Thursday, January 31, 2013

Knife attack at book presentation reveals deadly threat posed by Finnish far-right

Far-right extremism in Europe is a major cause for concern, especially as extremist groups have started using violence to back up their racist rhetoric targeting immigrants, Muslims and other minority groups. A knife attack at a book presentation event in a city library in Jyväskylä in central Finland on 30 January 2013 reveals that far-right extremists in the Nordic country have become violent and pose a deadly threat to minority groups and Finns of goodwill who promote multiculturalism and those who stand up against far-right extremism.

A group of young men who call themselves "patriots" disrupted a discussion event about Finnish far-right extremism. According to Yle, the "patriots" were denied entry to an event in the Jyväskylä city library. The event was in connection with the presentation of a book titled "Äärioikeisto Suomessa" ("The Finnish Far-Right"). The young men started a fight and one person was injured with a knife. Bottles were also reportedly used as weapons. The men involved are reportedly affiliated with a militant, anti-democratic extreme right-wing organization called. [Source]

According to a Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) research there is evidence to show extremist groups in Finland have an "ideological preparedness" to commit violence. [Source] The research indicates that the country should be prepared to deal with terrorist attacks of the kind carried out by Norwegian far-right terrorist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. According to the researcher far-right extremist groups in Finland have so far remained within the law. But the Jyväskylä attack indicates the contrary: Finland's far-right extremist groups operate outside the law.

In my opinion, the knifing at the event was designed to disrupt the book presentation and the goal of the "patriots" far-right affiliates involved was to terrorize authors of the book and their audience. It was a violent attack on freedom of expression and freedom of association, and an attempt to silence critics of right-wing extremism.

According to authors of Äärioikeisto Suomessa, radical views and racist remarks are becoming more acceptable and mainstream in Finnish public debate. [Source] I agree with the authors. Racist anti-immigration statements - even by public officials - are common and enough Finns and people in power don't condemn such remarks. A case in point is a racist remark by Perussuomalaiset MP Teuvo Hakkarainen in a video interview on his first day in parliament. He used the Finnish word neekeri (the n-word) to describe people of African descent. Recent widely read and criticized writings by people like Pakistani-born Umayya Abu-Hanna and Somali-born Wali Hashi reveal that the use of the offensive and derogatory n-word is widespread in Finnish everyday life. Police declined to investigate MP Hakkarainen's foreigner comments at the request of the Ombudsman for Minorities. Racists have been given a blank check.

From the point of view of a researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, the Jyväskylä knife attack is no surprise given the recent political developments in Finland and Europe. Police chief Tuomas Portankorva isn't also surprised by the incident.

I was surprised to learn that the Minister of Interior, Päivi Räsänen, doesn't see the far-right as a strong threat in Finland. In my view, the authorities downplay the threat in a bid to keep the public calm. But people deserve to know the truth. Right-wing extremism poses a real deadly threat to Finnish democracy and freedoms as proponents of neo-Nazi views seek to terrorize minority groups and silence critics. The cowardly attack in Jyväskylä city library is an indication that far-right extremists in Finland are violent and if given the chance could commit terrorist attacks of the kind committed by Anders Breivik in Norway. The authorities should not overlook the incident simply because only one person was injured. Perpetrators should bear the full weight of the law. Finland should take concrete steps to ensure that far-right extremists who, like Breivik, strongly oppose multiculturalism don't go down the same road like the Norwegian mass murderer. Unlike Norway, Finland has had warning signs. In February 2012, a gunman opened fired in a pizzeria in northern Finland killing an immigrant of Moroccan origin. Forewarned is forearmed.

*Photo of book on Finnish far-right: Yle.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Unconditional support for Atlanta Million Woman Walk for Congo

I saw a great quote on Twitter, that read: "I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody." The quote, which is attributed to Lily Tomlin, in my opinion is a call to service. It is a call for people of goodwill to step up to the plate to make a difference in the world. A war has raged on in the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades and many people wonder why somebody hasn't done something about it. A small group of women have realized that they can do something about it. They are organizing a walk in Atlanta, Georgia for the women of DR Congo.

The DR Congo is located in central Africa and it's the second largest country in the continent. With a population of 71 million, DR Congo has for decades been embroiled in a bloody armed conflict, that claimed about five million lives between 1994 and 2003. The conflict has been described in gruesome terms, including the "deadliest conflict in African history". [Source] Despite peace accords and United Nations Peacekeeping forces on the ground, war continues mainly in the east of the country - with devastating effects on the civilian population, especially women and children. For more than 10 years, the UN has been engaged in DR Congo. At one point, the biggest UN Peacekeeping mission with almost 20,000 personnel was in the country, but the mission has little to show for its presence in terms of peace.

