Monday, December 21, 2015

Asylum-seekers in Finland apologize for rape they didn't commit

Minority groups are often collectively castigated for crimes committed by a few members of the group. When an asylum-seeker, for example, is involved in a crime all asylum-seekers and immigrants in the country bear the brunt, and in some cases are forced by circumstances to apologize on behalf of criminals - although, it's worth noting, the ethnic majority never apologize for crimes committed by a few bad apples in the privileged group.

A group of asylum seekers took to the streets of Oulu in northern Finland on 1 December 2015, according to Ilta-Sanomat (video included), to apologize following a case of rape in Kempele involving asylum-seekers. The aim of the march that drew participants from a refugee reception centre in Hiukkavaara was reportedly to apologize on behalf of all immigrants for the crime committed in Kempele.

A 14-year-old girl was raped in Kempele and police arrested two foreign young men, according to Yle, on suspicion of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual exploitation of a child. The two suspects were reportedly asylum-seekers from Afghanistan. One of the suspects was later released after police reportedly established that he had nothing to do with the crime. The other suspected, a 17-year-old, was remanded in custody by Oulu district court.

Following the criminal incident in Kempele Prime Minister Juha Sipilä convened a crisis meeting to address the issue. Then Justice and Labour Minister Jari Lindström from the right-wing Finns Party came out and said asylum-seekers are a security threat to Finland. In addition to the antics by politicians, an anti-immigration demonstration was organised in Kempele during which the slogan "Suomi Suomalaisille" (Finland for Finns) was frequently heard, according to Yle.

Then came the apology by asylum-seekers in Oulu on behalf of immigrants. Theirs was, according to Kaleva, a "thank you march" designed to thank local Finns for accepting refugees, and to remind them that not all asylum seekers are criminals.

My take

Rape is a horrendous crime and it's even more heinous when it involves a minor - like in the Kempele case. Perpetrators of rape and other forms of violence against women should be punished to the full extent of the law. What shouldn't be done is coerce innocent people into apologizing for crimes they didn't commit. People normally don't take responsibility for crimes they didn't commit - unless they're coerced, directly or indirectly, into doing so. The asylum-seekers who organised the march in Oulu were forced by the hostile environment in their host town to apologize for a crime they didn't commit. And it's easy to see why: they live in a town where they're not wanted; a town where an intimidating demonstration was held against them; a town where a reception centre was hastily evacuated overnight in order to ensure the safety of residents. Asylum seekers in Oulu don't feel safe hence they feel the need to apologize in a bid to "clear their name" and ease tension.

The response to the Kempele incident was plainly racist and discriminatory but it certainly wasn't surprising. Whenever rape is reported in Finland the response on social media hugely depends on the origin of the suspect. When the alleged perpetrator is a foreigner the response is scathing, and all non-white immigrants are collectively branded "rapists". On the other hand, when the suspect is an ethnic Finn the response is subtle and the case is quickly forgotten. There was no backlash when a 24-year-old nurse sexually violated numerous elderly people and was found guilty of 27 rapes and eight forced sexual acts. There was no massive outrage when a 45-year-old man repeatedly raped an 11-12-year-old child numerous times. Rape cases involving Finnish perpetrators abound, and are usually treated with kid gloves by both the media and members of the public, and Finnish politicians never feel the need to convene a crisis meeting. Such a double-standard response to a reprehensible crime sends a despicable message that rape isn't outrageous - unless the perpetrator is a foreigner.

It's true that immigrants are over-represented in rape statistics - as stated by criminal law professor emeritus Terttu Utriainen but it's equally important not to loose sight of the fact that majority of rapes reported to the police are still committed by ethnic Finns. Statics can be interpreted in many ways and too often they're interpreted to the disadvantage of minority groups but the bottom line is, rape is rape. All cases should be loudly condemned - irrespective of the perpetrator's ethnicity. Highlighting only cases involving foreigners is racist, xenophobic and designed to demonize a group of people. By the way, foreigners in Finland aren't a homogenous group - so it doesn't make sense to lump all foreigners - from more than a hundred different countries - and compare them to a homogenous group of Finns.

I understand the predicament of asylum-seekers who organised the apology march in Oulu. It feels like they're "behind enemy lines". But I think they shouldn't have apologized for a crime they didn't commit. Finns don't apologize when individual members of the majority group commit crimes. Some Finns might condemn a crime committed by a compatriot, and maybe distance themselves from the perpetrator - but they certainly don't apologize for for the crime. Asylum-seekers should have simply organized a march against rape and sexual violence.

After the Paris terror attacks that left 130 people dead, three Muslim comedians in Pakistan took a stand against the violence in a video that went viral online. What comedians refused to do is apologize for the actions of terrorists. That's the way it should be.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The viral racist Finnish woman (VIDEO)

A disturbing video of a racist Finnish woman verbally abusing an African woman on the streets in Finland in broad daylight has been shared widely and discussed online. The video, which looks like a 1960s scene in the deeply racist American south, is difficult to watch and some people, especially Africans and all people of African descent may find it extremely offensive. It portrays Finland in a racist light, and all Finns of goodwill must be embarrassed by it.

An African woman endured a racist verbal attack in Finland in October 2015. The incident was captured on video, as many incidents are captured nowadays, and uploaded to the internet - then widely shared on social media. The video, which is available on Facebook and YouTube, is also making rounds via mobile messaging applications like WhatsApp. The video was also picked up by foreign news outlets such as RT, the Daily Mail and Nairobi News. Incidentally, major news outlets in Finland like Helsingin Sanomat and Yle intentionally or unintentionally didn't carry the story.

According to Iltalehti, the incident took place on Friday 23 October 2015 around Sello shopping centre in the Leppävaara district of Espoo. The woman on the receiving end of the racist abuse is a Kenyan practical nurse.

My view

First of all, I am disappointed that the racist woman's face wasn't captured on the video. The "naming and shaming" approach is sometimes an effective way of dealing with racists - many of whom live unidentified among decent people in communities. Some of them might even be working with kids, some of whom might be black, in places like daycare centers - and who knows what the kids might be going through in their hands. Racists, I believe, should be "outed" whenever and wherever possible so that society, including their colleagues, family, friends and acquaintances can know who they truly are.

That said, some viewers might be interested to know what happened in the build up to the racist outburst but I won't go into it because it's immaterial. Nothing can justify such a blatant display of racism and narrow-mindedness. Racism is a big problem in Finland and it stems from ignorance - the kind of ignorance demonstrated by the racist who thinks that all non-whites, inlcuding refugees displaced by war are "welfare shoppers". Many non-whites in Finland have experienced some form of racism in the country. In fact, the Kenyan woman in this case told Iltalehti that it's not the first time she experienced racism in Finland.

Racially motivated verbal abuse is by no means uncommon in Finland. According to Yle, many immigrants encounter offensive language daily. A Cameroonian social worker, for instance, told Yle that he was called the N-word once when he was taking his kid to daycare. A 29-year-old Libyan woman told Yle that she was once spat on by a Finnish man in a bus. These examples go to show that the experience of the Kenyan woman in Espoo is unique but it's share by many immigrants in Finland.

