Monday, August 31, 2015

Petition to save development cooperation in Finland

The aim of Finland's development policy, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, is "to support developing countries' efforts to eradicate poverty and inequality and promote sustainable development". In contradiction to this policy, the country's government has massively slashed development cooperation funding -  a move that some people in the country feel would "kill the NGO sector" and adversely affect the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. The steep cuts raised concerns among civil society organisations, and prompted a petition telling Finland's government that harsh cuts would adversely affect the world's most vulnerable people.

Following general elections in April 2015, a new government comprising the Centre Party, the populist anti-immigration Finns Party and the National Coalition Party took power on 29 May 2015 under the leadership of Prime Minister Juha Sipila. The new government will, according to information on the Foreign Ministry's website, cut appropriations for development cooperation by EUR 200 million beginning in 2016. According to the Guardian its a 43% cut in development aid. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka claims the cuts are as a result of Finland's economic situation and the need for saving.

Civil society organisations in Finland do not welcome the cuts.

KEPA, an umbrella organisations for over 300 Finnish NGOs launched a petition urging the government to save development cooperation. As of the time of this writing the petition has garnered 31800 signatures.

My view

Concerns by civil society organisations make sense. I share the view that massive cuts - almost 50% cuts would kill some NGOs and negatively affect some of the world's poorest people supported by the good work done by Finnish NGOs around the world. Take the work done by Save the Children Finland for example: over 13000 children in Kenya and Ethiopia supported by the organisation will have their opportunities for basic education weakened or become impossible when the cuts hit - according to an email by KEPA's World Village Festival team. According to the email, which I received through an email list to which I am subscribed, as many as 120,000 children aided by World Vision will be left without help, and Plan Finland's work in Ethiopia against child marriage and female genital mutilation will be ended.

Drawing from the aforementioned, massive cuts would no doubt save Finland some money but would at the same time adversely affect the well-being of children elsewhere. Saving a few euros could be appealing to some people, but working for a more just world makes more sense to a majority of Finns. According to an open letter (in Finnish) to Finland's foreign minister by representatives of Finnish NGOs and civil society, more than 80% of Finns consider development cooperation important.

The foreign ministry recognizes the fact that development cooperation provides millions of people with a chance for a better life, and that over a billion people continue to live in poverty. It is therefore reckless and somewhat selfish to cut development cooperation funding by almost half. Besides adversely affecting millions of people living in poverty across the world development cooperation cuts could also lead to job loses in the NGO sector in Finland since some organisations will have to terminate projects. This could mean lay-offs for some workers in the sector.

Help save development cooperation. Sign the petition.

Worthy to mention that not only development cooperation is at risk in Finland due to cuts. The the government also proposed drastic cuts in education and other sectors.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Olli Immonen: a racist dream

Anders Behring Breivik, the infamous Norwegian terrorist who went on a killing spree in Norway in the summer of 2011 circulated a manifesto online that bears similarities with a Facebook update posted by a young Finnish politician and member of parliament on Friday evening. Like Breivik the MP opposes multiculturalism, and uses explosive words - the kind of words used in other hateful manifestos, including manifestos posted online by people like Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof, the racist who killed nine African Americans in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

A second-term MP for the Finns Party, Olli Immonen, posted a status update on Facebook on 24 July 2015 in which he made no secret of his extreme-right views. In the status update, the MP whose link to the far-right is well-documented, called for a "fight" against "this nightmare called multiculturalism", and stated that the "ugly bubble" will soon "burst into a million little pieces." In the fiery post, the MP expressed "belief" in his "fellow fighters" and promised to "fight until the end...". He also mentions "enemies" but make no mention of who exactly the enemies are.

My view

Olli Immonen's statement amounts to incitement of hatred against minority cultural, ethnic and religious groups in Finland, and bears stark similarities to rants in dangerous manifestos posted online by mass murderers, including Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof - the so-called "white supremacist" who like Immonen created a us-against-them scenario and ranted online about his desire to "fight" against those perceived to be taking over his country.

In a 1500-paged manifesto, Anders Breivik of Norway strongly opposed multiculturalism, and stated that a multicultural society is "temporary", and that "sooner or later" there'll be a return to a new monocultural society - a stance Immonen seems to agree with. Like Breivik, Immonen beliefs that there's some kind of "war" going on, and that his "fellow fighters" (what Breivik referred to as "cultural conservative resistance fighters") - will "fight" to the very end.

Olli Immonen's distasteful Facebook post is a rallying call and call to arms for xenophobes, islamophobes and racists under the guise of patriotism. The statement is coined to sound like the young politician has a dream  - perhaps like Dr. Martin Luther King. But Immonen's dream is different; it's a racist dream; a dream that pitches Finnish culture and identity against other cultures and identities in the Nordic country.The gullible among his followers could heed the call, and Finland could see a spike in hate crimes as a results.

