Extremism almost never sees itself as ‘extreme’
When I was young I studied ‘brainwashing’ as part of my studies in psychology. One feature that constantly emerged was how ‘extreme’ interpretations of events typically took a grain of truth and wrapped it up in a generalisation such that it would act as a shield to any criticism, especially convincing and obvious counterarguments that threatened to unravel the persons’ warped world-view.
This is always tricky ground, for several reasons. This bias is something we all share to different degrees, and so it’s easy to reverse the argument if you start trying to point it out. Being ‘brainwashed’ is to an extent common, we even have an everyday term for it – we call people ‘opinionated’. Brainwashing is, in essence, accepting information as true without fully assimilating it as an independently thinking, critical and empathic individual. In the context of racism debates today, we might talk of pathological bias.
So, if you challenge racism, it’s almost certain that you will eventually and persistently be called a racist by those that, on balance, would actually be viewed as being the more likely to be racist. I’ve said before that to an extremist, the world is reversed – those in the middle ground are perceived to be the ‘real extremists’. And when extremism takes hold on a community, it then happens that the ‘middle’ ground IS extremist, but few would see it as such. History shows us this blind spot clearly.
For anti-immigrationists, they will say that it is of course true – they are not racist, but defending Finland’s culture from potential influences that might undermine it, and we are the one’s defending intolerance in the way of Islamic extremism. At least, that’s how they like to present it.
But we are talking at cross purposes almost the whole time in this debate. When they attack Islam, for example, they attack extremism, but are too often lazy in pointing out the actual scale of that problem. They thrown all Muslims into the same bag. So we defend what we know are the vast majority of moderate Muslims who are painted with the same brush. We in turn, are accused of defending extremism. And on and on in an endless succession of strawman arguments and accusations.
The reality is that we both are concerned about extremism, we being those defending the importance of respecting diversity and those worried about societal values being undermined. They are pointing at, for example, Islamic extremism or cultures of corruption in developing countries, and these are issues that need to be tackled. While we on the other hand are talking about a different kind of extremism, one that comes from our side of Western culture: typically the actions, opinions and ideology of young white men who overreact to a social problem by attacking, sometimes literally, groups of people (immigrants/Africans/Muslims) while being too lazy to actually differentiate exactly who really believes what.
This in-house extremism attacks the perceived ‘different’ values of this foreign culture while being utterly blind to the vast array and conflict between ethical values within our home culture. Yep, no Christians planning Jihad that we know of, but certainly lots of Christians quite happy to deny the rights of homosexuals, for example, and to vilify their life choices. Plenty of natives happy to write and talk about immigrants and certain religious groups in a way not seen since Nazism gripped Europe (and that’s a fact!) and openly talking about giving second class citizenship to specific groups on the basis of very arbitrary and poorly evidenced cultural criticisms.
Often, this in-house extremism is just ‘anti-religious’, on the basis that religion is inherently intolerant. The irony though is that this political atheism is itself a form of intolerance. Yes, lines always have to be drawn somewhere on all freedoms, and that’s where the debate should focus. But often it’s hijacked by fear, smear and outright hostility.
This blog is biased – for a reason!
Let’s clear one thing up about this blog – this is not a news outlet or an attempt at straight up journalism. It’s a blog! And as such, it COMMENTS on the news, news that is relevant to the issues that those writing the blog are concerned about. So YES, the blog is biased in commenting mostly on one kind of story, and is happy to do so. This is what blogs do and they don’t have to apologise for doing so! An opposition blog in Russia is not going out of its way to paint the Kremlin as a benign political institution, even if in some aspects it might well be. It attacks the overreach of the Russian political system. In the same way, this blog attacks specific and damaging approaches to immigration issues and issues of social cohesion in regard to immigrants.
If our argument was that immigrants are good and Finns are bad, and we would publish only the stories that support this view, then I would agree with the criticism constantly leveled against us by anti-immigrationists. But this is a straw man argument. We do not believe this. There are good and bad among Finns just as there are among foreigners. It is not about groups, even though we are constantly told that from our point of view it is. When we say it isn’t, we are ignored or called liars. There’s no win in this kind of hostile attack.
Now there is a real danger in these debates and it applies equally to us and anti-immigrationists. If we talk negatively about any ‘minority’ within a larger group, there is a danger that the larger group will be held responsible for the actions of the few. From our perspective, many Finns are very tolerant, open, warm and welcoming towards immigrants. In the same way, many immigrants just want to do the best they can to make a new life for themselves and their loved one’s here in Finland and to be productive members of society.
However, coming to this blog and reading about the intolerance of some Finns, it would be all too easy to fall into the view that Finland is more extreme and hostile towards immigrants than it is. That is a real danger, and it is one we should acknowledge clearly and work to offset. If we don’t, then we are guilty of not representing the issues to scale. However, let’s be clear too, it is not unusual for minority issues to get swept under the carpet by the mainstream or for problems to be constantly downplayed. So establishing issues of scale is not so straightforward, so don’t be too quick to criticise, it’s something we have to constantly bear in mind and question. Still, the point still stands – we should not overplay our hand.
It is the exact same responsibility that those that oppose, for example, Islamic extremism should also carry. They should not stigmatise the majority of peace-loving Muslims/immigrants. Interestingly, when I read genuine reports of actual extremism, I’m never left in any doubt about the issue of scale or the problems it might cause for a peace-loving majority. I’m also likely to see a journalist or expert seek to present the ‘moderate majority’ take on various news events so as to be clear about how this violent minority are viewed from within their ‘own’ (used very loosely) community.
I take this responsibility to present issues to scale very seriously and I encourage anyone who sets themselves up to ‘defend’ a group to do the same. It’s invariably the failing of any knight to see every problem or the most important problems as those that can be fixed by the swish of a sword. Knights are not normally bothered with diplomacy and for that reason, they can be extremely dangerous to social cohesion.
But, like I said, this is not a news site. This is a site that comments on the news that is relevant to immigrants and the way they are likely to be treated here in Finland. It discusses the extremes within Finnish society, while suggesting that even a small and vocal minority that attack and smear immigrants at every turn can degrade the quality of life of immigrants quite significantly. Also, there are institutional matters within Finnish society that do not work well for immigrants, and the resistance to change and constant denial only help to give the impression that it covers up a far deeper and ingrained prejudice. This has to be challenged, not just by immigrants, but by native Finns too. It mostly is!
We will not be going out of way to publish news stories that would be used to stigmatise immigrants or put them in a bad light. This isn’t because we think they are perfect. It’s because there are many many media channels that are publishing this material already and doing so in such a way as to incite hatred towards immigrants. There are no easy answers.
Social problems cannot be swept under the carpet and prejudice cannot go unchallenged. But the end result is often far less light and understanding all round – a polarised discussion, and no space or willingness to give any. Very sad. And that’s the reason I am less active than I used to be, because confrontational politics doesn’t lead to any solutions or clarity and often, that is the only space that exists by way of debate. I’m sure some readers will take issue with my comments, even though I try to be fair to both sides and to provide an obvious and clear justification for what this blog does. I’m sure there will be hostility. Still, I hope this post goes some way to clarifying a few issues that have dogged the blog in recent weeks (and years, come to think of it!).