Social Media Claim

‘Atheist’ Iceland post mixes fact and fiction

A Facebook post from August 6, 2017, features several claims about Iceland with a picture of the country’s much-visited Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from August 6, 2017 by the Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner which features several claims about Iceland with a picture of the country’s much-visited Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.

The post reads: “Iceland has no army. Jailed their corrupt bankers. Economy is booming. Violent crime is rare. One of the lowest crime rates in the world. Atheist majority population. Where is all that evil and depravity the religious talk about?”

The post has been shared more than 6200 times and attracted more than 680 comments and 10,000 reactions.

The Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner’s Facebook page describes the group as providing “news, information and humor relevant to atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and secular humanists”. The Examiner’s website elaborates on its mission by stating: “More than simply negating the supernatural, Progressive Secular Humanist investigates the human condition in search of the truth. Informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion, the task is to question the world in pursuit of the good; to explore and expose inhumanity, while promoting the humane, the just, and the wise.”

The group’s Facebook page has more than 437,000 likes.

After the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland “enjoyed an economic rebound fuelled by a tourism boom”, Reuters reported in 2017.

The Analysis

AAP FactCheck examined each claim mentioned in the post and found a mixture of true and false information.

Army

Regarding the first claim that Iceland has no army, this is true according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), of which Iceland is a founding member. NATO’s website states: “Iceland, unique among NATO Allies, does not have a military. Icelanders have long been proud of their country’s pacifist tradition, which goes back further than its independence from Denmark in 1944.”

Iceland jailed their corrupt bankers

This claim is also true. In 2015 four former bosses of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing were sentenced between four to five years in prison. Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson, Kaupthing’s former chief executive, former chairman Sigurdur Einarsson, former CEO of Kaupthing Luxembourg Magnus Gudmundsson, and Olafur Olafsson, the bank’s second largest shareholder at the time, were all sentenced. Kaupthing collapsed under heavy debts after the 2008 financial crisis.

The economy is booming

The claim of an economic boom is a mixture as it was partly true at the time of the Facebook post in 2017 and less so in 2019. A Reuters article from November 2017 said Iceland had “enjoyed an economic rebound fuelled by a tourism boom” but growth had slowed which was “a good thing”, according to chief central banker Mar Gudmundsson. Iceland’s central bank lowered its growth forecast to 3.7 per cent for 2017, Reuters reported.

In September 2019, the OECD reported Iceland was hit by several export shocks during the first half of this year and its economy had turned sharply. “Revenues from tourism have almost stalled, especially after the Icelandic low-cost airline WOW went bankrupt. Seafood exports also declined as a specific specimen disappeared from the country’s fishing grounds. Over the summer, the central bank gradually lowered interest rates by one per cent percent point to 3.5 per cent. Growth is projected to reach 0.2 per cent in 2019, rebounding to 2.2 per cent in 2020.”

Violent crime is rare

This claim is supported in a 2019 report by the US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council which says “Iceland has traditionally had a homicide rate of less than one per year for the last several decades”.

December 2013 marked Iceland’s first fatal police shooting when officers shot and killed a man in the capital Reykjavik. An article in The Guardian on the shooting also noted that Iceland had “one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world”. The Guardian cited a 2011 Global Study on Homicide by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which found Iceland's homicide rate never went above 1.8 per 100,000 population during the period between 1999 and 2009.

One of the lowest crime rates in the world

Iceland is regarded as a safe country. According to OECD data, Iceland's homicide rate is 0.5 per 100,000 people, one of the lowest rates in the OECD.

Iceland was also ranked the third least likely country to be murdered in behind Liechtenstein and Singapore, according to 2015 data by Brazilian think tank Ingrape. Ingrape’s Homicide Monitor reported just 25 people were murdered in Iceland in the period from 2000 to 2012. There were no murders in the years 2003, 2006 and 2008.

Atheist majority population

Most Icelanders (80 per cent) are members of the Lutheran State Church, according to Statistics Iceland. Another five per cent are registered in other Christian denominations, including the Free Church of Iceland and the Roman Catholic Church and nearly five per cent of people practice ásatrú, the traditional Norse religion.

In 2014 WIN/Gallup International released findings from a poll of 66,806 people on whether religion played a positive or negative role in their country. The most positive country in Western Europe was Iceland (43 per cent). However the North Atlantic nation ranked slightly higher than average (11 per cent) for people identifying as “a convinced atheist” (14 per cent) but this figure was far from a “majority” as claimed in the Facebook post.

The Verdict

Based on this evidence AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post is correct on the claims of Iceland jailing corrupt bankers, violent crime being rare and the country having one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Regarding the statement “the economy is booming”, Iceland recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and tourism boomed but a 2019 OECD report states “the economy has turned sharply”. There is little evidence to support the central claim that Iceland has an “atheist majority population”.

  • Mixture - The Facebook post is a mixture of factually inaccurate and factually accurate claims.

First published September 19, 2019, 17:58 AEST