Friday, November 6, 2015

The viral racist Finnish woman (VIDEO)

A disturbing video of a racist Finnish woman verbally abusing an African woman on the streets in Finland in broad daylight has been shared widely and discussed online. The video, which looks like a 1960s scene in the deeply racist American south, is difficult to watch and some people, especially Africans and all people of African descent may find it extremely offensive. It portrays Finland in a racist light, and all Finns of goodwill must be embarrassed by it.

An African woman endured a racist verbal attack in Finland in October 2015. The incident was captured on video, as many incidents are captured nowadays, and uploaded to the internet - then widely shared on social media. The video, which is available on Facebook and YouTube, is also making rounds via mobile messaging applications like WhatsApp. The video was also picked up by foreign news outlets such as RT, the Daily Mail and Nairobi News. Incidentally, major news outlets in Finland like Helsingin Sanomat and Yle intentionally or unintentionally didn't carry the story.

According to Iltalehti, the incident took place on Friday 23 October 2015 around Sello shopping centre in the Leppävaara district of Espoo. The woman on the receiving end of the racist abuse is a Kenyan practical nurse.

My view

First of all, I am disappointed that the racist woman's face wasn't captured on the video. The "naming and shaming" approach is sometimes an effective way of dealing with racists - many of whom live unidentified among decent people in communities. Some of them might even be working with kids, some of whom might be black, in places like daycare centers - and who knows what the kids might be going through in their hands. Racists, I believe, should be "outed" whenever and wherever possible so that society, including their colleagues, family, friends and acquaintances can know who they truly are.

That said, some viewers might be interested to know what happened in the build up to the racist outburst but I won't go into it because it's immaterial. Nothing can justify such a blatant display of racism and narrow-mindedness. Racism is a big problem in Finland and it stems from ignorance - the kind of ignorance demonstrated by the racist who thinks that all non-whites, inlcuding refugees displaced by war are "welfare shoppers". Many non-whites in Finland have experienced some form of racism in the country. In fact, the Kenyan woman in this case told Iltalehti that it's not the first time she experienced racism in Finland.

Racially motivated verbal abuse is by no means uncommon in Finland. According to Yle, many immigrants encounter offensive language daily. A Cameroonian social worker, for instance, told Yle that he was called the N-word once when he was taking his kid to daycare. A 29-year-old Libyan woman told Yle that she was once spat on by a Finnish man in a bus. These examples go to show that the experience of the Kenyan woman in Espoo is unique but it's share by many immigrants in Finland.

Although the video of the racist Finnish woman is shocking, it isn't surprising. The only thing that is a little bit surprising in this case is that the racist woman appears to be sober and not under the influence of alcohol. In many cases of verbal racist abuse in Finland the perpetrators always appear drunk or under the influence of a substance of some kind. The fact that the racist in this case was sober is a cause for concern because it seems to be an indication that Finnish racists are becoming bolder. They no longer seek courage from alcohol and other intoxicants.

Props to the Kenyan woman involved in the incident for rising above the dirt thrown at her. She handled the situation gracefully. She didn't descend to the inhumane level of the aggressor. She stayed calm and, according to Iltalehti, she made a police report on the incident. But she made one mistake: she didn't video the abuser's face. Finnish police, I believe, will say the racist didn't break any laws in this case. This is where my disappointment comes in: had the racist Finnish woman's face been captured in the video she would have faced some sort of justice in the court of public opinion. Perhaps her employer or decent friends would have reined her in. But again - that's unlikely to happen in Finland. Now it feels like she got away with the most brazen verbal racist attack I've seen in Finland.

What has been dubbed the "Syrian refugee crisis" and the "influx of refugees" has tested European standards of humanity, and many Europeans - politicians and ordinary people alike - have failed the test woefully. The crisis has unmasked racism of scary proportions in many European countries, including Finland. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ku Klux Klan in Finland?

The refugee crisis has tested European commitment to principles of human rights and humanitarianism, and revealed deep-seated racism in European countries, including Finland. Asylum seekers seeking safe haven in Europe routinely face protests and hostile opposition. Among all anti-refugee protests across the European continent during the recent refugee crisis, a protest in Finland featuring a protester dressed in the attire of the infamous Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a well-known racist, terrorist, anti-immigration and right-wing extremist movement with roots in the Southern United States, was perhaps the most alarming. Other incidents across Finland involving stones, petrol bombs, attempted arson attacks and "white power" vandalism bear stark resemblance to KKK antics in the American South during the movement's opposition to the civil rights movement.

On Thursday 24 September 2015 (breaking Friday) a bus carrying some 49 asylum seekers including children and infants to a reception centre in Lahti in southern Finland was, according to national broadcaster Yle, was confronted by protesters carrying Finnish flags and hurling fireworks and stones at the bus. One of the protesters was dressed like a KKK member - the only difference being that instead of holding the Confederate flag, the Klan-clad protester held the Finnish flag.

Yle reports that rocks were also thrown at workers of the Finnish Red Cross during the protest but no one was injured.

A short video of the anti-refugee protest in Lahti is available here

In a separate incident earlier that same night a petrol bomb was thrown at an emergency accommodation facility for asylum seekers in Kouvola. According to Iltalehti no one was hurt.

