Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Criminal damage of Finns Party's Helsinki office

The right to hold and express opinions without interference is a fundamental human right enshrined in international human rights standards, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although international covenants bind states parties not individuals, the latter could learn a thing or two from the covenants -- many of which are incorporated into national laws. Vandalizing public or private property of political opponents or people who hold dissenting political views amounts to unlawful interference, and threatens civil and political freedom.

Vandals targeted the Helsinki office of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) political party. According to Yle, members of the party arrived at their office on 18 September to find windows shattered. An anonymous party claimed responsibility for the vandalism in a manifesto posted on an informal news site.

In the manifesto (in Finnish) which seeks to rationalize the vandalism, it is stated, amongst other things, that the economic recession has given impetus to right-wing populists and neo-Nazis across Europe, and the PS is one of those parties that take advantage of the economic uncertainty and offer naive solutions to society's problems -- by scapegoating immigrants, non-heterosexuals and feminists. And that the PS seeks to create a society that doesn't have room for everyone; a society modeled on the "white heterosexual man" and a "hierarchical nuclear family" as a basic social unit, under a "totalitarian government".

Furthermore, the strong-worded manifesto asserts that the PS has hard-line fascists in its ranks and that the party has made racism and hate speech acceptable. The manifesto calls for equality and for a society where everyone has equal power to make decisions on their lives and on the organization of society. According to the manifesto, the architects of the attack want to make things difficult for the PS in "concrete ways" and would use "direct actions" against the party and "other fascists".

In my view, the PS is, without a doubt, hostile to minorities, including immigrants, refugees, Muslims and homosexuals. High level members of the party, including its Members of Parliament and councillors make no secret of what they think of minority groups. Evidence to support this claim abound:
  • PS councillors in the city of Lieksa once demanded a Somali-free meeting room.
  • PS councillors in the same city blocked a proposal to accept nine refugee minors from Syria.
  • A councillor of the party once donated a clock with Nazi insignia to a right-wing extremist group in Vaasa.
  • Teuvo Hakkarainen, a Member of Parliament representing the party used the N-word to describe black Africans on his first day in parliament. He got away with it.
  • A parliamentary aide of the party suggested that minorities in Finland should be forced to wear armbands so that they could be easily identified by the police.
  • A PS councillor described refugees and asylum seekers as welfare leaches and rapists
  • Two MPs of the party, Jussi Halla-aho and James Hirvisaari (now expelled by the party) were convicted of ethnic agitation by Finnish courts.
 The list of misdeeds by PS members is long and inexhaustible.

However, I believe criminal damage of the party's office is an unacceptable act which amounts to assault on civil and political rights. The way I see it, the criminal act is counter productive since, in my view, it projects the PS as a victim of "political persecution" rather than portray it as what it is: a party that threatens equality -- a core value in Finnish and Nordic societies. Acts of vandalism targeting the party or its members, I believe, could help rather than hurt the PS in the polls thereby undermining the objective of the perpetrators as per the manifesto posted online.

Although I subscribe to the view that the PS scapegoats minorities and doesn't do enough to stamp out racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia from its ranks, or rein in its numerous members who fan flames of hate, I oppose unlawful acts against the party.

Violence begets more violence. Imagine a situation where PS members also start vandalizing property of opponents. Finland, I feel, would descend into chaos. It's on this premise that I oppose vandalism and any other unlawful act against the PS or any other legally recognized political party that operates within the ambit of Finnish law.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Right to self-determination: proceed with caution

There're those who belief that secession and independence would automatically solve all problems faced by a people. But a more rational consideration of what's at stake or what's to come after independence would show otherwise.

Scotland was in the spotlight in light of a referendum to decide whether or not the territory should remain part of the United Kingdom. When the jury was still out, there was a lot of speculation and analysis about the possibility of a victory by the "YES campaign". But the verdict showed after all votes were counted that the "NO campaign" carried the day. Scotland rejected independence. The people decided to stick with their United Kingdom.

According to the BBC, Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

I welcome the results of the referendum and applaud the government of Prime Minister David Cameron for giving the people of Scotland the opportunity to decide, because -- let's face it -- Westminster could have blocked or delayed a referendum. By allowing the process, the government under the leadership of Cameron acted in good faith in recognition of the right of self-determination.

I believe all peoples have the right to determine their political status. I recognize and would defend the right to self-rule or self-determination, which is a core principle in international law. The right is expressly provided in international human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see article 1), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (see article 1).

