Monday, April 29, 2013

Racist bullying at school forces African family to flee Mikkeli, Finland

It cannot be overstated that many people of African, Roma, Arab and Muslim descent endure shocking manifestations of racism on a daily basis in Finland. Some victims choose to stay put and weather the storm while others relocate - in the interest of their children and perhaps their sanity.

According to Migrant Tales, an African mother (named Sara) relocated from Mikkeli, eastern Finland to Helsinki because her child, 8 years old, was subjected to continuous racist bullying at school.

The story strikes a chord and is hard to ignore partly because it is not the first time a mother living in Finland is forced to relocate in a bid to protect her child from racist abuse.

In December 2012, the story of Umayya Abu-Hanna was published (in Finnish) by Helsingin Sanomat (read article in English, here) and sparked a storm both online and offline. Abu-Hanna, a woman of Palestinian origin and her adopted daughter of African origin relocated from Finland to the Netherlands in December 2010 as a result of what she termed "Finnish racism". According to Abu-Hanna, she moved to Finland in 1981 and as an immigrant she experienced racist name-calling. But she never guessed that black skin is - in her words - such a big "hate magnet" in Finland, until she adopted a child of Zulu origin born in South Africa. Her daughter was allegedly racially abused (verbally) in public on numerous occasions.

Although Sara's plight in Mikkeli has not grabbed headlines like that of Umayya Abu-Hanna, the two women have something in common: they were forced to relocate because of racism. Abu-Hanna left the country while Sara relocated internally. Both of them aspire to raise their kids in an environment free of racist abuse.

Racism is taught

According to Sara, her 8-year-old son was bullied by the majority of his classmates and at one point he asked why he was not born white like other children at his school. Nobody wanted to play with him at school and one day he did not want to go to school.

People who choose to downplay the prevalence of racism in Finland would argue that the bullies were children, hence did not know what they were doing. Rather than discuss the bone of contention, some would find a way to criticize the victim or the person who brought the story to light (like Abu-Hanna was criticized). Attacking victims who dare to speak out is part of the problem in Finland.

In my opinion, the bullies at Sara's son's school in Mikkeli did not just wake up one morning and decided to be racist. Racism is taught. Society or someone must have taught the children to hate.

Finland has many values that should be inculcated in the next generation, racism is not one of them.

Like Nelson Mandela wrote, "no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love..."

Parents and teachers have a moral duty to teach children to respect everyone - irrespective of race, color, origin, gender or religion. Failure to do so is a disservice to Finland and society as a whole. Children are Finland's future and the country's leaders of tomorrow. Raising kids who could be aptly described as "next generation racists" is bad for Finland and the world in general.

Racist bullying in schools in reprehensible. Parents and teachers have a major role to play to nib it in the bud before it spirals out of control and develops into a more sinister societal problem.

Stories like these do not help the reputation of Mikkeli. In October 2012, stickers with racist messages were posted on municipal election posters in the city and the picture of candidate of immigrant background was vandalized. Go figure.

Read Sara's story in Finnish, hereherehere and here.

Correction: Umayya Abu-Hanna is Christian, not Muslim as erroneously stated previously. Not that it matters.

Photo source: BCG

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher on wrong side of history in struggle against apartheid

Apartheid in South Africa was a great injustice and a violation of freedoms and liberties of black South Africans. I have little or no admiration or respect for anyone who opposed action against the racist regime.

Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, passed away on 8 April 2013 at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke. Flags in Britain fly at half staff in honor of the Baroness and tributes have been flowing in. Many portray her in a positive light. Little is said about her controversial apartheid policies that propped up a racist regime in Africa.

Champion of freedom and liberty?

British Prime Minister David Cameron described Thatcher as a "great Briton" who has a "well-earned place in history" and the "enduring respect" of the British people. According to David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher "saved" Britain.

I agree with Prime Minister Cameron. Lady Thatcher was a great Briton. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that she put Britain's economic interests ahead of freedom and liberty by opposing sanctions and doing business with a racist regime that oppressed its people.

She opposed a plan of action against apartheid and frustrated efforts by Commonwealth leaders to end apartheid. She opposed sanctions designed to pressure South Africa's apartheid regime to stop racial discrimination, release political prisoners and respect civil and political rights because she believed sanctions would negatively impact Britain's interests in the African country.

Reacting to the death of Margaret Thatcher, US president Barack Obama said she was "one of the great champions of freedom and liberty".

It is hard to agree with Obama's assessment of the former British prime minister. Champions of freedom and liberty do what is necessary to stop an injustice like apartheid.

Black terrorist

Margaret Thatcher linked Nelson Mandela, a towering symbol of freedom and liberty, to terrorism during the struggle against apartheid.

Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) opposed the apartheid regime and advocated for a non-racist government in South Africa, but Thatcher called the ANC a "typical terrorist organization". She said "anyone who thinks it [the ANC] is going to run the government in South Africa is living in a cloud-cuckoo land." [Source]

Needless to say she was wrong. The ANC is South Africa's ruling political party as of the time of this writing and has governed post-apartheid South Africa since 1994.

Nelson Mandela - a man who has been described as "one of the greatest men alive" - declined to meet Thatcher during a visit to London in 1990. [Source]

Mandela was repeatedly called a "terrorist" by Conservative Party MPs under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher. A Conservative MP once called the freedom fighter a "black terrorist". [Source] Others said Mandela should be shot. Like Thatcher, many Conservative MPs were hostile toward the ANC and its members.

In 2009, David Cameron said Margaret Thatcher was wrong to link Nelson Mandela to terrorism, and apologised for Thatcher's apartheid policies.

Death celebrations

People held parties to celebrate the death of the Baroness in parts of the UK.

In South Africa there were mixed responses to her death. Dali Tambo, son of ANC's late president Oliver Tambo, said ANC ancestors will boycott Margaret Thatcher's arrival at the pearly gates (gateway to Heaven).

While I disagree with Thatcher's apartheid policies, I condemn celebrations of her death.

I admire Margaret Thatcher for the fact that she broke the glass ceiling and inspired women around the world. However, I would remember her as a Conservative hardliner who stood on the wrong side of history at a time when black South Africans were in desperate need of concerted international action to redress a grave injustice.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Appointment of fascist coach undermines anti-racism efforts

The appointment of a fascist and vocal supporter of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as head coach of Sunderland football club damages the image of the club and undermines efforts to kick out racism in football.

Racism is a real problem in football. Black players are racially abused by delusional fans in the stands and in some cases by fellow players. There are efforts to nip racism in football in the bud and kick racism out of the game by way of fines and suspensions levied on clubs and individuals found guilty of racial abuse. Some brave footballers have even taken the struggle against racism further by walking off or threatening to walk off the pitch in an event where they face abuse - a move I support.

Instead of developing campaigns against growing racism and political extremism in football, Sunderland Association Football Club decided to hire a fascist as head coach. Paolo Di Canio, 44, was appointed coach of Sunderland on a two-and-a-half-year contract. The Italian is a known fascist and supporter of Benito Mussolini, a dictator and ally of Adolf Hitler.

Fascism propagates, amongst other things, "superiority" of one race over others. In Fascist Italy, the so-called Manifesto of Race that was published in 1938 under the leadership of Mussolini targeted races that were deemed "inferior". Marriages between Jews and Italians were banned.

Di Canio praised Mussolini in his autobiography as a "very principled individual". He also wrote that he is "fascinated" by Mussolini.

In 2005, the Italian coach told an Italian news agency: "I am a fascist, not a racist". [Source]

Sides of the same coin

Benito Mussolini who ruled Italy as a dictator from 1930 to 1943 was one of the founders of Fascism. The dictator once said Italy was right to pursue an imperialist policy in Africa because all black people were "inferior" to white people. [Source]

This is racist. It is therefore wrong for Di Canio to suggest that a fascist is not a racist.

In a speech in Pula, Croatia on 20 September 1920, Mussolini again expressed a racist fascist belief when he called Slavics "inferior and barbarian". He said, "we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians." This expression, in my view was a racist and genocidal expression by the fascist leader.

In my opinion, fascism and racism are sides of the same coin. Racism is part of the twisted ideology that Di Canio pays allegiance to.

Paolo Di Canio's support for fascism and fascination with its leader goes beyond verbal expressions. He has DVX (Latin appellation for Benito Mussolini) tattooed on his right arm [Sourceand was pictured in 2005 making a Hitler salute to a group of supporters of Italian Lazio football club. He was suspended and fined, but it was not the first or last time he made the Hitler salute. [Source]

Like many opponents of racism and fascism, I am appalled by the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as head coach of Sunderland. Fascism, like Nazism, is a deadly ideology that caused untold suffering and claimed thousands lives across continents, including Africa. Mussolini's military committed massacres and used chemical weapons in Ethiopia and Libya.

I welcome David Miliband's resignation as a result of the appointment and the decision of war veterans to boycott Sunderland. The appointment is an insult to victims of Fascism, members of their families and all those who were affected by the twisted ideology.

People "fascinated" by tyranny and a racist ideology should not be appointed to leadership positions in sports, politics or civil society.

*Photo of Paolo Di Canio doing "Roma salute" in 2005: TheNational.

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