Thursday, 28 July 2016

Collective stigmatizing does not belong in Western values

[My letter to the editor published in the newspaper Keskisuomalainen 26.7.2016. This is about a proposal by The Finns Party Youth, the youth organization of The Finns Party, which is currently taking part in the Finnish coalition government. The title was provided by the editors.]

The Finns Party Youth proposes the section about agitation against a group to be removed from the Finnish penal code (ps-nuoret.fi, 21.7.2016). This would render it lawful to collectively stigmatize a group based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, as long as this does not involve direct incitement to violence. According to the organization, the penal code sections about agitation against a group and defamation of religion are detrimental to defending Western values, as well as hindering open discussion about criminal acts and human rights violations. 

It is rhetorically clever of The Finns Party Youth to appeal to Western values and human rights. However, anyone who holds that it is necessary to engage in agitation against a group or sect, as it is characterized in the penal code, to defend the aforementioned rights and values, needs to explain what his or her conception of Western values is like in the first place. At the very least, those values should include the principle of esteeming persons as individuals, based on their particular merits and deeds, and not as parts of their native cultural or ethnic groups.

Nothing prevents one from talking about tensions between Islamic and Western cultures or the threat of fundamentalist terrorism without expressing the critique in agitative terms. Reacting against an ominous phenomenon is not, and should not be, the same thing as reacting against an ethnic or religious group collectively associated with that phenomenon.

The media, politicians, and ordinary people always have a chance to defend Western values and oppose the threat of violent fanaticism without collectively judging groups as wholes. When masses of allies can be found behind the fences we construct for ourselves, why should we be blind to them? The yearly Arbaeen Procession of London Muslims in December 2015 abandoned its normal non-political nature, and turned into a protest against ISIS and terrorism practiced in the name of Islam.  Occasions like this get limited media coverage, maybe because they do not fit in a simple narrative about the relationship of Europe and Islam. Anyone who is concerned about human rights violations, terrorism, or societal problems, can rest assured that the majority of European Muslims share the same concerns. 

Promoting our vital values through cooperation instead of confrontation should be a value in itself.  At least if one is genuinely in it for those values, and not merely categorically against certain groups of people in the name of homogeneous culture. 

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