Finland’s response to extremism should be more openess and democracy

by , under Enrique

An editorial on Thursday’s Helsingin Sanomat comments about Anjem Choudary’s visit to Finland last week. It points out correctly that hate speech should be condemned irrespective who makes it. Living in a culturally diverse society requires more mutual acceptance, not less acceptance and respect.

Some of the controversial statements made by the cleric was that it was only a question of time when the flag of Islam would be waving on our parliament building. It was an interesting coincidence that on the same day of Choudary’s visit, Image magazine exposed a Perussuomalaiset (PS) councilman from Vaasa who gave a clock with Adolf Hitler and swastikas to a neo-Nazi club in that city.

Which of the two are the greatest danger to our democracy? Choudary or the Vaasa councilman who appears fascinated by a dictator who dragged Europe into World War 2, unleashing mass war that claimed an estimated 60 million lives?

How seriously should we take Choudary’s threats? If we react to them violently by censoring them, or as PS youth leader Simon Elo suggested that the cleric should be banned from coming to Finland, we’d do a favor to their causes.

It’s unfortunate that too many editorials like the one in today’s Helsingin Sanomat sideline the big picture: Why does radical Islam exist? If we look at the West’s colonial history with the Arab World as well as in other parts of the world, there are a lot of arguments and grievances to justify radicalism. Even so, our democratic system offers us the opportunity to challenge and correct those past and present injustices.

Just like radical Islam, we have to look at the causes of far right and right-wing populist anti-immigration sentiment in Europe these days. On this front, we have a lot of historical and sociological information on their causes. One of the most frightening of examples is the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.

We were horrified by 9/11 but some of us were even more alarmed by our reaction to it.  Former President George W. Bush’s so-called war on terror fueled greater radicalization among Muslims. If anything, the attack on the WTC Twin Towers showed the United States as a perpetrator of violence and not as a victim of terrorism.

Our reaction to terrorism and radicalism should be the total opposite to Bush’s. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg showed the way after Norway was mourning 77 victims murdered in cold blood by Anders Breivik. Contrary to Washington’s reaction after 9/11, the Norwegian prime minister said that his country’s response to the mass killings will be more openness and more democracy.

We must be on our guard against those politicians and groups that demand less democracy during these difficult times, when far right anti-immigration radicalism is raising its head throughout Europe.  What is especially worrying is that such opinions are being echoed by the mainstream media as well.