Anti-immigrant sentiments had been simmering a long time before finally boiling over and becoming a major talking point in the 2008 municipal elections.
“In the past decade, the threshold for what you can say in public has dropped dramatically,” says sociologist and communications researcher Karin Creutz. “Hate speech has become pervasive, especially in social media."
The knowledge and insight of Creutz, who studies racism, fear of Islam and the sense of not belonging, are now in great demand. According to her, it has become more difficult to discuss factual topics in public.
Our society has become increasingly polarised, and we don’t hear enough people clearly condemning racism and hate speech.
“You often see how attempts to carry on a fact-based discussion are torpedoed by shifting the focus elsewhere,” Creutz notes. “What is more, politicians and researchers who openly disapprove of racist outbursts often have to cope with violent threats and aggressive spam.”
As an example, Creutz mentions the tumult surrounding Olli Immonen, MP of the Finns Party, and his Facebook post opposing multiculturalism. In response to the demands that Immonen come forth and explain his comments, the Finns Party published a blacklist of its political opponents – and cleverly moved public attention to the list.
From fear to a vicious circle
In her role as researcher, Karin Creutz is particularly interested in how the sense of not belonging and the fear of Islam affect young people from a Muslim background. Her studies show that the extreme right and violent jihadist movements strengthen one another.
“The feeling of not belonging may be one reason for the jihadist radicalisation,” says Creutz.
“This leads to a vicious circle: the World Trade Center tragedy in New York, the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly, in Paris, along with other jihadist terror cases increase the lure of anti-Muslim far-right movements. The racist comments of the extreme right, in turn, make Muslims feel even more like outsiders.”
Physical and verbal abuse
If the polarisation of society is discussed in abstract terms, it is easy to forget that the sense of not belonging arises in everyday situations on the street and in the media.
“What I find most frustrating is people’s inability to see that we are all equal,” Creutz complains. “We say we understand equality in principle, but our words and actions tell a different story.”
“Examples of this include the way we treat East-European beggars, refugees and undocumented immigrants, as well as the verbal and physical abuse that many Muslims face daily in Finland."
“Human compassion is glaringly absent in tabloid headlines and in the fierce comments on Twitter and Facebook.”
New kind of solidarity
But not everything is bleak. Karin Creutz has happily noted the increasing drive to help refugees. People who previously have not been involved in social debate now actively participate in anti-racist events and social media campaigns.
“Clothes collections, offers of emergency accommodation and the organisation of joint events, such as football games, are a sign of solidarity and increasing social involvement,” says a satisfied Creutz.
“Many people have finally begun to openly criticise racism.”
The University of Helsinki and Hufvudstadsbladet arranged two discussions on immigration and multiculturalism in September. The discussions are also available at video.helsinki.fi, and tweets related to the discussions can be found under the hashtag #uninu15.