Why aren’t we outraged enough by intolerance?

by , under Enrique

Finnish department store J. Kärkkäinen’s Magneettimedia writings are a disturbing sign of how anti-Semitism, like anti-immigration and anti-Islam sentiment, have gained a foothold in Finland. And why shouldn’t it find fertile ground to grow in this country? During the past years, the genie of intolerance has been let out of the bottle and it shows. 

We’re still not outraged enough by intolerance. If we were, it would be on the defensive.

Why aren’t we?

One of the reasons is that we fallaciously believe that our racism works in our favor.

If many of us have little idea how destructive racism is, some are at an even greater loss when it comes to finding ways to challenge it.

Why are we so much in the dark about the pernicious impact of racism on society? The answer sits right under our noses: It is what maintains the national and global status quo of power. There’s a lot of clout and wealth to be made by maintaing such a socially unjust national and global system intact.

Turn in a new leaf

While Juha Kärkkäinen, the owner of the retail company that carries his same name promises to no longer publish anti-Semitic pieces by the likes of David Duke and Ted Pike, the damage has been done.

But to whom?

Two matters are crucial in order for racism to thrive and survive another day: apathy of the victims (they’ve given up before the fight has even begun), and denial-secrecy  (intolerance is the most effective and strongest when it works behind the scenes and is institutionalized).

By publishing virulent anti-Semitic opinion pieces by racists like Duke, who was the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, Kärkkäinen does a disfavor to all those confessed and closet racists in Finland and elsewhere because it exposes the problem.

After the horrors of Nazi Germany, which was responsible for the systematic death of some six million Jews, one way to ensure that Jews would not fall victim of such massive treachery was by lobbying and confronting anti-Semitism head on.

The many victories of the Simon Wiesenthal Center against anti-Semitism is a source of inspiration and a reminder that the only way to confront intolerance is by challenging it directly. Silence will encourage greater hostility, not undermine it.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to President Sauli Niinistö expressing concern over the anti-Semitic writings on Magneettimedia.

But do other ethnic and religious groups have the same resources? If not, are they doomed to suffer for generations social exclusion and discrimination?


How do you explain and justify the rise of an anti-immigration and anti-Islam party in Finland like the Perussuomalaiset (PS) in April 2011, and which is still as popular as ever as a recent YLE poll shows?

It suggests that we live in a society where intolerance is fruiting and continues to shortchange others of opportunities. It is the very undercurrent that has geysered in Denmark with the Islamophobic Danish People’s Party, in Holland with Geert Wilders, in England with Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Go Home or Face Arrest” campaign, in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “multiculturalism has utterly failed” statement, and Finland with the PS.

Even if the PS is the most vocal anti-immigration and anti-cultural diversity political force in Finland, its popularity could have never reached present levels without the direct or indirect support of Finland’s political establishment.

As long as our collective denial, that we have intolerance under control or it is a “minor problem,” we will continue to feed it and it will continue to grow.

If we have learned little from the horrors of two World Wars and xenophobia, which is raising its head higher than before these days in Europe, it proves that our education is deficient and outright racist. We are not taught tolerance at school but more effectively, in fine print, code and in between the lines, intolerance.

It’s clear why we aren’t outraged by such a destructive force.

We are content with the way things are because intolerance doesn’t threaten us directly.

Nothing could be further from the truth.





  1. Jssk

    Magneettimedia is a newspaper full of nonsense (you could basically see it as a conspiracy theory blog in paper form), i think its stupid to draw large scale conclusions from what they write. They havent shown hostility towards finnish jews, or jews in general. They have simply quoted the writings of allegedly antisemitic authors.

    The only thing that Simon Wiesenthal Center is good at is hunting down 100-year old former nazis. I wouldnt call that fighting racism.

  2. Mark

    Thanks for writing about this Enrique. It is good to see how this situation has continued and evolved. It is often left to immigrants or minorities themselves to fight for their own rights, but there are others in the majority populations who likewise come to an understanding the importance of respecting minority rights. It’s just so few people really travel a path themselves that would bring them into real contact with the difficulties involved. My own path was almost accidental. I wanted to learn Spanish, and in that way, came into contact in London with Spanish-speaking refugees. Even then, I was doing mostly administrative work to begin with, and only later starting making more direct contacts, through having direct contact through language classes. Even then, you don’t really understand just how difficult their situation is, because as a teacher you are so focused on dreaming up the next learning outcome or lesson plan. It was only when I came to Finland and was without the language of common use that I began to really understand how ‘outside’ that puts you. Even then, it was only a start, because I had employment skills that ensured a livelihood, at least, and the true ‘outsider’ experience doesn’t really dawn on you until you have been here much longer, and you start to see how this ‘position’ of foreigner that you are in is not so easy to get out of as you first imagined.

    And then eventually the penny drops about racism and discrimination – that it is about ‘positions’ in society, and the things people say and do to maintain those positions. Even the way that people go about criticising immigrants and their way of looking at the world reveals a very different positioning and conception of the immigrant compared to a native. The issue of superiority is so ‘normal’ as to be almost invisible. It is a matter of ‘our culture’ and you have to adapt. There is very little room for exploring your ‘otherness’ in this new situation.

    I’m reminded of Dame Edna (Australian comedian), who once asked a guest after a long monologue about her own ‘day’, “Well, enough about me, what about you, what do you think of me?”

    It seems that Finns are very keen to know what foreigners think about ‘them’, but not what they think in and of themselves and their own lives. Finns are interested in outsiders perceptions of them. What I have found breaks the positioning is when Finns talk themselves about their own experiences of being abroad. Then, in some sense, we become ‘colleagues’ in this experience, rather than me just being an extra pair of eyes on the world of Finns or their reputation. I’m not here just to confirm or deny stereotypes about Finns. I’m here with a life of my own, a history, a set of cultural reference points, as are all immigrants.