Monday. 13/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Northern rights

Over the past few years, we’ve become accustomed to one predominant narrative around migration. So if I told you that Iceland has an issue with refugees, you’d probably think you already know the score. Except that this island in the North Atlantic, home to 350,000 people, isn’t the same as other places: a recent poll by Market and Media Research reported that the biggest proportion of respondents (39 per cent) believe that the country doesn’t take in enough refugees.

That’s not to say that Iceland’s relationship with incomers is always rosy and straightforward. Speaking with citizens when I visited Reykjavik last week revealed that some are concerned about temporary workers coming over from mainland Europe – the majority from Poland. But it’s not so much because they’re taking jobs; there’s actually a need for an inflated workforce here. Rather, they worry about the Icelandic language being forgotten and supplanted. Tourists are the most anxiety-inducing presence: before coronavirus, about 2.2 million people would visit every year and their passage is transforming not only the landscape but also the nature of industry in the capital and beyond.

Still, one prominent Icelandic artist gave me an astute perspective on why integration works differently than in other places: being “so few” means that contact between different kinds of people is easier – and essentially inevitable. “You can go to Vesturbæjarlaug [a neighbourhood pool with a hot tub] and sit between the finance minister and a Syrian refugee,” he told me. Perhaps the smallest communities aren’t the most small-minded after all: rewriting the narrative around integration should start from here.

Diplomacy / Iran

Striking accord

Chances of salvaging a nuclear deal between Iran and the West have been dwindling fast in recent weeks. But hopes were raised after Rafael Grossi, head of the international nuclear agency IAEA, said that he had brokered a last-minute compromise during talks yesterday in Tehran. Grossi had warned just last week that the agency’s monitoring work in Iran was being severely undermined by the government. As a result, envoys from the US, UK, Germany and France met in Paris on Friday to propose censuring Iran for non-compliance when they reconvene at a board meeting of the IAEA planned for today but that now looks unlikely. US president Joe Biden has insisted that he’s willing to revive the 2015 accord that was torpedoed by his predecessor Donald Trump. Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi says the same but trust between the two sides is in short supply and patience is wearing thin. The last-gasp deal yesterday suggests that there’s still some room to manoeuvre. With so many geopolitical conflicts for the US to focus on these days, it’s worth giving the talks with Iran a chance.

For more on the nuclear talks from Holly Dagres of the Atlantic Council, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Malaysia

Stop start

Malaysia’s topsy-turvy politics is back in full swing today with the reopening of parliament. It is the first session since prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (pictured) replaced Muhyiddin Yassin, who stepped down in August amid criticism of his handling of the pandemic and perceived efforts to cling to power. Ismail Sabri faces similar pressures to Muhyiddin in gaining control of virus outbreaks and maintaining an untested parliamentary coalition. Keeping the support of his own party, the United Malays National Organisation, will be critical – and potentially controversial. Last week Ismail Sabri met with former prime minister Najib Razak, who was convicted of corruption in 2020, and offered him a role as economic adviser. The return of Najib is unlikely to sit well with an electorate that voted him out in 2018 in Malaysia’s last general election. Muhyiddin promised that the country would go to the polls after the pandemic; Ismail Sabri could well face pressure to keep that promise.

Design / Paris

Beneath the surface

Paris’s massive biannual homewares fair Maison et Objet, which started on Thursday and ends today, returned with a surprisingly large visitor turnout and a vibe not too dissimilar to its events before the pandemic. Though guests arrived from as far as the US and Asia, the offering was distinctly French-focused, giving furniture-makers and artisanal brands the spotlight.

Some have been busier than others in the past 18 months: La Fuma Mobilier proved a highlight, offering fine French-made portable chairs and tables for camping trips as well as showcasing a recent collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier. Conversations at the fair, including with La Fuma, point to a positive trend in the market for customers increasingly coveting goods by companies that are manufacturing on home soil. Sadly for Maison et Objet, however, many of the wares on show were made in a less inspiring way, produced cheaply offshore and with shorter life spans – less of this next time, please.

Image: Cao Fei

Culture / China

Shutter speed

Chinese artist Cao Fei was announced as the winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation prize in a ceremony in London on Friday. Encompassing film, photography, sculpture and digital media, Cao’s photography mainly explores the impact of urban transformation and digital technology on Chinese society – work that the prize’s judges deemed both gripping and prescient. “The work touched the jury because we’ve all lived through these strange times,” said Brett Rogers, who is director of The Photographer’s Gallery and chair of the Deutsche Börse jury. “And although all the bodies of work are very strong and speak about different issues, in a way this speaks most strongly for our time.” The announcement will hopefully lead to a boost in visitor numbers at The Photographer’s Gallery in London this week. Cao’s work is exhibited there alongside three other shortlisted artists – Poulomi Basu, Alejandro Cartagena and Zineb Sedira – until the end of the month.

M24 / The Urbanist

Urban agriculture

We get better acquainted with the land as we assess how urban agriculture can lead to a healthier, happier and more sustainable future for city dwellers.

Monocle Films / Madrid

My life as a minibus

We hop aboard the M1 in Madrid to see how the nifty Wolta Rampini offers a helping hand to those who need it most: residents in the steep, historic borough of Lavapiés.

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