our cultural heritage. Following that logic, I guess we should give up on globalisation and move back into turf houses and reinstate serfdom. Channeling fear and ramping up the limbic systems, the Progressive Party shanghaied itself up to 10% in Reykjavík.
Despite the casual racism and ethnic nationalism of the Progressive Party, an even worse element has sprung forth into the political scene—or at least onto social networks such as Facebook. These so called warrior-Vikings lament over Islam and globalization—and open borders are an anathema to them. This group has adopted the moniker “Hermenn Óðinns,” which literally means “Soldiers of Óðinn.” Of course, like many before have pointed out, it is quite oxymoronic to associate the Nordic god Óðinn with nativism, considering how he is connected to hospitality and traveling.
Some of the proponents of this racist group have left Iceland—for other Nordic countries, which is basically like moving from the village to the big city for Icelanders. Some actually even work. The Soldiers of Óðinn wish to protect our Nordic female stock (yes, “stock” is a deliberate word choice, seeing as how women’s autonomy does not matter to them) from the hordes of brown-skinned men. With deft maneuvering, these people move from Islamophobia to general racism—while simultaneously deploring the label “racist” and political correctness. A quick glance at the “coded” visual language they employ reveals anxiety and tribalism and a dire historical awareness. On their Facebook profile page, they exhibit a lithe and pale female who is being attacked by a dark hand—more accurately she is being threatened physically and sexually by a dark-skinned hand—and juxtaposed against this imagery is a kaleidoscope of black faces. These faces are mugshots and the message could not be clearer: European genocide vis-à-vis the dark masses. Basically, these people are against globalisation and people of color—and I am pretty sure they make for bland dinner company.
However, the tragic fact is that these so called custodians of Western civilization have remarkably similar cognitive profiles to the people they are supposedly trying to protect the rest of us Icelanders from. The same individuals who are killing people indiscriminately in Paris, Brussels and Pakistan are no different than their pale-skinned counterparts. These people share a simplistic worldview, where only binaries exist. Scholars such as Arie Kruglanski have studied militant extremists and analyzed their mindset, only to discover their world is devoid of grey and nuances; instead of cognitive complexity there is white or black, right or left, Christian or Muslim, straight or gay, good or bad. Insightful critique and understanding is discouraged either through bombs or bombastic discourse on a keyboard.
Unfortunately, there will always be individuals who ascribe to the simplistic Huntington hypothesis of the clash of civilizations, connecting religious faith and identity to political Islam—quite a different beast from everyday Islam. We have to ask ourselves if these people who claim they are not as naïve as the rest of us are not, in fact, the same as the people they fear: if you take a peek at the political manifesto of the Icelandic National Front, you can easily see a soft form of theocracy, attempting to enshrine Christianity or paganism upon others who prefer to be secular. Conservative and extremist minds will exploit the Bible or Quran, depending on their objectives.
But hey, on a positive note, at least the Icelandic National Front wants to throw out the microcurrency we have in Iceland—so I guess that will maybe split the racist vote since the Progressive Party is going to hold on to the Icelandic króna in perpetuity. Well, at least for the majority of us schmucks—some of us can keep foreign currencies in Tortola and espouse the importance of civic nationalism while pandering to ethnic nationalism.