Proud poet and local icon The oldest living man with Down Syndrome, 77 year old Auðunn Gestsson holding his book "Ljóðin mín", a collected volume of his poems. Auðunn is known to all Reykjavíkians, having worked for decades as a paper boy in downtown Reykjavík, standing on Lækjartorg square selling newspapers. Photo/GVA
We, at Iceland Magazine, have a strict policy of not wading into the politics of other nations. We never take sides in the political conflicts of other nations and do not pass judgment on the social problems and political issues other nations are for the very simple reason that we cover only Icelandic stories. We want to keep within our field of expertise, which is Icelandic society and politics.
But when we encounter pure insults and malicious misinformation being spread about Iceland and Icelandic society we feel we are forced to comment, even if it might mean we are thus wading into political debates in other countries. So be it.
Icelanders: A nation of genocidal maniacs?
On Wednesday the Washington Post ran a column by one of its conservative writers, George F. Will, one of the most respected columnist and commentators in the US. In the column Will addresses a topic which is dear to him, the "moral confusions" of today. Will, a bow tie wearing Culture Warrior, is a master of channeling the voice of an indignant church lady through the body of a middle aged man, pontificating about the dangers of cultural and moral decline, the erosion of family values and good manners.
There is a large audience for such material.
It seems that the supply of topics to be outraged over is more limited, because in his latest column Will chooses to wag his finger at Iceland, which is, apparently, engaged in a genocide. Will's column opens up with the over-the-top sentence:
"Iceland must be pleased that it is close to success in its program of genocide, but before congratulating that nation on its final solution to the Down syndrome problem, perhaps it might answer a question: What is this problem"
Will then goes on to define genocide as "the deliberate, systematic attempt to erase a category of people", and then states that this is what Iceland is engaged in with regards to people with Down Syndrome, claiming that thanks to "heavy-handed genetic counseling" Iceland is close to 100% elimination of people with Down Syndrome.
This all sounds terrifying.
Only problem? It is utter, and complete nonsense.
An old misleading CBS report
This is not the first time we see this absurd story being peddled in the US. Will's column is in fact based on a nearly year old erroneous story by CBS News about the "country where Down syndrome is disappearing." We fact checked the CBS story when it first ran.
At the heart of the matter is the question of abortion. We understand that the opinions on abortion differ between countries, and many Americans view abortion as murder. This is not the case in Iceland, where abortion is viewed as an important moral question only the woman can answer. Doctors or priests, let alone some opinionmongers in Washington DC have no business injecting themselves into the question.
Women in Iceland have access to first class pre-natal healthcare, including screening for fetal abnormalities to limit the danger of complications during pregnancy. All information given to women and expectant mothers is purely medical, and in cases where abnormalities are detected women are offered counseling and help. There is absolutely NO pressure on women to abort or not to abort a fetus. Therefore there is no "systematic" attempt to eliminate Down Syndrome.
Lets repeat that: Iceland is NOT engaged in a systematic eradication of Down Syndrome.
We can agree or disagree over Icelanders' view on abortion as a moral question women should answer without outside meddling, but there is no room for disagreement on the issue of a systematic genocide of people with Down Syndrome in Iceland. is simply factually untrue that 100% of women choose to abort fetuses with Down Syndrome. A significant part of women decide not to have the pre-natal screening and choose to carry their pregnancies to term, whether or not the child will have Down Syndrome.
Will asks us Icelanders to "think calmly about genocide" before getting "snippy about the description of [we] are doing". In response we at Iceland Magazine would like to ask Will to base his pontification and moral indignation on fact.
Getting your facts straight is always a good place to start. Especially when you are leveling serious accusations. Accusing an entire nation of being engaged in genocide goes beyond insult, it is malicious libel.
A recurring theme
Will's column is part of a growing canon of hyperbolic fantasy tales of Iceland and Icelandic society. A sub-genre of this literature are Hell and brimstone sermons about the "nation of bastards" and the "feminist hell" of Iceland, delivered by American observers who see in Iceland a convenient example of the excesses of liberal or leftist policies.
In December a Arizona based pastor released a "Documentary" about the evils and sins of Icelanders, and the "feminist hell" of Iceland. What the good pastor, George Will and CBS News all have in common is that they are guilty of hyperbole and exaggeration to generate outrage which creates clicks and views.
Iceland takes care of its children
We in Iceland take care of our children. You only need to look at the fact that Iceland has the lowest infant mortality rate in Europe. Infant mortality in Iceland is only 1.9 per 1.000. Compare this to the US, where the infant mortality is three times higher, or 5.87. Iceland also takes care of mothers. Year after year Iceland is in the top rank of countries for mothers, according to the international NGO Save the Children.
Iceland also has strong family values: According to the OECD the ease of communication between Icelandic children and their parents is among the greatest in the world. Icelandic teens spend more time with their parents, and consume less drugs and alcohol than their peers in other developed nations, and Icelandic fathers come out on top of the list when it comes to ease of communication with both their sons and daughters. Earlier this week Icelandic men launched a campaign against toxic masculinity.
The foundation for a good and happy society (Icelanders enjoy the second highest quality of life among OECD countries and are the third happiest nation in the world) is equality: Women and men are considered equal (Iceland is the most gender equal country in the world, 9 years running), immigrants and foreign workers are welcome and Icelanders overwhelmingly view foreign visitors positively.
Icelandic society is open, welcoming and caring. Everyone is taken care of, also people with Down Syndrome.
In fact: The oldest person in the world with Down Syndrome is an Icelander, Auðunn Gestsson who recently celebrated his 77th birthday.
We at Iceland Magazine would like to ask George F. Will to refrain from commenting on Icelandic society, a topic he obviously knows absolutely nothing about, and focus on coming up with sensible solutions to the problems of his own society.
He could perhaps begin by addressing a topic some commentators have described as a genocide: The recurring massacres of young children and teens in American schools.