Although the video of the racist Finnish woman is shocking, it isn't surprising. The only thing that is a little bit surprising in this case is that the racist woman appears to be sober and not under the influence of alcohol. In many cases of verbal racist abuse in Finland the perpetrators always appear drunk or under the influence of a substance of some kind. The fact that the racist in this case was sober is a cause for concern because it seems to be an indication that Finnish racists are becoming bolder. They no longer seek courage from alcohol and other intoxicants.

Props to the Kenyan woman involved in the incident for rising above the dirt thrown at her. She handled the situation gracefully. She didn't descend to the inhumane level of the aggressor. She stayed calm and, according to Iltalehti, she made a police report on the incident. But she made one mistake: she didn't video the abuser's face. Finnish police, I believe, will say the racist didn't break any laws in this case. This is where my disappointment comes in: had the racist Finnish woman's face been captured in the video she would have faced some sort of justice in the court of public opinion. Perhaps her employer or decent friends would have reined her in. But again - that's unlikely to happen in Finland. Now it feels like she got away with the most brazen verbal racist attack I've seen in Finland.

What has been dubbed the "Syrian refugee crisis" and the "influx of refugees" has tested European standards of humanity, and many Europeans - politicians and ordinary people alike - have failed the test woefully. The crisis has unmasked racism of scary proportions in many European countries, including Finland. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ku Klux Klan in Finland?

The refugee crisis has tested European commitment to principles of human rights and humanitarianism, and revealed deep-seated racism in European countries, including Finland. Asylum seekers seeking safe haven in Europe routinely face protests and hostile opposition. Among all anti-refugee protests across the European continent during the recent refugee crisis, a protest in Finland featuring a protester dressed in the attire of the infamous Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a well-known racist, terrorist, anti-immigration and right-wing extremist movement with roots in the Southern United States, was perhaps the most alarming. Other incidents across Finland involving stones, petrol bombs, attempted arson attacks and "white power" vandalism bear stark resemblance to KKK antics in the American South during the movement's opposition to the civil rights movement.

On Thursday 24 September 2015 (breaking Friday) a bus carrying some 49 asylum seekers including children and infants to a reception centre in Lahti in southern Finland was, according to national broadcaster Yle, was confronted by protesters carrying Finnish flags and hurling fireworks and stones at the bus. One of the protesters was dressed like a KKK member - the only difference being that instead of holding the Confederate flag, the Klan-clad protester held the Finnish flag.

Yle reports that rocks were also thrown at workers of the Finnish Red Cross during the protest but no one was injured.

A short video of the anti-refugee protest in Lahti is available here

In a separate incident earlier that same night a petrol bomb was thrown at an emergency accommodation facility for asylum seekers in Kouvola. According to Iltalehti no one was hurt.

A few days after the bus carrying asylum seekers was attacked, the statue of a footballer in the same city of Lahti was dressed in KKK attire. The city reportedly made a police report. Surveillance cameras caught the incident, and according to the city's sports secretary there were apparently six culprits.

In another incident, asylum seekers' quarters in Kouvola was vandalized with swastikas and "white power" graffiti, according to Yle. There was another attempted arson attack at an asylum seekers' reception centre in Lammi. 

My view

First and foremost, the KKK is, without a doubt, a terrorist organisation that used violence and murder to make its case - like other groups like the Islamic State (ISIS). The KKK terrorized and lynched African Americans because of the color of their skin. Anyone dressed in the uniform of the movement at the time or nowadays is either an affiliated to the hate group or subscribes to its racist and violent ideology, and should be treated as such. Anyone dressed in a protest like a KKK member ought to be treated by the authorities and law enforcement in the same way as they would treat a protester holding, for example, the black flag of the ISIS. The KKK is not very different from the ISIS. Both use violence and murder to advance their causes. I have no illusion, however, that Finnish law enforcement would treat a white Lutheran young man dressed in KKK attire in the same way as they would treat a colored young man who displays ISIS symbols in a protest. In an ideal world void of discrimination and white privilege ISIS and KKK affiliates, I believe, would to be treated similarly. But it won't happen.

According to Yle, the KKK-clad protester was identified by police as a 19-year-old Finnish bloke with no previous crime record. His affiliation to any activist group is reportedly unknown. He is suspected of incitement against an ethnic group and desecration of the Finnish flag. 

Anti-refugee incidents in Finland involving petrol bombs, attacks on buses and KKK attire are hallmarks of racism in American South during a shameful period in American history. But despite all the flirting with KKK symbolism and tactics in modern-day Finland, I believe there's no active KKK branch in the country. However, I have no doubt that there're numerous individuals in Finland who share the right-wing extremist ideology of the KKK. There're racists in the country who believe in so-called white supremacy and white nationalism; there are groups and organizations in the country that although not officially listed as hate groups are, in fact, hate groups. Many of such groups consider themselves "patriotic" - but so does the KKK.      

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"I was a refugee before" - a campaign in support of refugees in Finland

The humanitarian crisis sparked by a massive influx of asylum seekers to Europe dominated headlines, again, around the world after the body of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on Ali Hoca beach in Turkey. The crisis gave birth to campaigns by people of good conscience around the world to show solidarity with asylum seekers. One of such campaigns is the "ennen olin pakolainen" (before I was a refugee) online campaign in Finland. The social media campaign, which can be followed on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #ennenolinpakolainen, gives former refugees a platform to tell their stories and show what they have become.

A lot of negativity surrounds the humanitarian crisis faced by Europe. The negatives include outrageous statements by European far-right politicians like Finland's Foreign Minister and anti-immigration Finns Party leader, Timo Soini, who said he's not ruling out the idea of European countries prioritizing Christian asylum seekers over Muslims, and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who claimed his country does not want more Muslims. The outrageously discriminatory rhetoric and the plight of asylum seekers stuck in a train station in Budapest for days dominated headlines across the world. But positive stories abound; stories that go to show that contrary to widespread misguided stereotypes about asylum seekers many of them integrate well into their new countries and go on to be responsible members of society.

The #ennenolinpakolainen campaign in Finland, according to MTV news, has been around for sometime but was brought to the fore again. The campaign's Facebook page states that its purpose is to show that refugees are not just numbers on a paper or a liability to society. Through the campaign former refugees tell what they do in Finland these days. The list of former refugees in the campaign showcase many people with a variety of skills and professions, including students, entrepreneurs, engineers, nurses, social activists and politicians - notably a member of Finland's Eduskunta (parliament).

Participants in the campaign, according to Yle, also include a bio-analyst and a former refugee who's set to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin.

My view

According to Ita-sanomat, the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign originates from Denmark. But to me it really doesn't matter where it originates from. It's a magnificent campaign that debunks archaic refugee stereotypes that still linger in modern-day European countries. Among refugees, like among any other group of people in society, there are hardworking individuals with dreams - dreams of becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, teachers, police officers, just to name a few. Among refugees are people who could, if given a fair chance, become remarkable citizens.