Since May 2012, about 800,000 people in DR Congo have been displaced. [Source]

Women and children bear the brunt of the war. Rape is used as a weapon of war and many actors in the conflict have been accused of using children as soldiers - a practice, that is classified by the International Labour Organization as one of the worst forms of child labour.

Objectives of the Atlanta walk

The Atlanta Million Woman Walk for Congo has four simple objectives: to call attention to the war in the DR Congo, to urge the U.S. to hold its allies accountable for their role in destabilizing the Congo, to call on world leaders and U.S. Congress to commit to ending the war, and to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable civilian population affected by the war.

How you can help

The organizers of the walk have my unconditional support. My support is driven by the fact that I have a mother, four sisters, a wife and a daughter. I won't wish what is happening to women and girls in DR Congo on any of them. I completely support the Atlanta Million Woman Walk for Congo and the campaign to raise money to support women and children affected by the war. I hope the walk draws more attention to a war, that is relatively forgotten - and even unknown to some people. Open a newspaper or turn on your international news TV channel any day, chances are you will hear or read about armed conflicts and rapes around the world - but you will probably not hear a thing about DR Congo - despite the fact that 48 women are raped every hour in the central African country and 12 percent of its women have been raped at least once. [Source]

Women are reportedly brutally raped multiple times, sometimes with sticks, guns and even bayonets. This, in my view, is unacceptable.

The good news is, that you can do something to help. If you are in Atlanta, I encourage you to join the walk for Congo scheduled to take place on Saturday 23 March 2013. Everyone is welcomed. The walk starts at 10 A.M. at Georgia World Congress Centre in downtown Atlanta.

If you can't make it to the walk, you can make a donation, that will go a long way to help affected women and children. Funds raised will be used to provide shelter for displaced women and their children, to set up means of livelihood, such as helping them start up petty businesses, provide medical supplies to local hospitals and provide food, clothing and basic necessities to women and their children caught in the crossfire.

The goal of the fundraising campaign is to raise 10,000 dollars in 14 days. As of the time of writing, the fundraising campaign has 13 days to go. Chip in what you have to offer. Every amount will be helpful.

To my fellow bloggers, I encourage you to throw your weight behind the Atlanta Million Walk for Congo.

Spread the word on the streets of Atlanta and on social media. Share information about the walk on Facebook and tweet about it. I'm on twitter and will tweet about the Atlanta Walk for Congo using the hashtag #ATL4Congo. Join the campaign in any possible way. The women of Congo would be grateful.

*Photo of rape victim, DR Congo: TheGuardian.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

James Hirvisaari: An embarrassment to Finland's parliament

Parliament is no place for someone who has been convicted of inciting hatred. As lawmakers, Members of Parliament are supposed to be respectable, law-abiding citizens. But in Finland, some lawmakers - mostly representatives of the populist far-right Finns Party - are convicted lawbreakers.

Fifty two-year-old James Hirvisaari who seemingly enjoys fanning flames of hate against immigrants, refugees and other ethnic, religious and national minority groups in Finland is one of such MPs. South Africans were targets of his latest onslaught. I am not a South African, but I found his comments offensive.

James Hirvisaari was convicted in 2011 of ethnic agitation. The Kouvola Court of Appeal found him guilty of inciting ethnic hatred in a blog post. According to the court, Hirvisaari's text was slanderous and likely to cause contempt and hatred towards Muslims. He was slapped with a fine of 1,425 euros.

Despite this conviction, Hirvisaari keeps his seat in Finland's eduskunta (parliament) and has continued to slander minority groups and incite hatred. I guess this supports the idiom that a leopard can't change its spots.

In the latest of his derogatory comments, the 52-year-old said South Africa has a "criminal jungle culture" and that rape is a "national pastime" in the rainbow nation. He said foreigners in Finland are over-represented in rape statistics and that raping is a genetic trait. According to Hirvisaari, immigration from countries with the same type of cultural environment as South Africa should be tightened. [Source]

In my view, what the MP was trying to say is that Africans and foreigners in general are genetically programmed to rape.

As an African who unlike Hirvisaari has never been convicted, I find his comment deeply offensive. Some foreigners commit rape, but not all foreigners are rapists. In the same vein, the fact that some Finns are racist far-right fundamentalists does not mean that all Finns hold neo-Nazi views. It is not sensible to reach an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence. Foreigners convicted of rape are only a small sample group and do not represent all foreigners. 

