From Iceland — Ásmundur Willing To Have "A Meeting With Muslims"

Ásmundur Willing To Have “A Meeting With Muslims”

Published January 14, 2015

Member of Alþingi who proposed an investigation of Icelandic muslims, interviewed

Member of Alþingi who proposed an investigation of Icelandic muslims, interviewed

Ásmundur Friðriksson, the member of Alþingi who last Saturday proposed, informally, via Facebook, that authorities should investigate the background of muslims in Iceland, in the light of the perceived threat of terrorism, has backtracked somewhat since. After receiving heavy criticism, also from prominent members of his own party, the Independence Party, the parliamentarian has said that he does not want to single out muslims, but investigate the background of all “extremists”.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Ásmundur then announced that he would be “willing to have a meeting with muslims in Iceland, where they could brief me on their work. It could be good to both parties, as I hear that we share the same worries.” We asked Ásmundur for a short interview, which he duly granted.

In the interview, Ásmundur did not clarify which particular groups or representatives he has in mind when he says he is willing to speak with muslims, but he claims to be “ready to speak with all peace-loving people”. Asked what expectations muslims should have for a dialogue with Ásmundur, he says that he is interested in history and arts, so the conversation can potentially be amusing. Ásmundur claims not to be familiar with the German movement PEGIDA, and unable to tell if he shares their attitudes.

Have you received any response to your offer for a meeting with muslims in Iceland?

No, no response, unfortunately.

Have you proposed the idea to particular persons or organisations?

No, I have not done that, except through Facebook, the message everyone is now quoting.

What sort of questions do you foresee posing at such a meeting?

I would really like to get to now them, what they are up to and what their hopes and expectations are.

Muslims in Iceland come from various different countries and communities, and some are native born Icelanders. As you say yourself, they want to live in peace and harmony. Do you foresee having a meeting with a particular group, muslims in general, or extremists and suspected offenders in especially?

I am not familiar with the composition of these people in Iceland. I am and have always been ready to speak with all peace-loving people.

What expectations should muslims have to such a meeting?

I am good at listening to people and evaluating their strengths. I am interested in arts and history so many things could come up in an amusing chat.

The PEGIDA movement in Germany, which has now made an appearance in Iceland as well, protests against the “islamisation” of Europe. Do you share their concerns?

I am not familiar with that movement.

It has been in the news somewhat, lately. They protest weekly in Dresden.

[No response].

There are some strong indications that xenophobia, particularly fear towards muslims, is the strongest where immigration is lowest. Do you think that relatively low immigration might be Iceland’s problem?

I have not felt any hatred of foreigners around me. Discussions about that sort of thing are not common within my group of friends or family. We are, in general, peaceful people and humanitarian.

I did not mean to accuse you of hatred of foreigners, hatred is a big word. Animosity or fear, however, has been visible in Iceland, lately not least towards muslims, for example in protests against a mosque in Reykjavík. The question is, then: do you think that a significantly higher number of immigrants might help calm people, as different groups of people would get to know each other better?

I have not taken part in discussions about a mosque, and I have neither encouraged nor discouraged an increase of foreigners in the country. The most important thing is that those who settle here adjust to the national organisation, democracy, history and the society that is already here and wants to stay alive.

At this point, the parliamentarian said that he was running out of time.

Very well. One last question: I asked what expectations muslims should have for a meeting with you. Obversely: what expectations do you harbour for such a meeting?

I expect such a meeting to be good to get to know each other, establish a relation so that we can talk on equal terms, enlightened about each other’s situation, which is very important. Words are the first step. With good faith and hope in heart, all matters can be solved.

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