Unfortunately, the narrative that refugees are a liability to society is popular albeit being prejudiced and baseless - as evidenced by initiatives such as the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign. Some bigoted individuals claim that Muslim refugees should not be welcomed because they cannot integrate. This is, without a doubt, false. Participants in the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign are largely from Muslim countries, and they're doing a good job integrating in Finland.

I've read many of the stories told by former refugees through the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign on Fcaebook and Twitter. Needless to say, many, if not all of the stories, are inspiring tales of talent, skill and resilience. Take, for example, the story of a refugee boy who moved to Finland at the age of 11 and now plays professional football and captains the Finnish U21 national team. Or the girl who moved to Finland at the age of 5, learned the Finnish language, went to elementary school, completed university as a construction engineer and now works for an international company. Or the story of the boy who left Somalia and is poised to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin. Or the story of the young man who has lived in Finland for 5 years and is now studying in a university of applied sciences to become an aircraft technician.

Amazing stories.

Drawing from the aforementioned, it's short-sighted and somewhat narrow-minded to consider refugees as a mere expenditure or liability to society. They have a lot to offer if given a fair shot.    

Monday, August 31, 2015

Petition to save development cooperation in Finland

The aim of Finland's development policy, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, is "to support developing countries' efforts to eradicate poverty and inequality and promote sustainable development". In contradiction to this policy, the country's government has massively slashed development cooperation funding -  a move that some people in the country feel would "kill the NGO sector" and adversely affect the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. The steep cuts raised concerns among civil society organisations, and prompted a petition telling Finland's government that harsh cuts would adversely affect the world's most vulnerable people.

Following general elections in April 2015, a new government comprising the Centre Party, the populist anti-immigration Finns Party and the National Coalition Party took power on 29 May 2015 under the leadership of Prime Minister Juha Sipila. The new government will, according to information on the Foreign Ministry's website, cut appropriations for development cooperation by EUR 200 million beginning in 2016. According to the Guardian its a 43% cut in development aid. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka claims the cuts are as a result of Finland's economic situation and the need for saving.

Civil society organisations in Finland do not welcome the cuts.

KEPA, an umbrella organisations for over 300 Finnish NGOs launched a petition urging the government to save development cooperation. As of the time of this writing the petition has garnered 31800 signatures.

My view

Concerns by civil society organisations make sense. I share the view that massive cuts - almost 50% cuts would kill some NGOs and negatively affect some of the world's poorest people supported by the good work done by Finnish NGOs around the world. Take the work done by Save the Children Finland for example: over 13000 children in Kenya and Ethiopia supported by the organisation will have their opportunities for basic education weakened or become impossible when the cuts hit - according to an email by KEPA's World Village Festival team. According to the email, which I received through an email list to which I am subscribed, as many as 120,000 children aided by World Vision will be left without help, and Plan Finland's work in Ethiopia against child marriage and female genital mutilation will be ended.

Drawing from the aforementioned, massive cuts would no doubt save Finland some money but would at the same time adversely affect the well-being of children elsewhere. Saving a few euros could be appealing to some people, but working for a more just world makes more sense to a majority of Finns. According to an open letter (in Finnish) to Finland's foreign minister by representatives of Finnish NGOs and civil society, more than 80% of Finns consider development cooperation important.

The foreign ministry recognizes the fact that development cooperation provides millions of people with a chance for a better life, and that over a billion people continue to live in poverty. It is therefore reckless and somewhat selfish to cut development cooperation funding by almost half. Besides adversely affecting millions of people living in poverty across the world development cooperation cuts could also lead to job loses in the NGO sector in Finland since some organisations will have to terminate projects. This could mean lay-offs for some workers in the sector.

Help save development cooperation. Sign the petition.

Worthy to mention that not only development cooperation is at risk in Finland due to cuts. The the government also proposed drastic cuts in education and other sectors.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Olli Immonen: a racist dream

Anders Behring Breivik, the infamous Norwegian terrorist who went on a killing spree in Norway in the summer of 2011 circulated a manifesto online that bears similarities with a Facebook update posted by a young Finnish politician and member of parliament on Friday evening. Like Breivik the MP opposes multiculturalism, and uses explosive words - the kind of words used in other hateful manifestos, including manifestos posted online by people like Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof, the racist who killed nine African Americans in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

A second-term MP for the Finns Party, Olli Immonen, posted a status update on Facebook on 24 July 2015 in which he made no secret of his extreme-right views. In the status update, the MP whose link to the far-right is well-documented, called for a "fight" against "this nightmare called multiculturalism", and stated that the "ugly bubble" will soon "burst into a million little pieces." In the fiery post, the MP expressed "belief" in his "fellow fighters" and promised to "fight until the end...". He also mentions "enemies" but make no mention of who exactly the enemies are.

My view

Olli Immonen's statement amounts to incitement of hatred against minority cultural, ethnic and religious groups in Finland, and bears stark similarities to rants in dangerous manifestos posted online by mass murderers, including Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof - the so-called "white supremacist" who like Immonen created a us-against-them scenario and ranted online about his desire to "fight" against those perceived to be taking over his country.

In a 1500-paged manifesto, Anders Breivik of Norway strongly opposed multiculturalism, and stated that a multicultural society is "temporary", and that "sooner or later" there'll be a return to a new monocultural society - a stance Immonen seems to agree with. Like Breivik, Immonen beliefs that there's some kind of "war" going on, and that his "fellow fighters" (what Breivik referred to as "cultural conservative resistance fighters") - will "fight" to the very end.

Olli Immonen's distasteful Facebook post is a rallying call and call to arms for xenophobes, islamophobes and racists under the guise of patriotism. The statement is coined to sound like the young politician has a dream  - perhaps like Dr. Martin Luther King. But Immonen's dream is different; it's a racist dream; a dream that pitches Finnish culture and identity against other cultures and identities in the Nordic country.The gullible among his followers could heed the call, and Finland could see a spike in hate crimes as a results.

It's disturbing that it took more than 24 hours - as reported by Yle - for Prime Minister Juha Sipilä who formed a government with the party Olli Immonen represents to weigh in on the MP's scary remarks. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Finns Party's chairman, Timo Soini, is yet to comment on the controversy. The chairman's silence suggests an approval of the message -  an approval which would not be surprising.

Worthy to mention that this is not the first time Olli Immonen's views and conduct have raised concern. The 29-year-old, whose hobbies include shooting - according to his website, posed for a group photo in June 2015 with a group called the Finnish Resistance Movement at the grave of a Finnish nationalist who assassinated a Governor-General in 1904.

The Finns Party that Immonen represents in parliament is no stranger to controversies linked to racism and incitement of hatred. Although the party's leadership repeatedly claims, after each scandal, that outrageous statements by its MPs and Councillors do not represent the party's stance one thing is undeniable: birds of a feather flock together. And if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

US failure to protect Charleston church victims of racist massacre

In this age of mass surveillance in the United States in an effort to preempt acts of terror like that meted out against the congregation of the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, it is hard to believe that the wide net of surveillance cast both online and offline by US law enforcement missed the perpetrator of the atrocity despite eye-popping red flags.

