Muslims, Iceland, and the EU - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Muslims, Iceland, and the EU


Published September 17, 2010

With the news that a plot of land for a mosque in Reykjavík might possibly be approved—some 10 years after the Muslim Society of Iceland first applied for one—the comments sections of news websites such as Eyjan were exploding with rage. It can be pretty disheartening to read some of the stunningly pig ignorant things people say in the comments section of any news article, but something about the topic of Islam brings out the worst in some Europeans. In fact, it’s precisely because of this that I’m leaning towards the “no” column of Iceland joining the European Union.

I sometimes get the sinking feeling that history is about to repeat itself with regards to Muslims in Europe. You hear all the same racist criticisms that were said about Europe’s Jews some 70 years ago: they’re trying to take over the continent, they don’t want to assimilate, they don’t belong here, they should be forced to change to our way of life (whatever that means) or be deported, and so on. Worst of all, EU authorities show a double standard when it comes to this kind of behaviour. The commission makes no hesitation in demanding that eastern Europe clean house from the top down if they want a piece of the pie, but when it comes to the EU’s stronger financial players, like Italy and France, they don’t seem terribly concerned about Berlusconi’s treatment of the Roma people, or the fantastically racist policies of Sarkozy.

Just as in the 1930s, Europe’s so-called moderates turn a blind eye to the words and actions of the continent’s extremists, because they’re “only” targeting a minority that Europeans hate and fear already. I have very little faith in the ability of EU officials to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Europe, but I sincerely hope they prove me wrong.

Putting that aside, it’s not as though Iceland is terribly progressive when it comes to how it treats its country’s Muslims—if the wait they’ve had to endure for just a piece of land on which to build a house of worship is any indication—but we also don’t have laws banning religious imagery, nor have we instituted a fingerprinting campaign of ethnic minorities, nor have we adopted a penal code that can deport third-generation Icelanders. And our constitution still implicitly protects religious freedom for all. Could there be hope here after all?

I believe so. Take a look at gay rights in Iceland, for example, compared to the rest of Europe. Because of the density of our society, we were able to more rapidly conduct a discourse on the subject, and change legislation with changing attitudes far faster than could be expected in other European countries. Today, our gay rights legislation is among the most progressive on the planet.

As rage-inducing as some of the comments to be found on this country’s news websites may be, Iceland’s Muslims probably stand a better chance here than anywhere else in Europe.

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