The question that everyone forgot to ask: Are the Tapanila sexual assault suspects Finns?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

The Tapanila gang sexual assault case last week revealed a lot of ugly things about our society like our lack of willingness to help people in distress, and racism. The debate has raged on with the media and social media leading the charge. 

The violent reaction we have seen on social media to what happened isn’t surprising since the aim of the crime in Tapanila appears to be to strengthen our prejudices of other groups and bolster our sense of “us” at the cost of “them.”

An extremely important question that the case has revealed is who is considered a Finn by this society and who is not. In Finland we consider a person a Finn if he or she has Finnish citizenship. Why are we, or specifically the police, calling these five suspects people “with foreign backgrounds” if some of them are Finns?

Is the police using a code word that means “you have Finnish citizenship but you’re not a real Finn?”

Näyttökuva 2015-3-19 kello 12.13.54
In the statement above, the police claimed that the suspects were “five persons with foreign backgrounds” even if the majority were born and grew up in Finland. Is a person with “foreign or immigrant background” anyone we don’t like and do we use the term to reveal that we are a pretty exclusive white society?

Migrant Tales spoke with the policeman, Jyri Hiltunen, who is in charge of the Tapanila sexual assault case. He confirmed that some of the suspects are Finnish citizens.

“I don’t know exactly if all of them are citizens or not because this isn’t an essential piece of information in the case,” he said. “But some are [Finnish citizens].”

Not an essential piece of information? I disagree.

Saido Mohamed, chairperson of the Finnish-Somali Network, confirmed to Migrant Tales that all of the suspects had grown up in Finland and that most were born in Finland and are Finnish citizens.

“If they were born and raised in this country and that person is called a ‘person with immigrant background,” certainly that raises a lot of questions and conflicts within a young person,” she said. “Is such a label used to help society wash its hands of the problem and to strengthen ‘them’ versus ’us?'”

And adds: “In other words, it’s your problem but not society’s, which it is.”

Not one media publication in Finland has asked if the suspects are Finns. Is this surprising? Doesn’t it permit society to sweep the problem under the rug and place the blame on “them?” It shows as well that Finland is still a racially exclusive society.

In neighboring Sweden, the public uses as well the label “with immigrant backgrounds.” Many have pointed out that the use of such a term is a code word for people “with a non-European background,” or non-whites, according to researcher and anti-racist activist Michael McEachrane.

He adds: “Yes, where ‘us’ is defined in ethnic and cultural terms, but at the most fundamental level in racial terms, so that what you have is a ethnically, culturally and most fundamentally a racially exclusive conception of what it means to belong to Finland.”

We have asked the Finnish police to define what person with “immigrant or foreign background” means. This is the response we got:

“…in police statistics a person with ‘immigrant background’ is anyone who has moved to Finland from any country and then became a Finnish citizen.”

A person with foreign background is anyone who has Finnish citizenship but was born abroad.

If this is the case, and there’s little to no difference between both labels, was it used correctly and fairly by the police when it identified the five suspects?

I doubt it.

You can read the same story in Finnish here.  

  1. Yossie

    “Or is it a code word that means “you have Finnish citizenship but you’re not a Finn?””

    I´m glad you got that. This is how it goes. There is roma, there is saami, there is Somalis and and there is Finns! It can’t be that Finnish identity is something that must bend to accompany anything just because we are majority here. We have identity too just like the other groups! You can’t steal that from us!

    • Migrant Tales

      True, Yossie. There are many types of Finns. That identity you have is fine.

    • Migrant Tales

      They are Finns on their terms. They aren’t like you, but then again you aren’t like them. 🙂

    • Yossie

      They are not like me because they are not Finns. You can’t just take our name and call yourself a Finn when you are not. Like I can’t call myself a saami when I am not. Very simple. Not being Finns don’t make them any worse or better, but they are just not Finns.

    • Migrant Tales

      – They are not like me because they are not Finns.

      Why aren’t they? Do you consider black USAmericans as USAmericans? Welcome to cultural and ethnic diversity.

    • Yossie

      Because they are Somalis. If they behave like Somalis, if they call themselves Somalis, what else can they be? Can a call myself a Somali with my own terms? Or a saami with my own terms?

    • Migrant Tales

      As you know Yossie, culture is a very complex thing. A lot of things fit into it. See it like a salad: different ingredients make it tasty. Even if they are different ingredients, it is called a salad. The idea isn’t to become a white Finn but to be a Finn as a Muslim, as a person with Muslim background, as an individual with his or her own personality.

    • Yossie

      Apples are still not oranges even if an apple wants to be an orange. Also, are they Finns if they want to be identified as somalis too? Also, you didnt answer my question: can I call myself a somali with my own terms? Or can I call myself a saami with my own terms? Wear a saami look a like dress because I am saami with my own terms?

    • Migrant Tales

      If you lived in Somalia and wanted to be a Somali on your own terms, why not? That’s what diversity is all about. Where you find human rights violations you find minorities in bad shape. If I wanted to move to Indonesia, Malaysia or Bangladesh I would have a better chance integrating.

  2. Klay_immigrant

    Remember it’s mathematically impossible to be 100% of two or more things simultaneously. So a person that defines him or herself as Somali in any shape or form implies that they are not as Finnish as a native. It’s really as simple as that. To have nationality as a basis of being as much as a native group belonging to that country is ridiculous to say the least in this day and age when multiple nationality are allowed and a period of residence of usually around five years is needed in most European countries. In that case over a course of a lifetime it’s possible to be 10 nationalities if one traveled enough.

    • Migrant Tales

      Is it that simple, Klay? Identity is not an exact science like math. I, for example, identify with three places: Southern California, Argentina and Finland. They are not separate things but one whole. In the social sciences we have a thing called third culture, or hybrid culture. Nationality is a social construct. You are who you think you are.

  3. Klay_immigrant

    Enrique I’m writing as a third culture kid myself, and while I can identify with multiple countries like yourself it would be erroneous of me to claim to be as much from that country as a native even if I do have elements. Nationality in terms of a passport is either 0% (not having it) or 100% (obtaining that nationality). I’m merely saying that realistically and practically speaking only the natives can claim to be 100% and I myself are less than that though not 0% so using a passport proves nothing as there is no scale. Can you honestly say you are as Argentinian, American and Finnish as any other person on Earth all at the same time?

    • Migrant Tales

      Ok I respect that you are a third-culture kid like me. But that’s the whole issue: I can be all these things, have these identities, on my own terms. The “natives” are the benchmark because they have to political and economic power.

      –Can you honestly say you are as Argentinian, American and Finnish as any other person on Earth all at the same time?

      You are younger than me and that’s why you are asking the question above. It’s not an issue. It’s how I feel about myself and about those three places. One of the biggest discoveries I made about them is that they are all one, not separate things.

      Moreover, my three identities have shown how much prejudice there is in this world and why it is one of the biggest social ills we have.

  4. Klay_immigrant

    You didn’t really answer the question. Anyone can think what they like on their own terms with nationality and identity, I have no problem with that. What I don’t like is if that person starts complaining and using terms like racism, discrimination, or prejudice when the majority of natives disagree with that’s person’s own terms to belong to that country as much as them as demonstrated here.

    • Migrant Tales

      –Can you honestly say you are as Argentinian, American and Finnish as any other person on Earth all at the same time?

      Certainly I can because (1) I’m older than you and (2) because all three are one. For me to “fit in” and be these things would mean giving up a big part of my identity. I don’t mean to be rude by saying that I am older than you. I had the same questions as you when I was younger. I’m very happy that I was able to figure our who I am with respect to these three places. 🙂

  5. Klay_immigrant

    If you don’t allow this disagreement without contempt and name calling then anyone might as well pick what nationality they want to be out of a hat if no standards and lines are drawn and for that to be accepted (when in reality that will never happen).

    • Migrant Tales

      Nationality is a social construct but what a person identifies himself is more complex. Societies must be more inclusive. Inclusiveness and opportunity can do wonders.

  6. Klay_immigrant

    By inclusiveness and opportunity you mean being treated better than the natives with such things as higher welfare payments with higher priority on allocation and positive discrimination or affirmative action.

    • Migrant Tales

      No, I mean being treated as an equal citizen. Affirmative action is necessary as long as things like ethnicity, gender and other matters play a role in our society.