On 17 June 2015 an alleged "white supremacist" gunned down nine people - six women and three men - at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, a historical church linked to the civil rights movement. The nine victims of the massacre - all African Americans - reportedly sat in church with the perpetrator, Dylann Roof, 21, in a bible study group and prayer meeting for an hour before the massacre.

Worthy of note that the perpetrator who, according to his childhood friend, wanted segregation between whites and blacks was known by law enforcement and had been previously arrested - besides having a racist manifesto online threatening violence. According to a BBC report, he drew the attention of the police at a shopping mall in February when he walked into the mall all dressed in black and asked strange questions to shop employees. He was found to be carrying a drug without prescription and was arrested and charged for drug possession. He was also banned from the mall, and was arrested for trespassing at the same mall two months later.

Dylann Roof had a racist manifesto online - which according to the New York Times reveals that the case of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager killed in Florida in 2012 triggered his racist rage. The nearly 2,500-word manifesto, which was discovered on a website described blacks as being inferior, amongst other things. "I have no choice," the manifesto reads. "I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me." 

According to the New York Times the website that carries the manifesto was first published in February - four months before the rampage - under the killer's name, Dylann Roof. The New York Times reports that the Charleston Police Department and the FBI were  aware of the website and are "taking steps to verify the authenticity" of the postings on the site, which features a photo of Dylann Roof posing with a handgun and the confederate flag.

His roommate reportedly told ABC News  that he (Roof) planned the massacre for months.

My view

Mindful of the numerous red flags and mass surveillance by US law enforcement reportedly intended to stop such attacks, Dylann Roof should have been stopped before the attack. Just two weeks before the church attack, a certain 26-year-old Usaama Rahim who was under surveillance was followed by a police officer and an FBI agent and killed in Boston. According to the BBC, Usaama Rahim was under 24-hour surveillance because he was considered a threat to the public. It is inconceivable why Roof, despite having all the earmarks of ticking time bomb, was not considered a threat to the public and perhaps placed under surveillance like Rahim. Roof posed a threat to the public and he made no secret about it, but unlike Rahim he was not followed around. Perhaps his planned massacre was not considered serious enough to earn him a place in the controversial surveillance program. Or perhaps US law enforcement does not consider racist hate crime against African Americans a crime worth dedicating resources to abort. Maybe stopping hate crime against African Americans in its tracks it not a priority.

I refuse to believe that law enforcement was completely unaware of Dylann Roof and what he was capable of. Someone in law enforcement somewhere must have read the racist manifesto in which he "chose Charleston" for his " white fight". The plan was out in the open. Someone must have spotted it and decided not to act against it. If Dylann Roof  fitted the racist profile of what many people in society consider, wrongly of course, nowadays to be  a terrorist: non-white and Muslim, he should have been stopped. He should have been placed under surveillance and approached by a police officer and maybe an FBI agent at the Emanuel AME church on that fateful night - in the same way law enforcement officers approached suspected terrorist Usaama Rahim in Boston.

I share the view that it is important to call the Charleston attack "terrorism", and all other similar attacks that pass as hate crime. The perpetrator's motive was to attack the historic African American church, kill African Americans and strike terror into the hearts of  survivors and African Americans in general. Officials and the media chose to call it a "hate crime". Others called it a "tragedy", but in my view it is terrorism. All acts of terror are technically hate crimes. It is unfortunate that an act of terror is described as a "hate crime" based on what the perpetrator looks like or beliefs in.

Dylann Roof should have been on a watch list and followed closely like other suspected terrorists. The nine victims of the Charleston church attack add to the long list of victims of America's senseless gun laws and a law enforcement system tainted by racial profiling. If Dylann Roof was not white and blonde chances are someone in US law enforcement would have paid closer attention to his online postings, which include the racist manifesto in which he "chose Charleston."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Forced sterilization of Africans in Finland: a racist suggestion

Finland is by no means Nazi-Germany but there are politicians in the Nordic country who, if given a chance, would gladly implement policies and practices that are reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's reign in Germany. One of such politicians is a member of the populist True Finns Party who suggested that African immigrants should be forcibly sterilized.

On Tuesday 27 May 2015, Olli Sademies, a reserve councilor for the Finns Party in Helsinki suggested in a Facebook status update that African men in Finland should be forcibly sterilized so as to curb what he thinks is a high birth rate among immigrants. According to Yle, the politician suggested that the number of children born by immigrants should be limited to a maximum of three, and that in order to limit birth rate, African men should be forcibly sterilized.

Yle reports that the leader of the group of Finns Party councilors in Helsinki condemned the remarks and described the Facebook update as "fascism" and "completely mad." The party's secretary said reserve councilor Sademies' comments are not the party's.

My view

Although Olli Sademies is an obscure politician who, according to Yle received only 462 votes in the parliamentary elections in spring this year and did not make it to parliament, his despicable view on how immigrants should be treated must be taken seriously. Adolf Hitler, an epitome of man's inhumanity to man, was once obscure before his rise to power where they implemented horrific policies, including forced sterilization of people deemed "abnormal", and the extermination of Jews and people from other minority groups. It is therefore important to nip in the bud dangerous views expressed by politicians irrespective of the amount of power they wield at any point in their political career.

The Finns Party "distanced itself" from the racist statement, but distancing itself from the statement is not enough. The party, which already has a reputation as xenophobic, populist, anti-immigration and anti-EU, must do more to get rid of individuals who hold and express horrendous views in its ranks - if the party truly does not share the views or does not benefit from such utterances that seem to energize its base.

It is not a coincidence that many, if not most, racist political scandals in Finland are linked to the Finns Party: from Teuvo Hakkarainen who used the n-word to refer to Africans on his first day in parliament, to Helena Eronen who suggested that foreigners should be forced to wear armbands in order to ease identification by the police, and to James Hirvisaari and  Jussi Halla-aho who were convicted by Finnish courts for inciting hatred against an ethnic group. The Finns Party clearly attracts people with racist, xenophobic views. It will take more than slaps on the wrists of offenders and political statements by the party's leaders to clean up the party's sullied reputation.

People of African descent around the world are constantly on the receiving end of racism, discrimination and abusive policies - sometimes sanctioned by state institutions. According to the World Health Organization, in some countries, people belonging to certain certain population groups, including ethnic minorities continue to be sterilized without their full, free and informed consent. Israel for instance admitted in 2013 that it covertly sterilized Eritrean Jews without their consent. Although forced sterilization is required for transgenders in Finland, the inhumane practice is unlikely to be extended to people of African descent or any other minority group without their consent. However, Africans must be vigilant, especially when a politician starts floating the despicable idea around. There is a negative precedent as in the case of Israel.

