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.

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