Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a holiday in the US celebrated on the third Monday in January. As is often the case, it is also an occasion for people to post their favourite quotes from the civil rights legend, often to drive home a point of their own, however unrelated to the context of what King was saying.
One such example of this came last Monday from Iceland’s Foreign Minister, Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, who tweeted the following:
“‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ The wisdom of Dr Martin Luther King never loses its relevance, especially during times when many of the basic rights we may have thought to be secured and guaranteed have been challenged. #MLKDay”
While this is not an actual quote from Dr. King, but a paraphrasing from a sermon he made in 1965, what people took issue with was that they believed the Foreign Minister was here referring to pandemic restrictions.
Þórdís has been a very vocal opponent of pandemic restrictions in Iceland, and has indeed often framed them as a civil rights issue. Most recently, she told reporters of these measures that “We have gone through two years of [this pandemic] where we’ve taken some civil rights on loan and we intend to give them back, so it’s quite alright to ask when that will happen,” adding that “to go this far now, when we have a fully vaccinated populace and variants that bring much milder illness and a much lesser chance of hospitalisation, I think it’s legally a big question. Whether we have been protecting non-discrimination and proportionality and such factors, which is the role of the Minister of Health to ensure normal.”
As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that people interpreted her commentary on MLK’s (paraphrased) words as having a subtext about the pandemic, and many were understandably confused as to why a government minister would compare the struggle for Black liberation to social gathering limits and wearing masks.
In fairness, the minister’s words were vague enough to be applicable to just about anything, and she told Kjarninn that the tweet in question was not, at all, about pandemic restrictions but more of a general statement.
“No, it is not a correct interpretation to connect the tweet to my opinions on certain pandemic restrictions,” she said in response to reporter’s questions. “In discussions around the world, however, there has been a tendency to restrict people’s freedom of expression and free thought. I see reason to remind ourselves of the importance of hearing opposing views, and I note that I am equally concerned about the freedom of expression of those who completely disagree with me and those who agree with me.”
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