Of course, the suggestion that Africans have too many children even after moving to Finland is not true. A report by Helsingin Sanomat revealed that immigrants' birth rate falls upon arrival in Finland and is not very different from the birth rate of ethnic Finns. Hence it is both racist and uninformed to suggest that African migrants should be sterilized because they continue to reproduce at the same rate after moving to Finland.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Netanyahu late on racism in Israel

Violence or any form of attack or discrimination against an Israeli often meets massive public outcry, wide media coverage and accusations of antisemitism. But minorities in Israel, including Israelis of African descent face discrimination and racist abuse, including police brutality with little or no outcry or strong condemnation by Israel's ruling elite or members of the public.

Thousands of Israeli Jews of Ethiopian origin took the streets in the centre of Tel Aviv to protest against racism against black Israelis in Israel. The anti-racism protest, according to Reuters, was sparked by a video showing two Israeli policemen punching and beating a black Israeli soldier. Prime Minister Netanyahu met the soldier who was assaulted by the police, and said he was "shocked" by the incident. According to The Jerusalem Post the Prime Minister's office announced after a meeting between government officials and members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community that a plan to deal with the problems facing the community will be brought to the new government.

While the incident involving the police brutality incident acted like a catalyst for protests, it worthy to note that cases and reports of racism and discrimination against minorities in Israel are abound and span many years. Many people around the world are familiar with reports of discrimination against Arabs in Israel -- stock in a system that many people like the Guardian's award-winning Middle East correspondent Chris McGreal say bears resemblance to apartheid in South Africa. But the plight of black Israelis - predominantly from Ethiopia - isn't as widely covered and discussed like the plight of Arabs, although Israelis of African descent struggle with "deep-seated" race problems in Israeli society.

Over the years, politicians in Israel, including Prime Minister Nathanyahu have played the race card in an attempt to win votes. Most notably, on the day of Israel's election which took place March 17, 2015, Natanyahu said "Arab voters are coming out in droves" to vote in a bid to inspire Jewish voters. Now, pause for a second and imagine what would happen if a world leader somewhere says that "Jewish voters are coming out in droves" in a bid to energize his base.

Israeli officials confirmed in the 1990s that they threw away blood donated by Ethiopian Israelis out of fear that it could be infected with HIV and other diseases. In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said refugees, whom he referred to as "illegal infiltrators flooding the country", threaten the identity of the Jewish state. In 2013, Israel admitted that it sterilized Ethiopian Jewish women without their consent. The aforementioned are all offensive instances where people were targeted because of their race or colour of their skin.

Another Israeli politician in the name of Eli Yishai who served in Netanyahu's government once called for mass arrest, imprisonment and deportation of all African migrants on trumped up claims that they are all criminals.

My View

It is a good thing that Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have come to senses and has taken a stand against racism suffered by black Israelis. Meeting the Isaeli soldier who was beaten by police, and convening a meeting between representatives of the Ethiopian-Israeli community and top government officials were all moves in the right direction. But expressing "shock" over blatant racism against black Israelis is not enough. The Prime Minster should also take steps to redress despicable discrimination and inequality against Palestinians and Arabs in Israel. Racism in Israel goes beyond the Ethiopian- Israeli community.

Natanyahu must take responsibility for the spread of racism in his country. His well-documented comments about Arabs and African migrants sent a wrong to the majority Israeli population that minorities, including Arabs and people of African descent pose an identity threat to the Jewish state. His irresponsible comments incited racism and hatred in Israeli society hence he should not be "shocked" by the outcome.

The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new-found commitment to "fix Israeli society" after anti-racism protest in Tel Aviv is welcomed. Concrete steps must be taken to curb latent racism and discrimination against Israel's ethnic minorities, Jews and non-Jews. Words won't be enough. Concrete steps should include the Prime Minster and other politicians and government officials refraining from making comments that fuel racial, ethnic and religious hatred against minority groups.

Minority groups in Israel on their part should continue to demand equal treatment. Where there's silence injustice thrives. They should continue to speak up and protest if need be, peacefully of course. Violence should be avoided and condemned by both protesters and security forces responding to protests.

Israel often tries, in vain of course, to justify discrimination and segregation within its borders by pointing to security concerns and the threat of terrorism. But the punching and beating of an Israeli soldier of African descent by Israeli policemen clearly had nothing to do with national security or fending off terror. It had everything to do with deep-seated racism in Israeli society. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's impressive reaction to the incident was long overdue. The Prime Minister has been part of the problem for years by fostering an atmosphere of "us and them."

Mindful of the fact that people who condemn Israel's actions in one way or the other run the risk of being dubbed antisemitic or accused of incitement against Jews, it's worthy to highlight in closing that I am not antisemitic. I merely oppose domination and oppression of one by another, Jew or non-Jew, black, coloured, white or whatever, Christian or non-Christian, Muslim or non-Muslim.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

African Union's share of responsibility for Mediterranean deaths

Whenever a boat carrying migrants goes down in the Mediterranean, a scenario which happens too often nowadays, criticism of the European Union (EU) and its role in the ongoing humanitarian disaster in the high seas is swift and strong. The African Union (AU) on the other hand is too often treated with kid gloves - even by advocates of "African solutions to African problems," despite the fact that most of the people who die in the course of the perilous journey across the Mediterranean originate from the African continent, a continent under the stewardship of the AU.

According to a report published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the majority of migrants who died in transit - 64 per cent - in 2014 came from Africa and the Middle East, and the majority of them die while crossing the Mediterranean. Between January and September 2014, 30% of those who died originated from Sub-Saharan Africa. Other deaths include people from the Middle East and North Africa, the Horn of Africa, south East Asia and Central America.

More than 800 people drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday 19 April 2015 bringing the number of deaths in the Mediterranean this first three and the half months of the year to 1,750, according to the BBC. According to Amnesty International, the Mediterranean claimed 3,500 lives in 2014.

The Italian coast guard told Amnesty International that it had rescued a total of almost 10,000 people since 10 April. According to the human rights group, there has been a more than 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015. On 12 April the Italian coast guard reportedly retrieved nine corpses from a capsized wooden boat.

Condemnation of the European Union's role in the crisis is, justifiably, strong and unequivocal. Amnesty published a briefing, Europe's sinking shame: the failure to save refugees and migrants at sea, urging European governments to take immediate and effective action to end the catastrophe in the Mediterranean. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe and Central Africa described the crisis as a "humanitarian tragedy of titanic proportions", and said Europe's failure to save thousands of migrants and refugees who run into peril in the Mediterranean has been akin to firefighters refusing to save people jumping from a towering inferno. Governments' responsibility must clearly be not only to put out the fire but to catch those who have stepped off the ledge,"

My view

I share Amnesty International's view of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. European governments must do more to save people in distress in the Mediterranean. Securing Europe's borders shouldn't take precedence over innocent human lives. People in migrant boats should not be pushed back without due process under Refugee law. I also share the view that the AU must take its own share of responsibility for migrant deaths. Strong condemnation of the EU's inaction or insufficient action to save lives is justifiable and well-founded. But the AU and African governments must be condemned as well and urged to shoulder their share of responsibility.

It's true that migrants and refugees are jumping from a proverbial inferno, and European government's refusal to save them could be likened to firefighters refusing to save lives. However, focus shouldn't be solely on catching people jumping from the towering inferno. Some focus should be on putting out the fire so that it doesn't spread and claim more lives. This is where the AU comes in.

