How long will the Finnish police resist ethnic and cultural diversity?

by , under European Union

Much of Finland is still living in a world where nothing is supposed to change as our society becomes ever-culturally and ethnically diverse. We read about the Sikh busman Gill Sukhdarshan Singh, who had to wait for a year to get the right to wear a turban at work, a Muslim woman who was fired the first day at work for wearing a headscarf, and yet another case of a Muslim woman who was not admitted to the police training school because she wouldn’t take off her headscarf during working hours. 

While some companies are allowing their workers to use headscarves, institutions like the police service appear to be resisting tooth and nail our cultural and ethnic diversity.

Näyttökuva 2014-6-8 kello 15.37.13

Migrant Tales wrote in April about a Muslim woman who could not enter the police training school because she wore a headscarf. Read full story here.

Peter Holley, a PhD candidate, highlighted on his Facebook page the official reasons why the National Police Board of Finland prohibits religious headwear:

  • Scarves and turbans could cause health and safety risk to the wearer or his colleague (strangulation or other injury);
  • Headgear could cause aggression or a negative attitude in people the police come in contact with;
  • Allowing headgear could lead to other requests for religion-related rights, for example the right to break for prayer;
  • Use of headgear could risk the police reputation for impartiality and trustworthiness.

Holley responds to each of the arguments put by the National Police Board of Finland:

  •  If other countries (such as the UK and Sweden) have managed to include religious headwear in their uniforms without endangering officers’ safety, why is the Finnish Police Force unable to do so?
  • This justification could be used for prohibiting women and ethnic minorities from serving in the police force. Is this perhaps why we see so few women and ethnic minorities in Poliisi uniforms?
  •  Does allowing such headwear really open the floodgates for such claims? This seems highly suspect to me. 
  • Is the Poliisi uniform responsible for the its reputation as impartial and trustworthy? Or to put this question another way, is the reputation the police as an institution dependent to a large extent upon the uniform its officers wear? I’m of the opinion that the reputation of the police as impartial and trustworthy would be strengthened by the accommodation of religious headwear and the inclusion of ethnic minorities. Can one remain impartial and trustworthy if others remain unrepresented?

Migrant Tales got in touch with Dr. Jonathan Hadley, a consultant and senior fellow at UNICRI – United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice research Institute.

His approach to the decision by the National Police Board of Finland not to allow headscarves is highlighted in a long paper, Policing and Integration in Britain: A Question of Social Change,* which we’ll publish a part of the introduction below. In a nuthsel, the matter hinges a lot on inclusion of multicultural individuals and acknowledging that that shouldn’t be a disadvantage.

One of the questions I asked Dr. Hadley is what we observe too many time in Finland: integration is the rule in theory but what happens too often is assimilation.

He writes in an email:

…Based on work by David Theo Goldberg in the 1990s that seems even more relevant today than then, it basically rejects models of ‘assimilation’ and ‘integration’ as flawed by the same premise of the host’s power relationship over the ‘immigrant’. Instead, it advocates an ‘incorporative’ model as a more ‘authentic multiculturalism’ premised on the equalization of power relations through the transformational impact of cultural hybridity.   

Below are a quote and two paragraphs of Policing and Integration in Britain; A Question of Social Change that synthesize the issue in Finland.

A truly multicultural society is one which is composed of multicultural individuals; people who are able to synthesize different worlds in one body and live comfortably with these different worlds. In order for a society to tolerate such individuals the society must by definition be open, fluid and confident. In other words, the society must be everything that Britain was not when the first Caribbean migrants stepped off the ships in the 1940s and 1950s.”[1]

(Caryl Phillips 2002. The Pioneers)


Born in postcolonial St Kitts, Caryl Phillips reflects deeply upon what it means to be both of and not of Britain as the country of his parent’s migration in the late fifties. His argument, in a collection of essays that acknowledge the continued legacy of racism in Britain, is that there is ‘a new world order’ of cultural plurality emerging – one that is being promoted by the increasingly central role of the migrant and the refugee in the modern world[2]. This may be a challenge for policing: for where the police role is to maintain the status quo, at a societal and symbolic level that can also include conservative ideas of national identity and related values. Thus policing may find itself in conflict with a culturally diverse society and contemporary ideas of multiculturalism.

In an anthology of positive police roles for immigrant integration in Finland, the contribution of this chapter is to reflect upon the long and deeply troubled experience of policing and immigrant integration in modern Britain. It is told primarily, but not exclusively, through the post-war experience of West Indian/African-Caribbean migration to Britain. The central argument, however, is that contemporary policing – in Britain, Finland or elsewhere – needs to see itself as presiding over a period of significant social change characterized by the cultural plurality brought on by today’s global migration flows. This is not confined to countries with colonial histories. Countries with strong national histories may also feel their sense of identity challenged by European integration on the one hand and immigration from around the world on the other. To be sure, eastern European immigration is fast becoming a populist scapegoat for the present array of perennial social ills.

[1](Phillips 2002) page 279

[2](Phillips 2002)

* Policing and Integration in Britain’. This was translated into Finnish and published as a chapter entitled ‘Poliisitoiminta ja kotouttaminen Britanniassa: sosiaalisen muutoksen merkitys.’ in a 2008 Police College of Finland Publication: Poliisi ja Maahanmuuttajat (Edited by Arno Tanner), Polamk Report 67/2008.