Published April 8, 2005
In Fight Club, Tyler Durden holds a knife to an investigator’s genitalia and says, “We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not #$%# with us.”
This line of dialogue was particularly chilling and stuck with me—a movie devoted to angst-ridden yuppies suddenly seemed to be discussing class warfare, explaining the hatred those on the lower rungs can sometimes develop.
Hanging out with fellow immigrants in a country not used to immigration, I have heard this line of dialogue quoted to me by a French waiter, and by an American who takes care of the elderly.
Indeed, in this small growing country, immigrants handle more and more of the menial jobs that seemingly keep the island afloat. And yet there is not one immigrant in the national parliament, and they are not heard from in the mainstream media. Foreigners are vilified for breaking visa restrictions to work in construction to help build this country, while employers and unions face no penalties for their treatment of these “illegals”.
An antagonistic relationship seems to have been developing. Indeed, it did not surprise me entirely then to read that young people of Iceland are becoming more and more biased against foreigners. According to a 2003 Red Cross survey, 20% of young people here feel foreigners should not have the same rights as Icelanders, and 40% feel there are too many foreigners in Iceland.
And then we get Fischer, and the whole immigration issue explodes.
For starters, one of the crappy jobs foreigners can get in this country is that of journalist for international media wires. (Here at the Grapevine, we happen to have stringers and journalists at the largest news agencies in the world, including the Associated Press and the AFP.)
When the country embarrassed itself, we could have not only made a huge profit, but we could have got even with a lot of people. We didn’t. As the AP correspondent, I refused to submit a Fischer article. Paul F. Nikolov, who works for the AFP, reported what was required of him but did not send along the more embarrassing local quotes: a member of the group that imported Fischer claiming Iceland would be good as it “has no Jewish problem” for example.
I’m glad we didn’t take the bait. While I disagreed with importing Fischer, and while I think the move, made just as people around the world were planning their summer vacations, will cost the local tourism industry dearly, I believe it has already had positive consequences for Iceland.
First, a precedent has been set for granting asylum. Second, we know that whatever we may do to offend locals, we probably can’t screw up as badly as Fischer did in his first hour in the country. Finally, with the fallout from Fischer, many locals are trying to find out what went wrong in the decision-making process. While most media sources now seem to claim they disagreed with bringing Fischer over all along, they didn’t. And now local writers, journalists like Egill Helgason, are asking for the input of immigrants.
And now that people are asking us what we think, the main gripe we foreigners had is gone. It’s not that we wanted to complain, we just wanted to be involved in the discussions. Thanks to Fischer, we seem to be on the way to getting there.