While the EU should do more to bolster search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, the AU and governments in countries of origin on their part should ensure that people don't feel the need to embark on clandestine life-threatening journeys that end in the Mediterranean, which is now a mass grave for Africans and other people from the Middle East and elsewhere. The thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean are fleeing conflict, persecution, violence and poverty. In order to stop or at least reduce the number of people trying to reach safety in Europe these problems must be addressed.

As far as I'm concerned, if blame for the loss of African lives in the Mediterranean should be apportioned, the lion's share falls squarely on the shoulders of the AU and governments whose failed policies force people to seek safety and greener pastures across the Mediterranean. But now is not the time to apportion blame. International cooperation is needed to stop the carnage.

It's worthy to mention that the EU cooperates with Africa on migration on bilateral, regional and continental levels. In fact, a summit was held in Brussels on 22 April co-chaired by the president of the European Commission and the chairperson of the African Union commission to discuss migration. But efforts to stop the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean must go beyond rhetoric, political declarations and summits. Concrete action is needed, such as countering human traffickers, creating jobs on the African continent, stopping persecution and human rights violations that force victims to flee, and bring perpetrators to book.

It's true that as long as Europe doesn't offer adequate safe and regular routes to the continent people seeking asylum and better life for themselves and their children will continue to choose unsafe alternatives. But it's also true that as long as African governments and governments in other regions of origin don't respond to the needs of their people, more people will continue to seek economic and political safety elsewhere - with a good number of them dying in the process in the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Unusual show of support for Cameroon army despite poor record

The fight against Boko Haram in northern Cameroon propelled Cameroon's security forces as heroes and patriots, including elements of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (known by its French acronym B.I.R) - a battalion that inspires fear and evokes memories of intimidation and abuse among numerous Cameroonian civilians. Despite their fearsome reputation, Cameroon's armed forces now enjoy the support of the same civilians who have suffered human rights violations in one way or the other in the hands of soldiers either during peaceful protests or normal day-to-day interactions. Cameroonians with fresh, long memories, however, support the army with caution.

Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorists have, in recent months, carried out cross-border attacks in towns in northern Cameroon. According to a report by The World Street Journal, Cameroon has become the terror group's second front and many Cameroonians have fled their homes. Cameroon's security forces are fighting back and many soldiers have lost their lives.

Thousands of people marched in Yaounde on 28 February 2015 in protest against Boko Haram and at the same time to show solidarity with the army, according to Reuters. The demonstrators marched carrying flags and placards praising the army. There was also a march in the economic capital Douala.

In an unusual show of support, Cameroonian civilians identified themselves as the army - the same army that intimidates them and violates their right to assemble and protest against a regime that has been in power for over 30 years with little to show for it.

Images of coffins of fallen soldiers draped with the national flag of a relatively very peaceful country shocked the nation. The images evoked emotions and won the hearts of many in favor of the army. Many Cameroonians have never experienced war or an armed conflict hence the thought of war with Boko Haram is terrifying. But Cameroon's security forces charged with defending the nation should not be given a blank check. The army must uphold human rights standards.

Cameroon's security forces have a poor record in terms of human rights, and reports of violations keep pouring in as the security forces battle Boko Haram. According to Amnesty International's 2014/15 annual report (see page 95), which was released three days before thousands of people took to the streets of Yaounde to show support for the army, Cameroon's security forces including the B.I.R were responsible for human rights violations such as killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions. Most of the violations were committed in the fight against Boko Haram. Amnesty reports that a nurse, Nzouane Clair Rene, was shot dead following arrest by armed security forces near the town of Mora in northern Cameroon. On the same day, two traders identified as Ousmane Njibrine and Grema Abakar traveling to a village market were allegedly killed by the B.I.R in Dabanga. Other people allegedly killed by the B.I.R include, Malloum Abba, Oumate Kola and Boukar Madjo. According to Amnesty International members of the B.I.R were also reportedly involved in enforced disappearances. Abakar Kamsouloum for example was reportedly arrested at his home in Kouseeri on 2 June 2014 and transferred to a military camp. His fate and whereabouts, according to Amnesty, remained unknown at the end of the year.

My view

As a Cameroonian, I'm familiar with the way Cameroon's security forces operate. They're brutal and have little or no regard for human rights and the law. In fact, when I first heard about the B.I.R when I traveled to the country in 2010, I thought the battalion was referred to as "bee" -- due to their stinging reputation. It took some time before I realized that the acronym is "B.I.R" not "bee". Reports of human rights violations allegedly committed by them in the context of fighting terrorism are plausible. The B.I.R, in my experience, inspire fear and intimidate civilians in peacetime. Their conduct in a war-like situation would definitely leave a lot to be desired from a human rights perspective. I've heard stories of people brutalized and intimidated by members of the B.I.R, many of whom believe are above the law.

The brutality and heavy-handedness of Cameroon's security forces, including police and soldiers is no secret. In 2008 for instance police and soldiers clashed with civilians in several towns and cities. Cameroon activists said over 100 people were killed. It's therefore surprising to see many Cameroonians at home and abroad herald the phrase "Je suis l'armée camerounaise" (roughly translated it means "I am the Cameroonian army") -- borrowed from the famous online French campaign, "Je suis Charlie." The march to show support for the army - a march which ironically would've been suppressed otherwise by security forces if it had a different theme - was, in my perspective, inspired by the adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Boko Haram is the enemy of the state (the army) and enemy of the people. The people therefore felt compelled to forge a rare friendship with the army because they (the people and the army) have a common enemy in Boko Haram. But before the advent of Boko Haram Cameroon's security forces treated the people they now protect like the enemy - intimidating, brutalizing, unlawfully detaining and sometimes killing them.

It remains to be seen whether or not the new-found "solidarity" between the army and the people - as demonstrated in the 28 February march - will endure. I don't think it will. The army will enthusiastically repress the people the next time it's deployed to do so. When the time comes, the phrase "Je suis l'armée camerounaise" won't be heard. The people will be saying: "Je ne suis pas l'armée camerounaise." Personally, I abhor terrorism and deplore acts of terror in Fotokol, Chibok, Paris, Garissa or elsewhere in the world. But I'm not (in support of) an army that intimidates civilians and violates human rights.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cameroon anglophone lawyers forced to make submissions in French

The official languages of Cameroon are French English and French. But French dominates partly because majority of Cameroonians are French-speaking, and partly because French is directly or indirectly forced down the throats of English-speaking Cameroonians. Reports of English-speaking lawyers in the North West region of Cameroon forced to make submissions in French buttress the point.

