Monday, December 21, 2015

Asylum-seekers in Finland apologize for rape they didn't commit

Minority groups are often collectively castigated for crimes committed by a few members of the group. When an asylum-seeker, for example, is involved in a crime all asylum-seekers and immigrants in the country bear the brunt, and in some cases are forced by circumstances to apologize on behalf of criminals - although, it's worth noting, the ethnic majority never apologize for crimes committed by a few bad apples in the privileged group.

A group of asylum seekers took to the streets of Oulu in northern Finland on 1 December 2015, according to Ilta-Sanomat (video included), to apologize following a case of rape in Kempele involving asylum-seekers. The aim of the march that drew participants from a refugee reception centre in Hiukkavaara was reportedly to apologize on behalf of all immigrants for the crime committed in Kempele.

A 14-year-old girl was raped in Kempele and police arrested two foreign young men, according to Yle, on suspicion of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual exploitation of a child. The two suspects were reportedly asylum-seekers from Afghanistan. One of the suspects was later released after police reportedly established that he had nothing to do with the crime. The other suspected, a 17-year-old, was remanded in custody by Oulu district court.

Following the criminal incident in Kempele Prime Minister Juha Sipilä convened a crisis meeting to address the issue. Then Justice and Labour Minister Jari Lindström from the right-wing Finns Party came out and said asylum-seekers are a security threat to Finland. In addition to the antics by politicians, an anti-immigration demonstration was organised in Kempele during which the slogan "Suomi Suomalaisille" (Finland for Finns) was frequently heard, according to Yle.

Then came the apology by asylum-seekers in Oulu on behalf of immigrants. Theirs was, according to Kaleva, a "thank you march" designed to thank local Finns for accepting refugees, and to remind them that not all asylum seekers are criminals.

My take

Rape is a horrendous crime and it's even more heinous when it involves a minor - like in the Kempele case. Perpetrators of rape and other forms of violence against women should be punished to the full extent of the law. What shouldn't be done is coerce innocent people into apologizing for crimes they didn't commit. People normally don't take responsibility for crimes they didn't commit - unless they're coerced, directly or indirectly, into doing so. The asylum-seekers who organised the march in Oulu were forced by the hostile environment in their host town to apologize for a crime they didn't commit. And it's easy to see why: they live in a town where they're not wanted; a town where an intimidating demonstration was held against them; a town where a reception centre was hastily evacuated overnight in order to ensure the safety of residents. Asylum seekers in Oulu don't feel safe hence they feel the need to apologize in a bid to "clear their name" and ease tension.

The response to the Kempele incident was plainly racist and discriminatory but it certainly wasn't surprising. Whenever rape is reported in Finland the response on social media hugely depends on the origin of the suspect. When the alleged perpetrator is a foreigner the response is scathing, and all non-white immigrants are collectively branded "rapists". On the other hand, when the suspect is an ethnic Finn the response is subtle and the case is quickly forgotten. There was no backlash when a 24-year-old nurse sexually violated numerous elderly people and was found guilty of 27 rapes and eight forced sexual acts. There was no massive outrage when a 45-year-old man repeatedly raped an 11-12-year-old child numerous times. Rape cases involving Finnish perpetrators abound, and are usually treated with kid gloves by both the media and members of the public, and Finnish politicians never feel the need to convene a crisis meeting. Such a double-standard response to a reprehensible crime sends a despicable message that rape isn't outrageous - unless the perpetrator is a foreigner.

It's true that immigrants are over-represented in rape statistics - as stated by criminal law professor emeritus Terttu Utriainen but it's equally important not to loose sight of the fact that majority of rapes reported to the police are still committed by ethnic Finns. Statics can be interpreted in many ways and too often they're interpreted to the disadvantage of minority groups but the bottom line is, rape is rape. All cases should be loudly condemned - irrespective of the perpetrator's ethnicity. Highlighting only cases involving foreigners is racist, xenophobic and designed to demonize a group of people. By the way, foreigners in Finland aren't a homogenous group - so it doesn't make sense to lump all foreigners - from more than a hundred different countries - and compare them to a homogenous group of Finns.

I understand the predicament of asylum-seekers who organised the apology march in Oulu. It feels like they're "behind enemy lines". But I think they shouldn't have apologized for a crime they didn't commit. Finns don't apologize when individual members of the majority group commit crimes. Some Finns might condemn a crime committed by a compatriot, and maybe distance themselves from the perpetrator - but they certainly don't apologize for for the crime. Asylum-seekers should have simply organized a march against rape and sexual violence.

After the Paris terror attacks that left 130 people dead, three Muslim comedians in Pakistan took a stand against the violence in a video that went viral online. What comedians refused to do is apologize for the actions of terrorists. That's the way it should be.

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.      

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