Herring and Class Struggle

Capitalism came late to Iceland. At the end of the 19th century this large, wind-swept, thinly populated island was made up of small towns, farms and seasonal fishing stations. Then European capitalists saw another Klondike in the herring-rich waters of the north Atlantic..

Saturday 7 June 2014

Racism, Islamophobia and opportunist politicians in Reykjavik

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Iceland’s prime minister and chair of the liberal Progressive Party,[1] has finally joined the row about Islamophobic comments made by the party’s lead candidate in last month’s Reykjavik elections. Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir said, “While we have an established church we should not allocate building land for mosques or Greek orthodox churches”.[2] She then tried to claim that she wasn't prejudiced but had lived in Saudi Arabia and therefore knew what she was talking about.

Ludicrously, Sigmundur has claimed that anyone criticising Sveinbjörg's comments is playing “pathetic politics”. But Sveinbjörg's comments, repeated on her Facebook page, attracted vicious racist ranting about Muslims, crime and ill treatment of women and girls—a comment that she “liked”.  There is another Facebook page, "protest a mosque in Iceland", with 4,500 likes which says that its objection is a “security issue”, and that any such mosque will become centre for terrorism.

Permission to build a mosque was finally approved in January last year and a plot of land allocated in Sogamýri, a suburb of Reykjavik last September. All this has taken 13 years since an application was first made in 2000. There are around 700 Muslims in Iceland, some immigrants and some converts, and understandably they would like to have a purpose built community center, library and suitable prayer room.

Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir knew exactly what she was doing. She chose to make Islamophobic comments in the election hoping to get a few more votes because since the site was chosen there have been some nasty racist incidents with pig heads left there.

The ill-named Progressive Party won two seats with 10.5 percent up from no seats.  Jón Sigurðsson, the party's former chair and Minister of Industry and Commerce recognised the opportunism of his party’s leaders. He said that it should sound alarm bells if Sigmundur as prime minister was prepared to endorse racist populism to win seats, and shamefully that he didn't expect his fellow liberals to object because it had worked.

The good news is there are at least two other Facebook pages with twice as many people supporting the mosque.[3] But as opportunist politicians across Europe encourage racism to deflect anger at austerity onto immigrants and Muslims, anti-racists everywhere need to build high-profile public coalitions to fight their poison and push the racists back in the gutters where they belong.

In Britain anti-racist activists, trade unionists and socialists got rid of Nazi BNP leader Nick Griffin, European MP for north west England by building a united front with Labour Party councillors, MPs and anyone else on the left who wanted to fight racism. Here's an article from Socialist Worker where the activists described how they went about it.

[1] Framsóknarflokkurinn
[2] http://www.visir.is/oddviti-framsoknar-vill-afturkalla-lod-til-muslima/article/2014140529463
[3] Styðjum byggingu mosku á Íslandi http://on.fb.me/1rVN4M3,
Vid motmaelum Ekki mosku á Íslandi http://on.fb.me/1k6lSR1