By the way, according to rape statistics, which are routinely misused by far-right ideologists for political gains, 27 percent of rape suspects in 2011 were foreigners. Hence 73 percent were NOT foreigners. It would however be wrong to argue that non-foreign suspects - who made up the majority of rape suspects two years ago - are genetically wired to commit rape. There is no scientific evidence to support such an abhorrent claim.

In my opinion, James Hirvisaari does not base his arguments on facts. His views are shaped by prejudice and are detrimental to human rights and democratic principles of freedom and equality. He is an embarrassment to Finland's parliament and to lawmakers around the world. His comments are demeaning to the reputation of the office he holds. MPs make laws; they do not undermine laws for political gains or self-gratification. Finland's parliament is charged with legislative and budgetary powers, it is no place for convicts.

*Photo: Ilta Sanomat.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Finns Party members antagonize minority groups in Finland

A month rarely goes by without a member of Finland's far-right Finns Party making news headlines for saying or writing something designed to incite ethnic or religious hatred. The party's members antagonize minority groups and provoke hostility through online writings and comments. This week alone, two Finns Party members called refugees and asylum seekers "rapists" and "welfare leeches".

Finland's controversial Finns party, locally called Perussuomalaiset, known for its anti-immigration and anti-European Union (EU) platform is disturbingly gaining popularity in Finland, amid concerns of growing racism and xenophobia in the Nordic country. The party's manifesto has a lot in common with right-wing populist parties across Europe that tend to follow trends that have an "authoritarian streak". The party reportedly believes that low birth rate is not solved by immigration and that women should study less and spend time giving birth to "pure" Finnish children. [Source]

Despite its faint Nazi ideology, the Finns party is doing surprisingly well in Finland. In December 2012, Finns Party support peaked. A poll commissioned by Yle showed that the party was second most popular political party in Finland at the end of 2012. Support for the party increased by 2 percent - more than any other party in the country. The fact that the party is growing is an indication that a growing number of Finns share its extreme views.

Perussuomalaiset is always on the headlines. It is famous for wrong reasons. Its members, many of whom make no secret of their xenophobic and racist stance, attack minority groups with hateful writings online. A month rarely goes by without a member of the party making news headlines for saying or writing something designed to incite ethnic or religious hatred. Two scandals hit the party this week alone.

It was reported on Monday that a councilor for the Finns Party, Mika Hiltunen, used obscene and offensive language against refugees and asylum seekers. He accused refugees and asylum seekers of being "welfare leeches and rapists". He expressly mentioned Somalians in his infamous Facebook comment. Somalians, it is worth mentioning, are among the groups most affected by racism and intolerance in Finland.

Three days later, it was reported that another Finns Party member attacked refugees and asylum seekers. Kai Haavisto proposed "medical treatment" for refugees guilty of rape. It is unclear whether he meant that refugees guilty of rape should be castrated or sterilized.

The Finns Party "distanced itself" from the comments, but it is no coincidence that both Mika Hiltunen and Kai Haavisto are its members. You can fool some people sometimes, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Perussuomalaiset is known for its anti-immigration and anti-Islamic stance, and hostility towards anything "foreign", including the EU and Swedish - Finland's second official language. The Hiltunen and Haavisto share the party's views.

Results of a poll by Helsingin Sanomat in 2011 revealed that Finns Party members are most willing to concede negative attitudes towards minorities.

Given the Finns Party's position on key issues like immigration and EU membership, should the party have its way and someday become majority in Finland's Eduskunta (parliament), Finland would isolate itself from the civilized free world and might even reconsider its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and other international treaties like the Schengen agreement.

Using refugees and immigrants as punching bags does not help Finland. On the contrary, such offensive and hateful messages antagonize minority groups and provoke hostility against the majority - thereby making Finland unsafe for both the oppressed and oppressors.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Top 10 most popular articles on in 2012

Like I said in my new year message, 2012 was a great year. I had a son, made great career strides among other things. One of the things I enjoyed doing last year was blog. According to my archive, I made a total of 66 blog entries in 2012 - down from 119 in 2011 and 151 in 2010. Despite the drop in the number of blog entries, the number of unique visitors and pageviews went up significantly in 2012 compared to previous years. Many websites and blogs publish their most read articles at the end or beginning of each year so I decided to do the same this time.

Besides revealing my most popular articles, I also decided to include the most searched keywords that landed visitors on my blog, the most creepy keyword and top 11 countries where readers came from between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2012.

Here is a look at the top 10 most read blog posts on in 2012, according to statistics gathered by Google Analytics.

Another popular article worth mentioning is:

Human trafficking, torture, Gaddafi, racism and Martin Luther King were among the most searched keywords that landed visitors on this blog. The most creepy keyword searched was my name - Zuzeeko Abeng: searched ten times. Zuzeeko was searched nine times.

