Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sá Vaegir Sem Vitid Hefur Meira

The value of being at peace with one’s neighbor shouldn’t be underestimated. Peace on both small and grand scales is the ultimate virtue of civilization and one that is hard, almost impossible, to achieve.

Mankind will never be truly civilized until there is peace in the world and that goal still seems millennia away. Some say we will all destroy each other and the world we live in first. I prefer to be optimistic.

The question we must ask ourselves is how we can contribute to peace—the actions of all of us matter in the bigger scheme of things.

In North Africa people have stood up for themselves, peacefully protested dictatorship and extremism and bravely stared down the barrel of a gun. In Tunisia and Egypt they have already won. Let’s hope the protests in Libya won’t cost any more lives.

The ball is rolling. This is history in the making and hopefully an indication that peace and stability will spread through the region, even infecting the war-torn Middle East and achieve something violence never could. Am I dreaming? Well, I’m not the only one.

Iceland is generally considered a peace-loving nation as we have no army. That is certainly an image many of us want to promote and live up to but maybe the reason for us not having an army has less to do with our mentality and more to do with the fact that Iceland is only inhabited by 320,000 people.

Due to our small size we simply cannot afford being at war. If a larger nation was set on conquering us and no one rose to protect us, the mission would easily be achieved.

Civil war has torn this country apart. In the Age of the Sturlungs, power-hungry chieftains engaged in violent conflicts with each other in a never-ending chain of blood feuds until they were all powerless and Iceland lost its independence to Norway.

Violence breeds violence. Wasn’t World War I supposed to be “the war to end all wars”? And look what happened. A few decades later fire was raging in Europe again, spreading to other continents, leaving scorched earth everywhere.

Throughout the centuries, European countries have constantly been at war with each other. Then the European Union was established and nations learned how to work together and solve disputes with diplomacy and compromises. The EU is not flawless but if nothing else it should be respected as a tool to maintain peace and enhance cooperation.

In Iceland we have the saying sá vaegir sem vitid hefur meira (“the one who is wiser relents”). That is not to say that one should accept being bullied. But sometimes one has to take a deep breath, consider all options and consequences objectively and swallow one’s pride for the greater good. To maintain peace.

~ Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir