Migrant Tales is under attack. The blog’s founder is receiving threats of violence, is being defamed and ridiculed in public forums, is being harassed even to the point of having his workplace invaded by defamatory communications. It is not an easy time for Enrique or his family and I feel compelled to say something about this situation.
Migrant Tales is very clear about its purpose: It aims to be a voice for those whose views and situation are understood poorly and heard faintly by the media, politicians and public. This generally refers to immigrants and their descendents in Finland.
It is no surprise perhaps that immigrants are often poorly portrayed or represented in the Finnish media and public fora, as they are a small number, and are often considered and painted in single brush strokes that take little account of individuality, of cultural diversity or even of cultural history.
Add to this the rise in popularity of a Far Right political party whose members have been very outspoken against immigrants, even to the point of being prosecuted for hate speech, and it’s not surprising to see that the atmosphere is sometimes characterised by suspicion and even hatred. Finland, as well as the rest of Europe, is portrayed as being under threat.
And then, in recent months, there have been several deaths of immigrants in violent circumstances, the motives for which are unclear, but where hate crimes could very justifiably be suspected. It was following one of these incidents that a PS councillor of some years standing made a public comment about giving the murderer of an immigrant a medal because, as he said, Finland was at war.
The immigrant communities in Finland are fully justified in asking what the hell is going on! While there have been some attempts in Oulu to reassure local communities, there has also been a significant silence from politicians and from the media on the issue. It seems the concerns are not given any credence. That is a shame.
Against this backdrop, Migrant Tales has been very critical and vocal in challenging the rhetoric coming out of the Far Right of politics and in publicising the antics and extremism that taints Perussuomalaiset as a party. And so, in return, Migrant Tales has come under attack.
Part of that attack has been to distort what Migrant Tales is about, though of course the critics will not see it as a distortion. Nevertheless, several criticisms have been repeatedly made that simply do not stand up to any kind of scrutiny. However, throw enough mud, and the hope is probably that some of it sticks – that seems to be the general rule of thumb.
I think some of these accusations need to be tackled very strongly, so I will take a few of them below and comment directly.
Our critics say:
We are attacking Finns and Finland’s reputation!
This is simply not true. Migrant Tales opposes racism, discrimination and misrepresentation of immigrant groups. It does not oppose Finland or Finns. One of the difficulties in this debate is how people take up a position that places others into a ‘natural’ grouping – that of native Finns, and that of several other foreign nationalities. Once put into these groups, the narrative of war, of incompatibility, of superiority and inferiority plays out.
It is all too easy for those foreigners criticized as being rapists, violent criminals etc., that they respond to this criticism by hitting back. It is understandable when 20% of the Finnish electorate vote for a party that is openly hostile to immigrants, or particular immigrants, that they would ask ‘what do Finns really think?’ or ‘Is Finland a racist country’. These are not questions that will necessarily reveal a useful answer.
The debate is all too easily polarised into those that will answer yes or no. But they are understandable questions. Paranoia in this kind of atmosphere is understandable. However, even the smallest lumping of Finns into one basket with a label of ‘racist’ on it brings a vehement response, from the very same people who are very happy to stick Somalis into one basket and write ‘rapists’ and ‘robbers’ onto it. The hypocrisy of it stinks, frankly.
Nevertheless, let’s make it clear, Migrant Tales does not think of Finland as a ‘racist’ country. Racism is to a large extent an individual issue. Finland has very good laws against discrimination. At the national and regional level of governance, one question is how this is implemented through services. There are issues that relate to how institutions and public authorities in Finland approach and understand the specific needs of immigrants groups, and if they are to fulfil their public obligation to provide services for all, then further study and adaptation is necessary. In some cases, inertia towards change in this respect is clearly going to be due to the racism of individuals within those services, racism I directly and unequivocally saw in officials on my very first visit to the Labour Exchange in Finland ten years ago. Anyone that denies that it can exist, I would call them extremely naive.
We tell lies
For some, lies implies saying that Finland is a racist country. As I’ve already said that that is an unhelpful question, it also goes without saying that Migrant Tales is not in any way trying to talk about Finland ‘as a racist country’, but simply about racism in Finland. This is the very starting threshold of the debate: before we even enter the door, we must have at least some basic agreement that there is racism in Finland and what can be done about it.
However, for many of our critics, we do not even get through this door. There is not much to be said about this, really. However, many things can and will be discussed under this subject. Some of it will be objective, some of it will be subjective. If it is merely a matter of a difference of opinion, then labelling your opponent as a ‘liar’ is just provocative and defamatory. At the same time, too much of the debate is done with very little accurate or reliable statistical evidence. The lack of such evidence is itself regrettable considering how much use is being made of statistics to degrade and denigrate certain immigrant groups.
We are the racists
Some people, when they hear us talking about an incidence of racism or a crime against an immigrant imagine that because we are focusing on their ethnicity or colour that we must be the racists. This accusation is based on a half understanding and it is always made by people who in turn think it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about the crime statistics of particular ethnic groups. Again, hypocrites.
Migrant Tales focuses on these crimes not because we think immigrants are of more value, but because the mainstream media typically will only give quite small column inches to these stories while talk of ‘hate crimes’ is all too easily dismissed when there is no evidence one way or the other that would dismiss it. It is incumbent on Migrant Tales to pursue the issue. It is also the case that many of the issues highlighted are where immigrants have claimed racism. In these cases, the focus on race or ethnicity comes from the nature of the crime, not from a desire to ‘put people into groups’; that that has already been done is the nature of the problem under discussion.
We are the extremists
I have never met an extremist (and I’ve met many through my studies) yet who actually thought they were an extremist. This is not surprising. In fact, extremism is a relative perspective. For the majority looking upon the ideas of radicals and extremists, it is clear that their views of society and how it should be organised depart significantly from the views of the majority. For those on the extremes, the belief they have in their own sense of truth, their own view of reality means that they are happy to accept that the majority do not know ‘what is good for them’. That’s how it is. So I’m not surprised that we appear as extremists to the extremists visiting this blog. However, it cannot be stated enough that this blog stands for tolerance, acceptance, human rights and a world free of discrimination.
The issue for me looking at these topics is that immigrants’ problems and perspectives are dismissed, ridiculed and denied. This really is unacceptable. Those that make any claims are immediately attacked, in the same way this blog has been attacked. Let’s make no mistake, this is not the approach of an open or a modern society.
While the comments on this blog represent only a small ecosystem of opinion within Finland and beyond, they nevertheless highlight at least a part of the reality in regard to immigration debate in Finland.
Perspective is always hard to maintain in these issues. Some people will defend Finland’s reputation blindly, without necessarily giving any depth of thought to their stance or their claims. Any criticism is taken to heart, and criticism by foreigners is all too easy to dismiss as ill-informed and biased. However, we are not just foreigners. We are Finns too in this blog.
Any group of people that are subject to pressures or a unique and marginalised position within society will find it hard to make their experiences known and felt. Marginalised people typically suffer from a lack of voice, a lack of public visibility, except that drawn according to the rules and prejudices of the majority. In any situation where problems and tensions arise, the key to resolving them is dialogue. Concerns from both sides need to be aired, dealt with openly and honestly and a willingness to show goodwill. This is an absolute prerequisite, but one which is on the whole completely denied us by those criticising Migrant Tales. The feeling really is that we are not even allowed to debate…
This is a forum of sorts and we do invite discussion by allowing comments on the articles, although the speed with which comments typically go ‘off topic’ is surprising and sometimes even a bit suspicious.
The lack of goodwill has meant that that forum has descended often into threat, slander, and mischief. My strongest concern is that this detracts from the real debate, and from the real stories and experiences of immigrants here in Finland. This blog is supposed to be a voice for immigrants, not for critics of immigration. They have their own blogs and forums in which to make their points.
The time has come to impose some order and civility in this discussion. My suggestion is that this blog follows the rule that when debating, all commentators must stick to playing the ball and not the ball player. If an argument appears stupid or dishonest, then the challenge is to demonstrate why you think that, not to take the short cut route of insulting the other commentator. This should apply to all sides equally. Then at least this atmosphere of bitterness that has grown here can give way to an atmosphere of constructive discussion. At least, here’s to hoping!