Racial Purity in Iceland
The 1951 U.S.-Icelandic Defense Agreement paved the way for a permanent U.S. military presence at the Keflavik base in Iceland, an outpost that played a crucial role in U.S. strategy during the Cold War. The article explores two gender-related aspects of the U.S.-Icelandic Cold War relationship: the restrictions on off-base movements of U.S. soldiers, and the secret ban imposed by the Icelandic government on the stationing of black U.S. troops in Iceland. These practices were meant to “protect” Icelandic women and to preserve a homogeneous “national body.” Although U.S. officials repeatedly tried to have the restrictions lifted, the Icelandic government refused to modify them until the racial ban was publicly disclosed in late 1959. Even after the practice came to light, it took another several years before the ban was gradually eliminated. Misguided though the Icelandic restrictions may have been, they did, paradoxically, help to defuse domestic opposition to Iceland’s pro-American foreign policy course and thus preserved the country’s role in the Western alliance.One might say that this is ancient history, but then we have this from a 2004 NPR broadcast:
One of Iceland’s most enduring symbols is called Fjallkonan, or the Lady of the Mountain. And, like almost every Icelander, the Lady of the Mountain is white. When the editor of Iceland’s Grapevine Magazine decided to pose a black model in the traditional Lady of the Mountain costume, no one in Reykjavik would rent one to him. The magazine’s efforts to find the costume instigated a national conversation on immigration and race. NPR’s Scott Simon talks with Grapevine editor Valur Gunnarsson.It’s also possible to listen to the audio of the entire story.
It would be nice to report that Iceland is becoming more tolerant and open, but unfortunately, the trend is not toward tolerance and openness but rather toward enforced political correctness.
For example, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a 2001 meeting on the International Convention on the Elmination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Some of the comments regarding Iceland at the meeting included the following:
5. With regard to article 4 of the Convention, section 180 of the General Penal Code made it a punishable act for a business or service operator to refuse to sell goods or services to a person on grounds of nationality, colour, race or religion. Section 233 (a) made it an offence to attack a person or group of persons in public by mockery, slander, insult, threats or other means on grounds of nationality, skin, colour, race or religion. Article 74 of the Constitution provided for the dissolution of associations whose purposes or methods were unlawful, a provision that would undoubtedly be applicable to an association advocating racial discrimination. The authorities were concerned, for example, by the activities of the Association of Icelandic Nationalists, a small group of young people who believed in the superiority of the Icelandic race and opposed any mixing with other races. They propagated their ideas mainly through an Internet Web site. Although the public response had generally been one of censure and disparagement, the authorities took the threat seriously. A recent interview in a major Icelandic newspaper, in which the leader of the group had made degrading comments about coloured people, had led to a heated public debate, particularly regarding media responsibility, and Parliament had discussed whether article 233 (a) of the General Penal Code had been violated. The Director of Public Prosecutions was considering whether to take action and a police investigation would probably be initiated.And further:
9. Mr. LECHUGA HEVIA (Country Rapporteur) welcomed the adoption by Iceland of sections 180 and 233 (a) of the General Penal Code. Article 74 of the Constitution, which protected freedom of association, provided for the dissolution of associations considered to have unlawful objectives. But article 4 of the Convention made no mention of unlawful objectives; it required States parties to condemn all propaganda and all organizations based on ideas or theories of superiority of a particular race, to declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial hatred and to declare illegal and prohibit such organizations. According to the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, no public official or politician had made any statement concerning the activities of the Association of Icelandic Nationalists mentioned by the delegation. Article 4 was a key provision of the Convention and strict compliance with its letter and spirit was essential.This entire picture, unfortunately, is all too typical of the culture of Old Europe. Racism is all too prevalent, but freedom is something they don’t seem to understand.
So they lurch between racism and enforced political correctness, either embodying racism in their laws, or outlawing mere racist speech. And quite frequently, doing both at the same time.