by Soeren Kern
As in other European countries (here and here), the politically correct guardians of Finnish multiculturalism have tried to silence public discussion about the escalating problem of Muslim immigration.
In March 2009, for example, Jussi Kristian Halla-aho, a politician and well-known political commentator, was taken to court on charges of "incitement against an ethnic group" and "breach of the sanctity of religion" for writing that Islam is a religion of paedophilia. He was referring to the Islamic prophet Mohammed, who is believed to have married a six year old girl and consummated the marriage when she was nine.
A Helsinki court later dropped the charges of blasphemy but ordered Halla-aho to pay a fine of €330 ($450) for disturbing religious worship. The Finnish public prosecutor, incensed at the lower court's dismissal of the blasphemy charges, appealed the case to the Finnish Supreme Court, where it is now being reviewed.
Halla-Aho, the best-known political blogger in Finland, maintains a blog entitled Scripta, that deals with issues such as "immigration, multiculturalism, tolerance, racism, freedom of speech and political correctness." His blog has between 3,000 and 6,000 readers a day. According to Halla-aho, immigration is a taboo topic in Finland. He has received death threats because of his web columns, which criticize the number of immigrants coming to Finland and argue that Muslims cannot be integrated.
In April 2011, Juha Molari, a Finnish Lutheran pastor, was "defrocked" after he was accused of inciting religious hatred for describing Doku Umarov, the man behind the Moscow metro and airport bombings, as a "terrorist."
Also that month, the Finnish Ministry of Interior launched a new Internet site focused on immigration. The politically correct objective is to "give a boost to factual and serious debate and information on the issue," and "to get away from an 'us and them' position as well as from preaching and guilt attitudes." Of course, the site does not have a discussion forum.
Also, Finland's political map has been redrawn in the aftermath of parliamentary elections on April 17, when the nationalist True Finns Party won more votes than the governing party and now stands on the cusp of political power. The surge of the True Finns Party, which campaigned on a platform of opposition to Muslim immigration and further European integration, reflects growing voter disenchantment with multiculturalism and the ruling establishment's fixation with the European Union.
The final vote results show the populist True Finns Party finishing third place with 39 seats in Finland's 200-seat Parliament, just behind the center-right National Coalition Party with 43 seats and the center-left Social Democrats with 42 seats. The governing Center Party lost 16 seats, ending up with 24 seats.
As the largest vote-getter, the National Coalition Party has been given the first chance to form a government, and the party leader Jyrki Katainen, set to be Finland's next prime minister, said "it is our duty to form a majority government." He is now negotiating with the True Finns and the Social Democrats to build a governing coalition.
Support for the True Finns, led by charismatic leader Timo Soini, has nearly quadrupled its share of the vote from 4% to 19% since the last parliamentary elections in 2007. Using a catchy campaign slogan (kansa tietää: "The people know"), the party has harvested popular anger over issues ranging from bailouts of debt-laden European countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal to unemployment and immigration, especially from Muslim countries.
Although Europe's political establishment and the mainstream news media have variously branded the True Finns as "far-right," "racist," "xenophobic," and "fascist" because of the party's opposition to immigration, in reality the party does not fit neatly into any political grouping. The True Finns combine left-wing economic policies (the party defends the welfare state, for example, and favors raising taxes to do so) with conservative social values (Soini is a devout Roman Catholic). The party has been placed on the center-left in the parliamentary seating order.
In any event, both the National Coalition Party and the Social Democrats have adopted many of the anti-immigration positions held by the True Finns. For example, the National Coalition Party has called for "realism in asylum policy; resources for integration;" and the Social Democratic Party has set a goal for "controlled immigration." Further, members of all three parties have voiced their concerns about immigration and the threat it poses to Finnish culture and identity.
Immigration is also not the exclusive concern of only one type of Finnish voter. According to a recent survey commissioned by the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper and conducted by Suomen Gallup, Finns of all political persuasions and socio-economic classes are concerned about immigration. The polling data show that nearly 60% of Finns are opposed to immigration. This number is up from 44% in 2009 and 36% in 2007.
Immigrants make up about 4% of the Finnish population, a relatively percentage low by European standards. There are an estimated 60,000 Muslims in Finland, which has a population of just over 5 million. The Muslim population has increased rapidly in recent years, due largely to immigration; and there are now dozens of Islamic communities in the country. As in other European countries, the debate over immigration centers on growing concerns about the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate into Finland and learn the language.
A case in point is the request by Muslims in Finland for a fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) on how they should live in their newly adopted country. The fatwa was issued by Muhammad Saalih Al-Munajid, a well-known Saudi Arabian expert on Islamic Sharia law, who, in 2008, issued a fatwa to kill Mickey Mouse. He says: "You have to be aware that you are living in a Christian society, a Christian country, whose flag bears the cross! … It should be a priority of Islamic groups and political parties, especially those that are trying to establish an Islamic state, as we said, to preserve the identity of the Muslims who are living there. One of the most important means of preserving their identity is for Muslim men to marry Muslim women and to strive to create an Islamic atmosphere in their social lives. In the Islamic parties and organizations there should be people who direct the Muslims' private matters such as marriage, divorce and social relationships in accordance with the laws of Allah."