The legal department of the Appeals Court in Bamenda decided, according to Cameroon Journal, to serve lawyers in the North West region of Cameroon uniquely in the French language, and obliged the lawyers to make submissions in French. In response, the lawyers agreed a meeting on March 9, 2015 to paralyze the court if forced to make submissions in French. Cameroon Journal reports that the lawyers also threatened to create their own independent Bar Council, and questioned the government's decision to appoint only French-speaking Cameroonians at the legal department of the Appeals Court in the north west.
It's worthy to highlight that the North West region is predominantly English-speaking and most of the lawyers practicing law in the region are anglophones. Why then would a legal department in an English-speaking region decide to serve English-speaking lawyers in the French language?

In my view, the decision is based on the fact that the people working there are either unwilling or unable to speak English, which is a typical attitude in public offices in most parts of Cameroon. There's no problem with not wanting to speak English but there's a big problem, in my opinion, when inability to speak English leads to compulsory French for others.

Cameroon, as stated previously, is a bilingual country. Civil servants appointed by the government should have working knowledge of both languages -- or should at least be willing to use interpreters to make up for their shortcomings. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with the government appointing francophones to work in the legal department of the Appeals Court in an anglophone region but the appointed people should not force their language on the those they serve.

In my perspective, courts and legal departments should ideally serve people in a language they, the people, understand. Lawyers should have the liberty and freedom to make submissions in a language of their own choosing. While French-speaking staff in the legal department should be free to speak French English-speaking lawyers on their part should be free to make submissions in English. Lawyers in an English-speaking jurisdiction shouldn't be forced to make submissions in French simply because court officials and staff cannot speak or understand English.

Opposition by lawyers of the North West region to what is, I believe, a misguided attempt by the legal department of the Bamenda Appeals Court to force French down their throats is justifiable. But the lawyers shouldn't move to kick out French completely from courts in the North West region. After all Cameroon is bilingual. The lawyers should should insist on making submissions in a language of their choosing. Courts should not be in the business of prioritizing one official language over the other due to staff incompetence.

The way I see it, this problem wouldn't have existed if government appointees met basic language requirements. Politically motivated appointments fueled by corruption, discrimination, favoritism, tribalism, you name it  - all wrapped up in a complete package of bad governance - lead to such problems.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Not enough African opposition to violence against women

When a gruesome video of a Ugandan maid torturing a child was widely circulated on social media outrage was widespread and calls for the maid to be prosecuted were swift and unconditional. A few months later, another gruesome video, this time of a man brutalizing a woman in beastly fashion, sparked mixed comments online, and didn't generate enough outrage in same circles: a worrying indication that violence against women is tolerated and somewhat acceptable by some.

In the video (screenshot below), which is extremely hard to watch due to the graphic violence, a man wearing a blue t-shirt beats a half-naked woman with what looks like a piece of wood, drags her around, pushes her to the ground and pulls at hair. At one point the woman appears to pass out, and is dragged on the ground by the man.

I was unable to establish where the video was taken, but drawing from the fact that the language spoken in the video is Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, it's safe to say the incident took place somewhere in east Africa. The reason for the violence is also unknown. It could be in Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda. However, as far as I'm concerned, the video showcases a problem that is widely prevalent in many parts of Africa, including in Cameroon where I come from.

It's worthy to mention that besides Africa, women are violated in other parts of the world as well, including in Europe and the United States. A report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African medical research council found that violence against women is a global problem. According to the report, some 35% of women will experience violence that impacts their physical and mental health. Intimate partner violence being the most prevalent with 30% of women affected worldwide. The impact of violence, according to the report ranges from broken bones to pregnancy-related complications and mental problems.

In my view, nothing justifies such violence. Absolutely nothing. The video highlights the plight of the African woman. It's an adequate depiction of what many women endure on a daily basis. The numerous bystanders in the video who didn't bother to intervene and stop the violence, the way I see it, represent the high level of impunity for such violence against women in many African countries. There're numerous people who think, erroneously of course, that men are entitled to "discipline" women. This twisted mentality is inculcated in young boys and passed on from generation to generation, hence a cycle of violence hunts generations of women and girls.

I share the view that violence against women is a "global health problem of endemic proportions." I also think it's a social problem that destroys the lives of women and girls by fermenting gender-based violence and gender inequality. I've personally heard gruesome reports of abuse in Africa, Europe and the United States, hence no continent is void of the social ill.

Although violence against women is a global problem, there're differences in the way members of the public and the authorities, including the police respond to violence. It's easier, in my view, for a man who physically abuses a woman to get away with it (with some degree of support from bystanders) in Africa than in Europe for example.

It's my wish that the culprit in the aforementioned video be identified and brought to book like the Ugandan maid. Governments truly need to step up their game to protect women. I believe ordinary members of the public also need to step up their game.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A solution to racism in football -- inspired by Selma

Black football (soccer) players around the world are routinely subjected to racist abuse during football matches from Europe to South America and other parts of the world, and football authorities are either unwilling or unable to stop the prevalence of racism in football. History shows that the greatest victories against racism and discrimination were registered when affected groups, mostly black people, organized themselves and demanded change. From Soweto to Selma, for example, people of African descent rose up en masse against racial discrimination and disenfranchisement. Perhaps it's time for black players and others affected by racism in football to step up to the plate - together - and say "no mas."

A football player in Peru walked off the pitch in protest over racist abuse on March 1,2015. The Panamanian player, Luis Tejada, left the field after 70 minutes of play. According to him, racial abuse was going unpunished by football authorities in Peru. He walked off the field because he couldn't take it anymore. (The question I'm asking myself here is, was he the only black player on the pitch that day? If not, why didn't the others walk off with him?) The incident was reportedly the second involving the same player in five months.

A few days before the abuse in Peru, Feyenoord fans threw a giant inflatable banana at an Ivorian player in a Europa League match in Rotterdam. Although UEFA charged Feyenoord for fan racism, the club's General Manager Eric Gudde claimed the incident was "pure coincidence." Feyenoord coach Fred Rutten also downplayed the incident claiming the club has "various nationalities" so there can be no racisim. (How naive!) In a tweet the following day, FIFA president Sepp Blatter condemned the incident and urged all football bodies to implement the 2013 FIFA Congress Resolution to fight discrimination.

In my view, football authorities and governing bodies, including FIFA and UEFA haven't done enough to combat racism and discrimination in football. They have to do more than passing resolutions and releasing statements condemning racist incidents. The 2013 FIFA Resolution on the Fight against Racism and Discrimination mentioned by Blatter in his tweet is, for instance, a beautifully written 6-paged document stipulating anti-racism measures to be implemented on a global level in football, but such a document is worthless if clubs and football associations don't agree in the first place on what constitutes racist behavior. Take General Manager of Feyenoord Eic Gudde, and the club's coach Fred Rutten for example. They claimed that throwing a banana at a black football player isn't a racist act. Such people shouldn't be entrusted with the task of combating racism and discrimination.

Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter - who now passively condemns racism via social media - said in 2011 that there's no racism in football. It is unclear whether or not he has changed his mind. Michel Platini, another top football official, warned Mario Balotelli in 2012 and suggested that a player who walks off the pitch in protest over racist abuse should be booked. This tells me that rather than genuinely combat racism by taking a zero-tolerance approach, football authorities are more interested in protecting the game and in keeping the money flowing.

