“Before, it was more predictable what kind of people could shout something racist. Today it can be anyone: just your average man in a suit on his way to work”, describes the situation in Finland a young woman with Somali background. Anti-Muslim prejudice and racism has become more common.
Islamophobia means racism against Muslims, demonization of Muslims, hatred against Islam as a religion or discrimination towards Muslims based on their religion. Islamophobic thinking divides people to “us” and “them”. Those outside get blamed for a variety of problems.
Islamophobia in Finland is widespread, says the speaker for Young Muslims in Finland Association, Nuoret Muslimit ry, Hunderra Assefa. There is clear prejudice in the media and in the public debate.
Islamophobia demonstrates itself also as discrimination at work or school. Muslims can be outed from politics, power and therefore responsibility. There is also physical violence, hate speech and crimes against property, like attacks towards mosques. When the Young Muslims Association polled its members, over 85 percent of those that replied said they have experienced or witnessed Islamophobia.
Rise in hate crime
Islamophobic thinking ignores the diversity of Islam. As Islamophobia sees a person only through one thing, it is presumed every single Muslim to represent the whole religion. The overall view of Islam is narrow. Fear, detestation and hatred target both persons and the religion as a whole.
The hate speech online is unfortunately a known phenomenon. But hate speech and racist writing lead also to actions. The police in Finland reports over 50 percent growth in hate crime last year. Also on the rise are crimes that target a religion. In 2015 the police reported 133 suspected cases of crimes against religion. Little bit over half of the cases are crimes that target Muslims in particular.
Hunderra Assefa says that on the street Muslim women are most likely to be objects of Islamophobia. They are shoved, pushed, spitted on or called derogatory names. Dressed according to their religion they are a visible target for hate. Young Muslims Association also gets its share of hate mail, both email and through Facebook.
Information literacy as a tool against Islamophobia
Islamophobia is not an isolated phenomena limited to Finland, instead across Europe there are anti-Muslim campaigns and movements. Social media gives a platform and feeds anti-Islam sentiments online.
Hunderra Assefa regrets, that according to studies, most Finns get their daily news through social media feed. Our attention span in the digital world has gotten shorter. We are looking for easily digestible 30 second clips that support the views we already have. Assefa calls for better media and information literacy as a tool to fight against islamophobia.
“Social media feed is an easy read”, Hunderra says. “But when you really open yourself to debate, you have to start looking at things more deeply from different angles. That is for many not such an easy task, as time and patience are limited. We want material that is easily understandable and doesn’t require too much analysis. Therefore it is too easy to accept black and white thinking”, Hunderra Assefa says.
Worry for young Muslims
Hunderra Assefa is especially worried about young Muslims in Finland. They are growing up in a hostile, anti-Islam environment. At worst hostile environment marginalizes a young person and makes him detached from the society. On the other hand, some choose to process it the other way.
“In some cases Islamophobia provokes a kind of spark in a young person, he or her wants to rise these issues up and question them”, Hunderra Assefa emphasizes. “A youth wants a better society for himself and others in similar situation. In best case this will strengthen his or her identity. But do we really want anyone to go through it the hardest way?”
Editor: Anna Gustafsson