Fallacies of Finland’s immigration-refugee debate

by , under All categories, Enrique

If we look at the ongoing immigration-refugee debate in Finland, there are six seven fallacies that one should look at critically in order to understand the debate. I have compiled a list of the top six seven claims that I consider the most absurd and politically questionable but are used constantly in the ongoing debate:

1. The SDP “love it (or leave it)” or “In Rome do as the Romans do” (maassa maan tavalla) stand on immigration. This rhetoric is nothing more than a good-cop-bad-cop tactic to bash immigrants while saying that the SDP party “welcomes newcomers.” Have you noticed that nowhere in the statements of SDP chairperson Jutta Urpilainen and MP Eero Heinäluoma do they tell you how many immigrants they are speaking of and from where? Last year some 4,000 immigrants got residence permits from outside the EU. Both Heinäluoma and Juttilainen speak as if Finland were not an EU member where people can work freely in different member-state countries.

2. SDP MP Eero Heinäluoma: “immigrants will fuel racism.”  This statement was made in the Swedish-language daily HBL. The MP does not consider racism a problem in Finland since it is the immigrants’ fault. They “will take jobs away from Finns,”according to him.  Heinäluoma’s argument is as ludicrous as those given by some sexual offenders,  who claim that “the devil made them do it” because the woman looked so sexy and therefore it was her fault she got raped.

3. Finns fear being labelled racists and therefore don’t speak freely enough about immigration issues. All one has to do is check the media in Finland to see that there is a very lively and passionate debate on immigration and refugees. Those who disagree are anti-immigration groups like the True Finns, Hommaforum, and Jussi Halla-aho, who would inflame discussion by fuelling it with more nationalism and racism.

4. True Finns: We are defending Western values. Since when was spreading hatred and populism defending modern Western values? I am certain that the National Socialist Party of Germany in the early 1930s used the same arguments to seize power. If parties like the PS and others would get in power, their aim would be to undermine civil liberties and create a many-tier society where anything different from their point of view would be seen as a threat. The first civil liberties that would fly out of the window are acceptance of diversity, freedom of speech and equality. Like the Nazis and other ultra-nationalist groups, they would argue that diversity is bad and therefore we have the right to kick out everyone who we do not like from the country (see Lebensraum). If you ever meet a representative from an anti-immigration group, ask him/her what should be done to people they consider “threats” to our values. You will get back as an answer a modern version of Lebensraum.

5. “We aren’t racists.” Too many speak about racism in Finland without being a minority nor having an adequate background to understand the social ill. Just because one has an academic degree is no guarantee that they understand racism. Some of the big deficiencies in Finland concerning the integration program is that it takes too little into account what immigrants want and need. Racist groups use the argument “we aren’t racists” to maintain a hate discourse in public. When you threaten to sue them for slander, they argue that their freedom-of-speech right has been violated. In English we call that type of defense a generous dose of phony baloney.

6. Being “critical on immigration.” This is a funny term made up by the anti-immigration groups that do not want to be labelled racists. Thus we are critical NOT racists when we bash immigrants and refugees with colorful adjectives. If one studied what they are actually saying, it would be easy to conclude that their “critique” of immigrants and refugees is a gross understatement. It is only a flowery diplomatic term that hides their real agenda, which is not acceptance of other cultures in our society.

7. Foreign workers are being abused and working illegally. This is favorite of the Social Democratic Party. If we were to believe them, the majority of the foreign workers in Finland are working in the black for slave wages. If this is the case, why aren’t we hearing of any huge busts in the media or of officials clamping down on the serous problem? The answer is simple: It is a scare tactic by the SDP to spread and maintain a climate of racism in Finland.  The last thing that the likes of Heinäluoma and others are worried about are working conditions and discrimination that immigrants face on a daily basis.

  1. JusticeDemon

    There is a cyclical quality to the public debate on these matters, mainly running according to general economic indicators and the legislative programme of Parliament. The remarks of SDP politicians reflect current policy trends in relation to reforming the Aliens Act and the Act on Immigrant Integration and Refugee Reception.

    However, one more or less constant factor is a misunderstanding of the concept of racism. Even educated Finns often cannot correctly define this concept in their native language – which is a converse way of saying that the concept itself has not yet taken root in the Finnish language. Usually a Finn will confuse racism with discrimination based on visible or otherwise evident characteristics. In the grossest cases many Finns are unable to distinguish between racism and discrimination in general, leading to ridiculous expressions like age racism. I have had to explain to graduates of Finnish universities that it is quite consistent to have a high degree of racism in a society with no discrimination at all.

    It seems fairly obvious, and is borne out by direct studies, that increased exposure to racial and ethnic minorities tends to reduce racism, at least in the longer term. The same applies to all forms of prejudice, for example against women, the disabled, or members of a certain profession or occupation. However, this is a complex equation that varies from country to country. Exposure to immigrant diversity in the English-speaking world tends to have a rather rapid impact in reducing prejudice, but this may partly be due to a high proportion of immigrants who already speak English when they arrive. By contrast it is unusual to find an immigrants in Finland who arrived with significant Finnish language skills, and so social isolation tends to persist for longer, which enables prejudice to survive.

    There is also the honorary white man phenomenon that manages to sustain prejudice against a minority by systematically excluding counterexamples as special cases. Billy Carson has reported an encounter with a group of racist thugs that fits this very familiar pattern.

    Most people in Finland are still very much at the stage of knowing that racism is wrong while not really being sure what racism is. Very few people will openly declare that they are racist and proud of it, but equally few people are willing to admit or even recognise the extent of their own racism.

    Over the coming 30 years or so, we can expect to see a shift towards a more general understanding that racism influences our behaviour to a greater or lesser degree, and that we can learn to recognise this and compensate for it (overcompensation is sometimes called white liberalism).

    In the longer term we can expect racism to die out in the same way as mediaeval superstitions once did.