However, I also believe that peoples should exercise this right with caution -- except in cases where there's urgency prompted by a brutal and oppressive occupier.

Advocates of secession often point to the availability of natural wealth and resources in their territory as proof that they would be better off as an independent country. Natural resources alone, in my opinion, should not be the driving force for self-rule. Other factors should be considered, and all major uncertainties should be sorted out before independence. When it comes to independence, a leap in the dark is, without a doubt, reckless.

It would have been disastrous, I feel, for the people of Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom without a clear structure in place to ensure their well-being after independence. A lot of uncertainty surrounded Scottish independence. It's baffling that about 45 % of Scots voted in favor of independence without knowing, for instance, what currency an independent Scotland would use, and without knowing how long it would take the country to join the European Union -- from where many Scottish farmers expect subsidies. Security and defence questions were not also considered or clarified by "Yes Scotland", the main campaign group for independence.

Scotland no doubt has natural resources. In fact Scotland is richer per capita than the UK, and about 90% of the UK's oil comes from Scotland. But resources do run out. It's therefore important, in my view, that independence should not be anchored predominantly on the availability of natural resources.

In my view, majority of the people of Scotland voted wisely in the referendum. Majority of Scots seem to understand that secession doesn't necessarily make all socio-economic and political problems go away. Food for thought for separatist movements across the globe.

Personally, I take away two lessons from the Scottish referendum: firstly, wealth of natural resources doesn't necessarily mean majority of people in a territory will vote in favor of secession. And secondly, an independence referendum (or calls for it) by peoples entitled to it is sometimes necessary in order to force change -- as evidenced by the fact that David Cameron and other British leaders promised under the pressure of a referendum to devolve greater powers to Scotland. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not change will be delivered as promised.

Failure to fulfill the vow made by UK party leaders panicked by the referendum, I believe, would mean another referendum in the future. And Scots might not vote "No" to independence again if they're forced to return to the polls in the future because of a broken vow.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

1960-style racial abuse in a store in Finland, and silent onlookers

Things happen in modern-day Finland that look like scenes out of the U.S. in the 1960s when black people, such as 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, were taunted by angry members of the white community who opposed racial integration of public schools.

Ihmisoikeusliitto, a human rights organisation that monitors the human rights situation in Finland, revealed on its Facebook page on 4 September 2014 that one of its workers was followed and verbally attacked in a shop by another customer. According to the Facebook post, the customer followed the human rights workers in a shop and shouted insults as the latter walked away. No one in the shop said anything to the abuser or the abused. Everyone stared as the perpetrator continued the racially motivated abuse -- until a security guard took the perpetrator away.

According to Ihmisoikeusliitto, the reason for the taunting was the color of the victim's skin.

Keep in mind that the reported racist taunting happened is 2014, not 1960. It's unconscionable that such a thing happens in modern-day Finland, and not a single onlooker lifts a finger.

When I read the Facebook post, the story of Ruby Bridges came to mind.

Ruby Bridges was the first black student to attend a formerly all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. When public schools were required by federal law to desegregate, she was the first African American to go to William Frantz Elementary School. For security reasons, Ruby was escorted to and from school by U.S. Marshals dispatched by president Eisenhower. White parents and students shouted insults and pointed fingers at Ruby as she went to school under the protection of U.S. Marshals. And white parents rushed their children out of the school in protest. Even teachers refused to teach.

In my view, shouting insults at someone in a public place in Finland because of the color of his or her skin is as shameful as the racially motivated taunting of Ruby Bridges in New Orleans in 1960. The verbal abuse reported by Ihmisoikeusliitto is, to an extent, similar to abuse faced by Ruby Bridges in the 1960s. The only difference lies in the scale of the abuse.

Unlike Ruby, the victim in the shop in Finland was taunted by a single abuser. Although the perpetrator acted alone, the silent onlookers in the shop, I believe, took the side of the perpetrator. My belief that the "spectators" were complicit is hinged on the words of archbishop Desmond Tutu: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor".

I have argued before in previous blog posts, such as in the piece about the plight of Finland's black taxi drivers, and I'll argue again, that blatant racism persists in modern-day Finland because members of the public and people with the power to change things let it persist. Perpetrators are emboldened by the silence of onlookers. People of good conscience and people in positions of authority in Finland should stand up and speak up forcefully against racism. Until then, racists will continue to drag Finland's international image in the mud by repeatedly perpetrating 1960-style racial abuse in modern-day Finland.

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