The bulk of the traffic (64.26 percent) came through search engines like Google and Bing.

Most readers came from the United States, United Kingdom, India, Canada, Philippines, Finland, Australia, Germany, Malaysia, Pakistan and South Africa - respectively. Visits were registered from 202 countries and territories, up from 199 in 2011 and 138 in 2010. The United States topped the list in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Between 27 September 2009 when I started blogging and 31 December 2012, a total of 394 blog posts were published. So far I have not posted any "guest articles." Maybe I'll in the future.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cameroon: Imprisonment for "looking gay" and drinking Baileys mocks rule of law

Two men have been acquitted by an appeal court in Cameroon after spending one year in prison because "... the way they dressed, the way they spoke and the fact that they drank Baileys Irish Cream proved they were gay." 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) are incorporated into the constitution of Cameroon and it is stated in the preamble that international law takes precedence over national laws. Looking at the constitution, it is easy to think that Cameroon is a haven where international human rights standards and fundamental freedoms are respected. But in reality, the situation on the ground is dire. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are limited - so limited that people are arrested and imprisoned for "looking gay."

Two Cameroonian men, Jonas Kimie and Franky Ndome, jailed for wearing women's clothes were recently acquitted by an appeal court in Yaounde, Cameroon. The men were reportedly arrested outside a nightclub in Yaounde in July 2011 and spent more than one year in jail for looking gay. Their lawyer reportedly said the conviction was based on stereotypes and that the judge who sentenced them said the way they dressed, the way they spoke and the fact that they drank Bailey's Irish Cream proved they were gay. [Source]

According to Amnesty International, the acquittal exposes systematic discrimination against homosexuals in Cameroon - where homosexuality is outlawed.

The law and wrong interpretation

Section 347 bis of the Cameroon penal code sanctions homosexuality with up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine. The law criminalizes "sexual relations with a person of the same sex." [Source] Many people are arrested and prosecuted and condemned under the law - without evidence of sexual relations.

In March 2011, Roger Jean Claude Mbede was arrested based on a text message and sentenced to three years in prison. He was provisionally released in July 2012, but unlike in the case of Jonas Kimie and Franky Ndome, an appeal court upheld his three-year sentence in December 2012.

Disregard for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cameroon is not limited to the persecution of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual (LGBTI) people. Perceived LGBTI people are also harassed and imprisoned due to stereotypes and wrong interpretation of Cameroon's controversial homosexuality law. Security forces routinely crack down on peaceful demonstrations and commit serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings; freedom of expression is gagged with several journalists and government critics arrested and detained; freedom of association and assembly are infringed, and political and human rights groups are denied the right to organize activities. Political activists are routinely arrested and detained. [Source]

Culture of disregard for human rights

It is worth mentioning that there is a culture of disregard for human rights in Cameroon. Many ordinary people in the country support anti-gay laws, discrimination and prejudice against LGBTI people. Other abhorrent rights violations such as mob justice enjoy widespread support. Hence not only the state is guilty of injustice and discrimination.

Government authorities, lawmakers, civil society groups, security forces, lawyers, judges, magistrates and ordinary people are in need of human rights education. Campaigns and petitions by rights groups may free prisoners of conscience like Jean-Claude Mbede and other victims of rights violations, but won't stop the persecution and harassment of people on grounds of sexual orientation. A long term solution lies in education and inculcation of a culture of mutual respect for human rights. This can be achieved through seminars and human rights education in schools and government institutions.

The acquittal of Jonas Kimie and Franky Ndome is a welcomed move in the right direction but a lot more needs to be done to guarantee the rights of LGBTI people in Cameroon. The reasoning behind the initial imprisonment of the two men is laughable, makes a mockery of the rule of law and threatens fundamental freedoms in Cameroon. No one should be imprisoned for dressing differently, speaking differently or for drinking Baileys Irish Cream.

*Photo: Global-customer.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kevin-Prince Boateng: Walk-off does not empower racist fans

When Mario Balotelli threatened to walk off the pitch ahead of Euro 2012, I told a few friends of mine that I would unconditionally support a walk-off by Balotelli in protest against racism in football. I said the first player to walk off the field in protest against racism will earn my respect and a place on my list of highly regarded anti-racism advocates and freedom fighters. I said should Balotelli walk off, I would buy a Manchester City F.C. shirt with his name and number inscribed on it as a sign of my respect and admiration. Shortly after Balotelli's declaration, UEFA president Michel Platini threatened players with sanctions - if they walk off the pitch in protest against racism. Of course racist incidents were recorded during Euro 2012. Mario Balotelli did not walk off, neither did any other player. I was disappointed, but I knew someday someone would walk off the pitch in protest.

