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The erupting "Great Geysir" in Haukadalur, Iceland
The erupting "Great Geysir" in Haukadalur, Iceland
Thomas Kirchner

REYKJAVIK - Mid-February this year, British tabloids published the news that Iceland’s leftwing-green Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson wanted to limit access to online porn on the island.

Ways of doing that, according to the minister, could be to block certain IP addresses, or to make it impossible to pay certain sites with an Icelandic credit card. Another option – and this was the one that got the most public attention – the government could install a filter that would remove all unwanted content from the Icelandic net.

The reaction from net activists was outrage. First of all, they said, such filters are never technically perfect, and secondly putting them in place would open the door in Iceland to a Big Brother state, like China or Iran, that censors large parts of the Internet. A filter in a country that saw itself as a “haven” for Internet freedom and freedom of information in general? Smari McCarthy, Director of the International Modern Media Initiative in Reykjavik, called the plans “fascist” and the minister crazy.

But the idea wasn't actually the minister’s – it’s that of his political advisor, Halla Gunnarsdóttir, 32, a teacher and former congressional reporter. Talking with her in a Reykjavik café, Halla (in Iceland first names are more important) expresses irritation that people keep referring to a new “law” when things are nowhere near that far yet. "The whole thing started when we were looking at how we could lower the number of rapes," she explains. "Then at a conference there were reports by investigators, social workers and academics on how brutal pornography affects children. They had observed that kids imitate violent scenes. So we formed a commission and we’re currently discussing their suggestions."

It has been forbidden for decades to disseminate porn in Iceland. But there is no clear-cut definition of pornography, and the government is working on one that will separate "okay sex" and "brutal and demeaning" images – a task that has so far defeated the jurists working on it.

To Halla’s mind, however, there is hardly any “okay sex” on the net. When kids search under the word sex, results aren’t "cuddly porn with consensual sex," she says, but rather "brutal, revolting trash." She thinks it’s legitimate to consider prohibiting access to that – “you don’t let heroin dealers into a schoolyard, do you?” She adds that she realizes that everything that is prohibited somehow makes its way out there anyway, “but if we could manage to keep 80% of 11-year-olds away from that stuff wouldn’t it be worth a try?”

Scientists have differing views on the effects that hard porn has on children and young teens. While some psychologists note that trauma and disturbed relations with the opposite sex can be a consequence, a 2009 study published by the University of Montreal disagrees.

Sex or violence?

"I’ve had enough of people like Halla," says Birgitta Jónsdóttir, 45, a Pirate party MP who became known as a Wikileaks activist. "My boys are 12 and 21 and spend a lot of time online. I checked their browser, and they haven’t been looking at brutal porn. We protect our kids not with things like filters but by explaining to parents how to teach their kids to interact in a healthy way with computers."

If the government gets involved in this, she believes, the danger of abuses will actually rise. Or there will be goof-ups like what happened in Denmark last year, where the child sex filter ended up blocking access to Google.

To this Halla says: "It’s against the law to drive when you’re drunk. But nobody says that’s the first step to banning driving." She wants the Internet discussion to go further: "It can’t be that the medium determines content, we have to be able to talk about content."

Halla’s not just concerned about protecting children. As a feminist, she wants to see a stop to women being discriminated against, exploited, and raped. And so – like British anti-porn activist Gail Dines – she sees the sex film industry as a major enemy. "This isn’t about a couple of home-made videos. The heads of these companies are young men in suits, who attended some of the world’s top universities."

Raising awareness and educating is important but it’s not enough to fight the sex industry – more radical means are needed to do that. "I understand those who want to protect the net, I’m also for freedom of opinion, exchange of ideas and information. That doesn’t mean I have to accept a violent industry taking hold of a third of the Internet."

There is a tradition in Scandinavia of high taxes, the welfare state, and emancipation as a responsibility of the entire society. The result? Scandinavian countries top all rankings involving equal rights, women in powerful positions, or protection from sexual exploitation, and their societies as a whole are more aware of the rights of women. That all of this means regulation that cuts into rights to freedom is something that is accepted by most people in northern European countries.

Birgitta doesn’t buy all this. “Iceland isn’t Scandinavia. When traffic wardens in Sweden went on strike, people parked properly anyway because they see themselves as part of a system. An Icelander wouldn’t see it that way. Our democracy is young and brittle, and there are abuses everywhere."

She continues: "It boils down to individual responsibility. I don’t want the government to take me off the path to self-destruction; I want the relevant information so I can protect myself. The problem here is us – the Internet just reflects us.” If she doesn’t believe in more regulation, she does believe in more information: "If people smoke less today, it’s because we now know more about the consequences."

Parliamentary elections are being held in Iceland this Saturday. According to polls, the majority of the country’s citizens will not be voting left, and hence will not be in the market for their policy ideas – including their Internet porn filters. The questions, however, remain. How much must a government do to protect its citizens from themselves? To what degree can it base itself on morality, and how much freedom can it take away in so doing?

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Society

Jehovah's Witnesses Translate The Bible In Indigenous Language — Is This Colonialism?

The Jehovah's Witnesses in Chile have launched a Bible version translated into the native Mapudungun language, evidently indifferent to the concerns of a nation striving to save its identity from the Western cultural juggernaut.

A Mapuche family awaits for Chilean President Gabriel Boric to arrive at the traditional Te Deum in the Cathedral of Santiago, on Chile's Independence Day.

Claudia Andrade

NEUQUÉN — The Bible can now be read in Mapuzugun, the language of the Mapuche, an ancestral nation living across Chile and Argentina. It took the Chilean branch of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a latter-day Protestant church often associated with door-to-door proselytizing and cold calling, three years to translate it into "21st-century Mapuzugun".

The church's Mapuche members in Chile welcomed the book when it was launched in Santiago last June, but some of their brethren see it rather as a cultural imposition. The Mapuche were historically a fighting nation, and fiercely resisted both the Spanish conquerors and subsequent waves of European settlers. They are still fighting for land rights in Chile.

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