It's disturbing that it took more than 24 hours - as reported by Yle - for Prime Minister Juha Sipilä who formed a government with the party Olli Immonen represents to weigh in on the MP's scary remarks. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Finns Party's chairman, Timo Soini, is yet to comment on the controversy. The chairman's silence suggests an approval of the message -  an approval which would not be surprising.

Worthy to mention that this is not the first time Olli Immonen's views and conduct have raised concern. The 29-year-old, whose hobbies include shooting - according to his website, posed for a group photo in June 2015 with a group called the Finnish Resistance Movement at the grave of a Finnish nationalist who assassinated a Governor-General in 1904.

The Finns Party that Immonen represents in parliament is no stranger to controversies linked to racism and incitement of hatred. Although the party's leadership repeatedly claims, after each scandal, that outrageous statements by its MPs and Councillors do not represent the party's stance one thing is undeniable: birds of a feather flock together. And if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

US failure to protect Charleston church victims of racist massacre

In this age of mass surveillance in the United States in an effort to preempt acts of terror like that meted out against the congregation of the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, it is hard to believe that the wide net of surveillance cast both online and offline by US law enforcement missed the perpetrator of the atrocity despite eye-popping red flags.

On 17 June 2015 an alleged "white supremacist" gunned down nine people - six women and three men - at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, a historical church linked to the civil rights movement. The nine victims of the massacre - all African Americans - reportedly sat in church with the perpetrator, Dylann Roof, 21, in a bible study group and prayer meeting for an hour before the massacre.

Worthy of note that the perpetrator who, according to his childhood friend, wanted segregation between whites and blacks was known by law enforcement and had been previously arrested - besides having a racist manifesto online threatening violence. According to a BBC report, he drew the attention of the police at a shopping mall in February when he walked into the mall all dressed in black and asked strange questions to shop employees. He was found to be carrying a drug without prescription and was arrested and charged for drug possession. He was also banned from the mall, and was arrested for trespassing at the same mall two months later.

Dylann Roof had a racist manifesto online - which according to the New York Times reveals that the case of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager killed in Florida in 2012 triggered his racist rage. The nearly 2,500-word manifesto, which was discovered on a website described blacks as being inferior, amongst other things. "I have no choice," the manifesto reads. "I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me." 

According to the New York Times the website that carries the manifesto was first published in February - four months before the rampage - under the killer's name, Dylann Roof. The New York Times reports that the Charleston Police Department and the FBI were  aware of the website and are "taking steps to verify the authenticity" of the postings on the site, which features a photo of Dylann Roof posing with a handgun and the confederate flag.

His roommate reportedly told ABC News  that he (Roof) planned the massacre for months.

My view

Mindful of the numerous red flags and mass surveillance by US law enforcement reportedly intended to stop such attacks, Dylann Roof should have been stopped before the attack. Just two weeks before the church attack, a certain 26-year-old Usaama Rahim who was under surveillance was followed by a police officer and an FBI agent and killed in Boston. According to the BBC, Usaama Rahim was under 24-hour surveillance because he was considered a threat to the public. It is inconceivable why Roof, despite having all the earmarks of ticking time bomb, was not considered a threat to the public and perhaps placed under surveillance like Rahim. Roof posed a threat to the public and he made no secret about it, but unlike Rahim he was not followed around. Perhaps his planned massacre was not considered serious enough to earn him a place in the controversial surveillance program. Or perhaps US law enforcement does not consider racist hate crime against African Americans a crime worth dedicating resources to abort. Maybe stopping hate crime against African Americans in its tracks it not a priority.

I refuse to believe that law enforcement was completely unaware of Dylann Roof and what he was capable of. Someone in law enforcement somewhere must have read the racist manifesto in which he "chose Charleston" for his " white fight". The plan was out in the open. Someone must have spotted it and decided not to act against it. If Dylann Roof  fitted the racist profile of what many people in society consider, wrongly of course, nowadays to be  a terrorist: non-white and Muslim, he should have been stopped. He should have been placed under surveillance and approached by a police officer and maybe an FBI agent at the Emanuel AME church on that fateful night - in the same way law enforcement officers approached suspected terrorist Usaama Rahim in Boston.

I share the view that it is important to call the Charleston attack "terrorism", and all other similar attacks that pass as hate crime. The perpetrator's motive was to attack the historic African American church, kill African Americans and strike terror into the hearts of  survivors and African Americans in general. Officials and the media chose to call it a "hate crime". Others called it a "tragedy", but in my view it is terrorism. All acts of terror are technically hate crimes. It is unfortunate that an act of terror is described as a "hate crime" based on what the perpetrator looks like or beliefs in.

Dylann Roof should have been on a watch list and followed closely like other suspected terrorists. The nine victims of the Charleston church attack add to the long list of victims of America's senseless gun laws and a law enforcement system tainted by racial profiling. If Dylann Roof was not white and blonde chances are someone in US law enforcement would have paid closer attention to his online postings, which include the racist manifesto in which he "chose Charleston."

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