This is already happening. According to some reports, Muslim children in Finnish schools often are not allowed to take part in school activities such as singing and dancing, which are considered religious. Often, immigrant children play the race card if a solution to a conflict does not go in their favor or if a teacher rebukes the child.
In December 2010, the Islamic Society of Finland, headquartered in downtown Helsinki, complained that the country's Muslims are running out of places to worship as their numbers grow. Finland's only officially consecrated mosque is located in the town of Järvenpää, some 40 kilometers north of Helsinki.
In March 2011, the Islamic Society of Finland called for the government to provide university-level courses for the country's imams. There are around 40 to 50 imams in Finland, both teaching and conducting religious services at mosques and prayer rooms. Their educational backgrounds vary. "Many have studied in their communities or in their home countries. What is needed is a degree from an institute of higher education for all imams," says Anas Hajjar, an imam with the Islamic Society of Finland.
In recent years, ethnic Finns have been leaving immigrant-heavy neighborhoods to find more suitable housing elsewhere. According to some studies, Finland's largest cities have developed areas where more than one-fifth of the population is of foreign origin. As native Finns move out of areas with significant immigrant populations, they are reducing the size of the population capable of paying taxes, leaving behind only those consuming welfare services, according to the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.
Much of the problem revolves around Finland's immigration policy, which is one of the most liberal in Europe. This was highlighted in November 2009, when Egypt Today magazine published a story entitled "Welcome to Finland," which portrayed Finland as a paradise for Muslim immigration.
According to Egypt Today: "Tara Ahmed, a 25-year-old Kurdish woman, came with her husband to Finland seven years ago to work. 'There are a lot of services offered to us here,' she says. 'Plus, during my seven years I haven't had one single harassment, assault or discrimination case in any form.' Like most immigrants, Ahmed and her husband took advantage of the free Finnish language lessons offered by the government, which pays immigrants €8 per day to attend. The government also provides immigrants with a free home, health care for their family and education for their children. In addition, they get a monthly stipend of €367 per adult to cover expenses until they start earning their own living. The government is able to pay for these services due to a progressive tax rate that can exceed fifty percent of a person's income. Even so, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed that Finland needs immigrants and that, in the long run, they are not a burden on society."
After that story was published, the number of Muslim immigrants to Finland skyrocketed. For example, immigration from Somalia alone more than doubled in 2010, from 2009. Most of the Somali adults coming to Finland are illiterate, according to the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper. In September 2010, Finnish authorities admitted that Somalis were abusing the family unification procedure to facilitate human trafficking.
Some Muslim immigrants to Finland have travelled to Pakistan or Somalia to attend Jihadi training camps, according to Vasabladet, a newspaper in Sweden. In February 2010, Helsingin Sanomat reported that the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab was recruiting young Somalis living in Finland to go to war against the Somali government.
In early 2010, the Finnish Security Police (SUPO) asked Parliament for €1.7 million in funding to station officers permanently in Africa and the Middle East to stop possible terrorists who might want to travel to Finland. In August 2010, SUPO said it had successfully prevented terrorist suspects from Africa from entering Finland. In December 2010, Interior Minister Anne Homlund said that training individuals to commit terrorist acts would become a criminal offense.
In December 2009, an Albanian Muslim shot dead three men and a woman at a shopping centre in Espoo. The lone gunman was dressed in black and walked through the mall randomly firing at shoppers.
There are now believed to be several hundred hard-line Wahhabi Muslim fundamentalists in Finland, according to a journalist for the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Tom Kankkonen, who recently wrote a book entitled Islam Euroopassa (Islam in Europe). He says these Islamists operate in communities such as the Helsinki Muslimikoti (Muslim Home), the Iqra Association, and the Salafi Forum on the Internet.
But lately some Finns have been pushing back.
In January 2011, the City of Helsinki said that it would stop reserving special hours for Muslim women to use the public pool in the suburb of Jakomäki. In the future, the time slot for Muslim women will be open to all women. Previously, the Jakomäki swimming hall blocked off Saturday mornings specifically for Muslim women. The women's session followed a swimming class for Muslim girls.
In December 2010, the Ombudsman for Minorities, Eva Biaudet, issued a statement saying that a ban on Muslim prayer by a gym in the City of Espoo was not a violation of the prohibition on discrimination against ethnic minorities. In August 2010, the exercise center posted a notice requesting clients not to pray in its facilities. A nearby library provided a screened-off section in its rooms during August-September for use by Muslims during the month of Ramadan. But nine Espoo city councillors have demanded that religious practices be kept separate from public services.
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