The structural Islamophobia and racism embedded within Finnish Police

by , under Linda Hyökki

Migrant Tales insight: This story was received today by us from Linda Hyökki. 

On Wednesday, October 10, the NGO “Stop Deportations” and Sanna Valtonen from “Refugees Welcome” shared on social media pictures that shocked anti-racist activists, and indeed generally anyone who is concerned about ethnic profiling. In a seminar named “Lost in Helsinki”[1], organized by the department responsible for immigration matters at the Helsinki Police, inspector Heli Aaltonen showed a tasteless series of powerpoint slides representing the “most common” customers. The series was supposed to be funny (?), or a lousy attempt to commemorate the national day of Finnish literature[2], as the slides depicted the “Modern-day 7 brothers”, a reference to one of the most known Finnish novels and written by Aleksis Kivi, the national author of Finland. In these slides, all 7 “customers” were named after figures from the novel.

The depictions were bluntly racist, enforcing stereotypes of immigrants from different backgrounds such as Russians/Estonians being alcoholics who live in illegal dorms and Africans being drug dealers. Moreover, they were also drawing from anti-Muslim discourses that have become – apparently widely accepted even within institutional contexts –hence offering the perfect proof for what we can call structural Islamophobia:

“Timo”: from Somalia; married to three wives; drinks alcohol occasionally; has come to Finland after his wife (wife has a Finnish citizenship and used family reunification to get Timo to the country); divorced his wife after receiving residency permit; after his divorce, Timo used family reunification to get his other wife to Finland; Timo’s third wife has been brought to Finland by using the identity of the first wife; has children with all three wives.

“Eero”; an asylum seeker from Iraq; lied about his age; received a negative decision regarding his asylum due to groundless application; Secret Police has given a statement about Eero that he is a threat to the national security

Aaltonen also added a profile of a female customer “Aino”, borrowing the famous figure from the Finnish national epic poetry work compiled by Elias Lönnrot. “Aino” was depicted as a girl wearing a headscarf, so clearly referring to her religious affiliation as a Muslim. She was supposed to be a stay-home wife – as allegedly staying inside doors is something that her “religion obliges” her to do –, a victim of domestic violence, someone who is inactive in the job market and cannot even communicate due to lack of language skills. Oh yes, she was also supposedly a victim of human trafficking.

These are devastating examples about how embedded racism and Islamophobia is in Finnish state connected institutions. With such “ethnic profiles”, inspector Aaltonen as an official representative of Finnish Police did nothing less than spread bigotry, prejudices and consequently contributed to hate speech and victimization of minorities. It goes without saying, that associating certain ethnicities or nationalities with Islamophobic stereotypes puts all members of these ethnic groups under the radar of bigots? The presentation reproduced images of Muslim men being violent abusers of women, deceiving and misusing Finnish social services and state funded financial aid, notwithstanding the images of “backward” Muslim women as oppressed not only by their husbands but also by their religion – Islam.

It is time that the Finnish Police issue an official statement distancing the institution from any racist or Islamophobic ideas about minorities and immigrants residing in our country. It is time, that we openly discuss the extend to which racism and anti-Muslim prejudices are a structural problem. If this is the “contribution” of the Finnish police to intercultural understanding, social cohesion and security of all citizens and residents in the country, then how are religious and ethnic minorities ever supposed to trust the professionality of the police in dealing with hate crime when all their official representative Aaltonen has done is to spread more hate.

[1] Helsinkiin kadonneet -seminaari

[2] October 10th is the national day of Finnish literature, “Aleksis Kiven päivä” named after the national author of Finland.