On 3 January 2013, Kevin-Prince Boateng took a personal stand against racism; a stand that would hopefully inspire other players to do the same. He walked out of a friendly match after he was racially abused by fans of Italian club Pro Patria.

Keeping a promise

I am officially a Kevin-Prince Boateng supporter, not because he plays good football. I am a supporter because he has the courage to take action against a social ill that many people lack the courage to stand up against.

At the moment, I do not own a football shirt. I have been thinking about buying one, but although I enjoy football - no player has ever inspired me to carry his name behind my back. However, events of 3 January helped me make up my mind.

In keeping my promise made before Euro 2012, I will order A.C. Milan's number 10 shirt inscribed with the name PRINCE - as a sign of solidarity with Boateng in the fight against racism in football. I admire his courage and he did exactly what I would do under the same circumstance.

In an interview with CNN, Kevin-Prince Boateng promised to carry on with the fight. He said, "I'd walk off again" in protest whenever racism shows its ugly face in a match - be it a friendly, Italian League or Champions League match. In the interview, the 25-year-old footballer of German and Ghanaian origin encouraged other black players to do the same.

It is worth mentioning that Boateng did not walk off alone. His team mates rightly decided to walk off with him. Although he would have done it without them, I applaud the whole A.C. Milan team for supporting their mate and taking a stand against racism. Their collective action adds weight to my jersey choice.

Some people have argued that Boateng was wrong to walk off. Clarence Seedorf said he does not see the walk off as a positive thing because it empowers the racists.

If you ask me, Seedorf is wrong.

Walk off in protest doesn't empower racists

I have no illusion that this gesture will put an end to racism. Perpetrators of racial abuse are mindless and defiant. However, I look forward to more protests. If enough players and teams abandon a good number of games, football authorities will take a serious look at racism in football and do what is expected to abort the problem - especially when football bodies and federations start loosing money because of abandoned matches.

Besides, civil disobedience and protests in the interest of human rights never empower the oppressor. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in a bus the oppressor was not empowered; when Nelson Mandela took a stand against a racist regime the oppressor was not empowered; when Dr. King led the match against civil rights violations in the U.S. the oppressor was weakened. In the same vein, racist fans will not be empowered by protests against racism. On the contrary, walking off the pitch gives players the power to end abuse - especially when their team mates walk with them.

Way forward

All across Europe, "the beautiful game" is marred by racism and racial abuse. Black players are taunted with monkey chants and bananas by fans. A lot has been written and said about racism in European football: from stadiums of hate in Poland and Ukraine to Russia - where racist Zenit St. Petersburg fans and others make no secret of their racism and narrow-mindedness. Racism is clearly alive and well in Europe. Like lawmakers and politicians in parliaments and presidential palaces around Europe, football authorities lack the will to take a serious stand against racism. Consequently, so-called non-white players continue to play under very hostile conditions in many stadiums.

The good news is that there is something players can do to counter blatant racism in football or force football authorities to take concrete steps to ensure that stadiums are void of racism. The action players and teams can take is encapsulation in four words: walk off in protest.

I might as well buy more football shirts in solidarity.

*Photo: SkySports.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Make 2013 better than 2012

This is the first blog entry for 2013. With barely four days into the new year, there is  a lot to write about but before I start putting out blog posts on relevant issues, which directly or indirectly affect us all, courtesy warrants me to wish all my readers a very happy new year 2013.

Personally, I would say 2012 was great. It will be remembered as one of the most significant years in my life because it saw the birth of my son - who is named after my father who passed away in 2003.  In this light, I cannot complain. I registered other successes last year - successes, that I  would rather not bore you with. Besides, this entry is for you, not about me.

I wish you all what you wish yourself this 2013 and I hope you achieve your heart's desires. I believe in the power of written goals. Hence - as I have done in previous new year messages in 2011 and 2012 - I  encourage you to write down what you would like to achieve in 2013. Write them down where you can see them daily and be reminded. Written goals make it easier for you to better assess your achievement at the end of the year and hold you accountable for what you failed to do. You must not have a complete list from the word go. Feel free to add goals to the list as time goes on.

Keep in mind that it is not enough to simply write down goals. Get out there and do what it takes to achieve them. Strike achieved goals off the list and proceed to the next. Examine the list at the end of the year and have a conversation with yourself.

HAPPY 2013. The good news is that we all have the power to make it better, in terms of achievements, than 2012. Set clear goals, write them down and go get them.

Laugh, love, live. God bless.

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