A few days after the bus carrying asylum seekers was attacked, the statue of a footballer in the same city of Lahti was dressed in KKK attire. The city reportedly made a police report. Surveillance cameras caught the incident, and according to the city's sports secretary there were apparently six culprits.

In another incident, asylum seekers' quarters in Kouvola was vandalized with swastikas and "white power" graffiti, according to Yle. There was another attempted arson attack at an asylum seekers' reception centre in Lammi. 

My view

First and foremost, the KKK is, without a doubt, a terrorist organisation that used violence and murder to make its case - like other groups like the Islamic State (ISIS). The KKK terrorized and lynched African Americans because of the color of their skin. Anyone dressed in the uniform of the movement at the time or nowadays is either an affiliated to the hate group or subscribes to its racist and violent ideology, and should be treated as such. Anyone dressed in a protest like a KKK member ought to be treated by the authorities and law enforcement in the same way as they would treat a protester holding, for example, the black flag of the ISIS. The KKK is not very different from the ISIS. Both use violence and murder to advance their causes. I have no illusion, however, that Finnish law enforcement would treat a white Lutheran young man dressed in KKK attire in the same way as they would treat a colored young man who displays ISIS symbols in a protest. In an ideal world void of discrimination and white privilege ISIS and KKK affiliates, I believe, would to be treated similarly. But it won't happen.

According to Yle, the KKK-clad protester was identified by police as a 19-year-old Finnish bloke with no previous crime record. His affiliation to any activist group is reportedly unknown. He is suspected of incitement against an ethnic group and desecration of the Finnish flag. 

Anti-refugee incidents in Finland involving petrol bombs, attacks on buses and KKK attire are hallmarks of racism in American South during a shameful period in American history. But despite all the flirting with KKK symbolism and tactics in modern-day Finland, I believe there's no active KKK branch in the country. However, I have no doubt that there're numerous individuals in Finland who share the right-wing extremist ideology of the KKK. There're racists in the country who believe in so-called white supremacy and white nationalism; there are groups and organizations in the country that although not officially listed as hate groups are, in fact, hate groups. Many of such groups consider themselves "patriotic" - but so does the KKK.      

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"I was a refugee before" - a campaign in support of refugees in Finland

The humanitarian crisis sparked by a massive influx of asylum seekers to Europe dominated headlines, again, around the world after the body of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on Ali Hoca beach in Turkey. The crisis gave birth to campaigns by people of good conscience around the world to show solidarity with asylum seekers. One of such campaigns is the "ennen olin pakolainen" (before I was a refugee) online campaign in Finland. The social media campaign, which can be followed on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #ennenolinpakolainen, gives former refugees a platform to tell their stories and show what they have become.

A lot of negativity surrounds the humanitarian crisis faced by Europe. The negatives include outrageous statements by European far-right politicians like Finland's Foreign Minister and anti-immigration Finns Party leader, Timo Soini, who said he's not ruling out the idea of European countries prioritizing Christian asylum seekers over Muslims, and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who claimed his country does not want more Muslims. The outrageously discriminatory rhetoric and the plight of asylum seekers stuck in a train station in Budapest for days dominated headlines across the world. But positive stories abound; stories that go to show that contrary to widespread misguided stereotypes about asylum seekers many of them integrate well into their new countries and go on to be responsible members of society.

The #ennenolinpakolainen campaign in Finland, according to MTV news, has been around for sometime but was brought to the fore again. The campaign's Facebook page states that its purpose is to show that refugees are not just numbers on a paper or a liability to society. Through the campaign former refugees tell what they do in Finland these days. The list of former refugees in the campaign showcase many people with a variety of skills and professions, including students, entrepreneurs, engineers, nurses, social activists and politicians - notably a member of Finland's Eduskunta (parliament).

Participants in the campaign, according to Yle, also include a bio-analyst and a former refugee who's set to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin.

My view

According to Ita-sanomat, the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign originates from Denmark. But to me it really doesn't matter where it originates from. It's a magnificent campaign that debunks archaic refugee stereotypes that still linger in modern-day European countries. Among refugees, like among any other group of people in society, there are hardworking individuals with dreams - dreams of becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, teachers, police officers, just to name a few. Among refugees are people who could, if given a fair chance, become remarkable citizens.

Unfortunately, the narrative that refugees are a liability to society is popular albeit being prejudiced and baseless - as evidenced by initiatives such as the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign. Some bigoted individuals claim that Muslim refugees should not be welcomed because they cannot integrate. This is, without a doubt, false. Participants in the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign are largely from Muslim countries, and they're doing a good job integrating in Finland.

I've read many of the stories told by former refugees through the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign on Fcaebook and Twitter. Needless to say, many, if not all of the stories, are inspiring tales of talent, skill and resilience. Take, for example, the story of a refugee boy who moved to Finland at the age of 11 and now plays professional football and captains the Finnish U21 national team. Or the girl who moved to Finland at the age of 5, learned the Finnish language, went to elementary school, completed university as a construction engineer and now works for an international company. Or the story of the boy who left Somalia and is poised to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin. Or the story of the young man who has lived in Finland for 5 years and is now studying in a university of applied sciences to become an aircraft technician.

Amazing stories.

Drawing from the aforementioned, it's short-sighted and somewhat narrow-minded to consider refugees as a mere expenditure or liability to society. They have a lot to offer if given a fair shot.    

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