Speech ”To Cope with Extreme Ideologies” at the seminar “Speaking is Silver” Hanasaari, 14.12.2012

First of all I would like to commend the organizers of the symposium on their choice of the topic for this Hanaforum. It is more than timely that we focus on the challenges that extremism in its various forms, among them extreme ideologies, pose to Nordic countries and to our open and liberal societies. 

I have been asked to address the issues related to extremism and extreme ideologies in Finland and in particular how they are seen and dealt with by the government and authorities.

Traditionally Finland has been and has regarded herself as a very safe, stable and homogenous country. This may have led – or rather misled – us to assume that we are immune to the radical ideologies and various isms that have been disseminated in many European countries. Yet rapid social change in our own country as well as free mobility and increasing immigration have made it clear that we have to take special measures to maintain social cohesion and to narrow gaps that are widening in education, wellbeing and employment between different population groups. These measures are needed in order to prevent marginalization – sometimes permanently – of individuals or even specific ethnic groups. If this is allowed to take place, social isolation from the mainstream may be handed down to the next generation and this kind of classification could create a breeding ground for extreme views and even actions. Worse still, socially, ideologically or regionally segregated and marginalized groups may generate opposite views that lead to confrontation and even violence between communities. Vigilance is necessary as attitudes towards immigrants and minorities tend to harden especially during an economic downturn.

The present government recognized the risks that we are facing and set itself the following ambitious internal security goal in the government declaration in June 2011: “The objective of internal security is to make Finland the safest country in Europe, one in which people feel that they live in a fair and equal society regardless of how they identify themselves.”

In line with this objective the government set up a project to prepare the third internal security program and, as a part of this task, appointed an expert group to draw up a Program of Measures to prevent – I repeat “to prevent” – violent extremism. It will be implemented as a part of the Internal Security Program. Last June the group produced an action plan named “Towards a Cohesive Society” that contains 12 measures to prevent violent extremism in Finnish society.

The group chose the concept “extremism” in order to point out that the action plan is addressing all such actions and ideologies that are anti-democratic, intolerant, unlawful and at their worst may lead to terrorism. Extremism differs from radicalism, since radicalism may be an agent for progress and change.

The action plan includes an analysis on extremism in Europe and in the Nordic countries. In its annual report on the threat posed by terrorism for 2012 EUROPOL divides extremist thinking and the terrorism it inspires into five categories: religious, separatist, left-wing extremist and anarchist, right wing extremist and single-issue terrorism. Separatist extremist thinking motivated by nationalism and ethnicity is the most common form of terrorism in the Union. It is of course possible that those who promote extremism and take action do not realize that they are inspired by an ideological approach. For them it may be the only approach they are familiar with.

Sweden, Denmark and Norway have their national action plans against extremism. In these programs reasons and motivations behind joining extremist movements are analyzed and the appeal of radical Islamism is looked into. Clashes between opposing extremist movements, most often radical right and radical left, do take place as well. Recent incidents in neighbouring Nordic countries show that much of the threat is home-grown in the sense that individuals resorting to extremist views and even violence have been born and raised in the Nordic countries.

The situation in Finland differs from our Nordic neighbours in the sense that Finland has not been the target of Islamist hate propaganda – for instance comparable to the cartoon controversies – nor have any major single-issue extremists resorted to action here. The growing Muslim community in Finland is heterogeneous and mainly moderate.

Although we have had two painful school killings where mental health problems and school bullying together with references to extreme ideas and misanthropy could be detected in the background, extremist violence is not at the moment regarded as a threat to state structures.  This should not, however, give reason for complacency as we cannot exclude the possibility of unexpected attacks occurring in our country as well. There are individuals with radical Islamist views and training from the crisis zones who could pose a threat to society in any country.

As I mentioned, the plan “Toward a Cohesive Society” identified 12 measures to prevent violent extremism and stipulates the tasks for their implementation to various authorities. The measures range from creating National cooperation Network for the Prevention of Violent Extremism and  corresponding local networks of preventive activities between the police and  other authorities as well as local cooperation teams monitoring violent-extremism-related phenomena to strengthening young people’s trust in the democratic system, creating operating models for the prevention of violent extremism, improving communication on issues and situations related to violent extremism and hate speech as well as increasing national awareness and knowhow about  extremism and its prevention. We all realize that this is a tall order which implementation will need to be a cross-cutting and ongoing process at different levels from authorities to individuals while involving NGOs, the media, civil society actors and so on.

The methods on how to translate this list of measures into practice are being prepared for government consideration. In this context I would like to mention a couple of encouraging examples. The ministry of the Interior launched a-three-year project to prevent discrimination of persons belonging to visible ethnic minorities (mostly with African background) and to reduce their underrepresentation in governmental occupations. This was intended among other things to provide know-how on anti-discrimination and on how to approach diversity to government agencies. The project has trained minority organizations on media and presentation skills in addressing discrimination and on how to eradicate stereotypes relating tominority groups.

Stereotyping and ignorance are in many cases the root causes of different phobias – be it for example Islamophobia, belief in one’s own superiority or superiority of one’s own religion or belief. Representatives of minorities have indicated an increase in Islamophobia in Finland in recent years, with especially Somalis being affected by racist violence. The authorities make an effort to cooperate with the representatives of the different communities in Finland in order to find and to encourage them to find solutions to specific issues of concern to their communities. It has been encouraging to note that for instance different Muslim minorities have established cooperation networks aiming at promoting dialogue, mutual understanding and respectful attitude between Muslims and other religious groups.  Such contacts will reduce the risk of anti-Muslim or extremist views taking hold in Finland.

Another example from the historical perspective is the successful integration of the Tatar community in Finland. The Tatars are a 800 people strong Muslim minority of Turkish origin that has lived in Finland for 140 years. They are well integrated, have a higher level of education than the majority population on the average and have been able to preserve their language, culture and religion.

Finnish authorities monitor closely the situation as concerns Islamophobia in Finland in order to take swift action to counter any such manifestations whenever necessary. In general the more information, education, understanding, mutual respect, tolerance and willingness to live together we all have the easier it is to combat intolerance, discrimination and extremism. 

In our view freedom of opinion and expression are fundamental values of any democratic society. They are also internationally recognized, legally binding human rights that apply to everyone in all countries and communities.

Lately the realization of freedom of opinion and expression and other human rights issues on the internet has emerged as a key issue on the international agenda. Finland considers it important to ensure that all human rights enjoy the same respect and protection on the internet as they do elsewhere.

Finland supports openness and transparency online, and equal access to the internet. Therefore particular attention should be paid to the challenges faced by disadvantaged persons and groups. They usually face higher barriers to internet access.

At the same time it is clear that these rights are not absolute. The responsible use of any human right always entails respecting the human rights of others, including e.g. freedom of religion and opinion, and refraining from intentionally hurting others. Human rights can never be used to incite violence or hate speech.

International dialogue and exchange of views between governments as well as NGOs, media representatives and other civil society groups is needed to promote understanding and disseminate dispassionate views on this challenging subject.  

The key word in modern society is integration of different ethnic groups and cultures instead of trying to assimilate them into one dominant mold.