In a country where a Member of Parliament for the Perussuomalaiset (PS) political party can openly use racist and derogatory language (video) against Muslims and people of African decent and is not forced to resign as representative of the people, it is easy to conclude that racism is deep-seated. However, any racially motivated shooting or killing must be unequivocally condemned in the strongest terms by all people of goodwill.
On Saturday 18 February 2012, a gunman opened fire in a pizzeria in Oulu, northern Finland - killing one man and injuring another. The gunman - a 24-year old Finn - turned the gun on himself and later died in a hospital on Sunday evening.
The pizzeria shooting claimed the life of a 21-year-old man of Moroccan origin and left a 42-year-old Moroccan man wounded. The owner of the pizzeria - an Algerian - was not hit. According to a news report published on Monday 20 February 2012 in Metro Helsinki, a daily newspaper in Helsinki, the shooting could have been motivated by racism. Other sources say police believe the shooter was not motivated by racism.
However, given the current toxic political climate and hateful rhetoric by some influential politicians, Members of Parliament and ordinary Finnish citizens targeting immigrants, racism cannot be easily ruled out as a motivation.
Following the Oulu pizzeria shooting, for instance, Tommi Rautio, a board member of PS - a right wing anti-immigration party - reportedly wrote on Facebook that the shooter should be given a medal because there is "a war going on and for every war decorations are handed out." [Source]. This speaks volumes about what the PS is made of and sheds light on the sorry-state of affairs in Finnish-Immigrant relations.
A poll commissioned by Helsinki Sanomat revealed that Muslims in general are among the groups most affected by racism and intolerance in Finland. In 2011, President Tarja Halonen expressed concern about the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland.
The Oulu pizzeria shooting is the third incident in less than one month that resulted in the tragic death of immigrants - two Somalians and one Moroccan.
Finland is going down the wrong road. All persons of good conscience in the Nordic country must condemn racism and racially motivated crimes in the strongest terms and distance themselves from people who use immigrants and other minority groups as targets or punching bags. Politicians who use their influence to preach hate or sway public opinion against minority groups must be held to account, especially when their words are translated into action. More importantly, law enforcement must take hate crimes more seriously and ensure that perpetrators bear the full weight of the law. No one should be killed or discriminated against because he or she looks different or professes a different faith in a society that prides itself as free and democratic.
*Photo of Finnish police car: Wikipedia.