Migrant Tales (MT): What surprised you the most about doing the last report on Finland?
Leena Hyökki: “There were no drastically surprising changes when compared to the previous years’ reports. Islamophobia in its nature as a social phenomenon as well as in its manifestations within structural discrimination remains to be throughout the years. Political discourse, grassroot organizations spreading hate speech, demonstrations against alleged “Islamization”, microaggressions, as well as (mostly) Muslim women’s victimization have continued from 2015 (and before) up until now.
MT: In 2017, the PS imploded. Do you see this as a retreat for Islamophobia in Finland?
LH: I do not think so. Islamophobia is not only dependent on one party’s politics. Manifestations of Islamophobia in social life do reflect political discourse – especially when politicians Islamophobic statements are taken as a form of normalization of racism and hostility towards Muslims, kinds of legitimization of the discourse from top down – but civil society in large have their own impact on politics (we live after all in a democratic society!).
MT: Has Islamophobia grown or retreated last year?
LH: Since we do not yet have an organized system of monitoring Islamophobia in the country (see for instance the organizations such as TELL MAMA in UK), it is difficult to give any certain answers. We can only rely on statistics and studies on hate crimes and discrimination, such as those published by the National Police College (yearly) or the 2017 report MIDIS EU, or reports by the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. However, both are not as comprehensive in their coverage as we would need them to be. We should remember, that still the threshold to report a hate crime is high, which in my opinion also has to do with the lack of belief in getting justice. Also, the MIDIS EU report only touched upon a specific group of Muslims with immigrant background and thus a big amount of Muslim population was not included in the survey.
MT: How does Islamophobia in Finland compare with the general European context?
LH: “The majority of Finnish politicians fortunately do not see measures such as face veil bans necessary for our country. This gives us a better position in terms of legal status of Muslims compared to some Middle-European countries such as France, Netherlands or Belgium. In France, as we can see from 2017 report, the headscarf bans in schools have even gone so far that those mothers of pupils who wear the headscarf are not allowed to join school excursions. Islamophobia in countries such as France is strongly connected to the colonial past and the relationship of the Western colonizers to the oppressed colonized people. The discourse and will to control from Orientalism has in this case affected the modern-day image of the Muslim Other. However, even without a colonial past in the Muslim world in the global era ideas and images spread transnationally only by a click of the enter button on the keyboard. And, it is not like the anti-Semitic ideas from Middle-Europe in the 19th/20th did not find their way to the North as well; the impact in public discourse and policies is easily proven by browsing newspaper archives. In Finland however, the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim dichotomy is quite evident when Finland’s Tatar community is compared to all other Muslim groups. Instead of celebrating the variation across Muslim cultures and individual ways of Islamic (or Non-Islamic!) life, one group’s identity politics are assumed to be taken over by another one, even though both have completely different historical experience”
*Linda Hyökki is a research associate at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (Sabahattin Zaim University, Istanbul) and a PhD candidate at the Alliance of Civilizations Institute at Ibn Haldun University, Istanbul. Her work and postgraduate studies focus on Islamophobia and Muslim minorities, identity studies, multiculturalism, alternative epistemologies, and qualitative research. She graduated from the Master’s program “Language, Culture and Translation” at the University of Mainz-Germershim, Germany and has worked as a freelance translator and teacher of German as a foreign language. Hyökki has been authoring the EIR national report since 2015 and strives to combine her academic endeavors with social activism for social inclusion and dismantling of racism in her native country, Finland. Besides Finnish, she speaks English, German, Swedish and Turkish, and reads French.