In my opinion, it's up to black players affected by racism to force real change and ensure maximum implementation of anti-racism and non-discrimination measures in football.

In Selma, a film which centers around the voting rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. (portrayed by actor David Oyelowo) repeatedly stated in one scene: "We negotiate. We demonstrate. We resist." 

To combat racism in football, affected players should, I believe, negotiate, demonstrate and resist. Black players should, together, negotiate with their clubs and football associations on how to respond to racism; they should demonstrate - together - against any manifestation of racism, even if it means walking off the pitch together when one of them is abused and nothing concrete is done about it; above all, they should resist - again, together - any pressure from the authorities to silence them through bookings or banning. If need be they should be ready collectively to accept banning. Like every major struggle related to racism and discrimination, the price for stopping racism in football will have to be paid by victims of the social ill. The price will be high but it'll also be worth it.

Unfortunately, there's little or no chance of black players collectively taking a zero-tolerance stance against racism by demanding more from the authorities. Many, if not all players, are hooked by lucrative contracts, sponsorship deals and the quest for glory on the big stage of world football. It seems to me that for many, if not all of them, the indignity of racial abuse on the job is a small price to pay -- that's why they put up with racial abuse.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Andre Brink and white contribution to anti-apartheid movement

Most heroes and heroins of the anti-apartheid movement who bravely opposed a brutally racist system of government that oppressed nonwhite people in South Africa were mostly black South Africans, many of whom were members of the African National Congress (ANC). But black South Africans weren't alone in the struggle against apartheid. Some white South Africans also stood up against racial segregation and discrimination, although they're not always recognized and widely celebrated for their contribution to the cause.

South Africa lost a white critic of the apartheid regime on 6 February 2015. Andre Brink was a South African novelists and writer who, according to the BBC, was one of the most outspoken critics of the apartheid regime. He died at the age of 79 on board a flight to Cape Town after he received an honorary doctorate degree in Belgium.

According to The Guardian, Brinks used Afrikaans (described by some at the time as the "language of the oppressor") to speak against Apartheid, and he is best known for his book A Dry White Season, which focuses on the death in detention of a black activist. The novel was adapted for a film, and is among some of his books that were banned by the apartheid regime.

In my view, Andre Brinks was a Boer who opposed Boer oppression of black South Africans. The way I see it -- after reading his letter to Madiba published by The New Yorker after Nelson Mandela's death -- the writer was a brave man of good will who wasn't afraid to express himself; he was a white individual who fearlessly opposed white domination in his country. Andre Brink could have taken the easy way out by simply supporting apartheid since he was white, but he didn't. He chose a more difficult path which at the time was less traveled by white South Africans - a path that made him a dissident at a time when, according to The Telegraph, to sympathize with the anti-apartheid movement was to be labelled a traitor to his race. That's what heroism looks like.

Andre Brinks was definitely not a traitor to his tribe or to his race. In my view, he was a traitor to oppressors, and being a traitor to an immoral cause it nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, he deserved a batch of honor for speaking truth to power at a time when it was inconvenient and dangerous to do so. Apartheid was a racist system of government that oppressed people of African descent from 1948 to 1994. Any form of nonviolent opposition to a system of racial segregation enforced by a government is an honorable act.

Brink wasn't the only white South African who opposed apartheid. Heroes of the apartheid movement had whites in their ranks, including people like Denis Goldberg, Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo and Ruth First. The list, I believe, is incomplete. Many other non-black South Africans contributed to the anti-apartheid movement in perhaps other less significant but important ways.

Although apartheid was designed to favor white South Africans, not all white South Africans supported the inhuman system of government. The contribution of whites to the anti-apartheid movement is testament to a cliche that is worth reiterating: not all white people are racist; not all white people support racist discriminatory policies. However, it's clear, in my perspective, that not enough white people actively oppose apartheid-like ideas designed to maintain the disillusioned idea of white "supremacy," that's why racism is still a problem decades after the collapse of apartheid and other blatantly racist systems around the world.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pakistan's blasphemy laws endanger religious minorities

Blasphemy is a hot potato in Pakistan and has claimed numerous lives, including the lives of two prominent politicians who spoke out against the country's blasphemy laws. Despite the danger involved in speaking out against the archaic laws the struggle to have them taken off law books or repealed must go on.

A Christian family victimized by a blasphemy charge recently appealed for help, and once again put Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws in the spot light.

Asia Bibi, a woman from Pakistan's Punjab region has been on death row for almost five years. According to the BBC, the poor, illiterate woman was accused and sentenced to death for insulting prophet Muhammad after an argument with a group of Muslim women. She was beaten by a mob before her arrest and crowds took to the streets after her conviction calling for her death. Others threatened to kill her if she ever got out of prison. She denies the charges, and her family has been in hiding since after her arrest.

Pope Benedict XVI called for her release in 2010.

The story of Asia Bibi is not unique.

Many other Pakistanis have suffered grave injustice as a result of Pakistan's blasphemy laws which, according to the BBC, prescribes life imprisonment for desecration of the Koran, and death or life imprisonment for blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. Pakistan's blasphemy craze has claimed numerous lives.

In 2010, two Christians were gunned down outside a court in Faisalabad. A year later Punjab governor Salman Teseer who opposed the blasphemy law and tried to reform it was killed by his bodyguard. Some hailed the killer as a hero. Religious Minority Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who spoke out against the law was killed a month after the governor. In 2014, a young Christian couple was beaten and burned to death by a mob in a village in Punjab province after being accused of desecrating the Koran.

It is my opinion that Pakistan's blasphemy laws embolden Islamic extremists and endanger religious minorities. Opposition to the law should continue albeit life-threatening danger involved. After all, no civil rights struggle has been without danger. The law, the way I see it, is designed to force non-Muslims to comply to Islamic standards -- and this violates a catalog of human rights including the right to free expression and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Unspeakable things happen in the name of religion.

Non-state actors like ISS, Boko Haram, other terrorist groups and so-called "lone wolves" are mostly responsible for atrocities in the name of religion - from Peshawar to Punjab in Pakistan to Kobani and Raqqa in Syria and from Paris to Sydney. But some state actors like Pakistan contribute in spreading religious intolerance through archaic blasphemy laws that could be used to settle scores against religious minorities.

The government of Pakistan, in my opinion, should repeal the blasphemy laws and take a tough stance against people who carry out mob killings and assassinations in the name of Islam. Pakistan has seen too many mob killings related to the country's blasphemy laws. Even the police cannot be trusted with enforcing the blasphemy laws. Last year, an axe-wielding Pakistani policeman killed a suspect of blasphemy. Impartial enforcement of the controversial laws is not be guaranteed.

The laws should be eradicated from law books and extrajudicial killers should be reigned in. Only then would Pakistan's religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus feel some degree of safety from persecution sanctioned by law; only then would religious minority families in hiding, such as the family of Asia Bibi come out of hiding and feel safe in their country. Until then, Pakistan remains an unpredictable place for members of religious minority groups - a place where accusation of blasphemy or criticism of blasphemy laws can be a death sentence.

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