Oulu: the criminals, the racists and the politicians
On March 11, 2004, Spain woke up in shock. The country had suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. That ruthless action, carried out in Madrid by a group of radicalised foreigners in the name of Allah against innocent citizens who travelled on commuter trains to their places of work and study, caused 191 deaths and thousands of wounded.
And left the country mired in fear and uncertainty.
Amid the pain and chaos caused by that criminal action, some voices emerged trying to take advantage of the situation and spread their hate messages among a traumatised population.
'Foreigners only come here to commit crimes'. 'They hate us'. 'They do not want to integrate, but take away our country'. 'They will never understand our way of life'. 'Look how they dress and pray, they do not respect our customs'. 'We should kick them all out of here'.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Those unjust generalisations sought to criminalise millions of immigrants who lived -and still live- peacefully among us Spaniards. And at the same time they sought to make them all complicit in the abomination perpetrated by a score of despicable terrorists.
As a journalist in Madrid, it was my turn in those days to cover the most exciting moments of that crisis. I was with the families in the gigantic exhibition hall converted into a morgue to which the remains of the victims were transferred. I also witnessed the multitudinous demonstrations against terrorism, and covered the police and judicial investigations that led to the dismantling of the terrorist cell.
And if I am proud of anything, it is the serene response and the example of tolerance that my country gave to the world in those sad days. Citizens and public authorities managed to face the challenge without allowing hatred and racism to take root in our society.
The perpetrators of the crimes were soon arrested, tried and punished according to the severity of their actions. And that was done without cutting public liberties or damaging anyone’s rights. Without introducing exception laws or special punishments for certain human groups.
These days, Finland is horrified after knowing about the arrest by the police a group of 16 suspects with foreign background accused of having sexually abused minors in Oulu.
Rape and sexual abuse are aggravated crimes that deserve the adoption of effective measures to be combated. And if current laws prove to be inefficient, they must be reformed.
Immigration will be the main issue and some parties do not want to renounce the handful of votes that can scratch by shaking a public opinion in shock
Therefore, they seem acceptable to me some of the proposals brought into debate by the Finnish Government. For example those that seek to impose more severe penalties against rapists, to reform the law of consent and to establish legal criteria to expel foreigners who carry out aggravated crimes, though each case should be examined separately to ensure that deportation does not amount to a death sentence.
However, I do not understand how to fit into the Finnish Constitution and the European law the proposal of changing the Citizens Act and allow the Government to dispossess those Finns with a foreign background if they commit such a crime.
Citizenship is a quality that equates people of the same national community in rights and obligations. The law states clearly under what circumstances it can be obtained and lost.
Of course the society must have efficient mechanisms to punish those members who violate its rules. And if a court of Justice decides it, criminals must pay for their crimes and go to jail. But to add to the penalty the loss of citizenship just for having a foreign background would send several dangerous and discriminatory messages:
First of all, it would add to the offence examined in a judicial process the foreign background as an aggravating factor. Second, in case the suspect is found guilty, it would establish an additional punishment that is not imposed to other citizens just on the basis of the foreign background. Third, it would mean also to establish that in Finland there are two different types of citizens, with different rights and susceptible of receiving different punishments for the same crimes. And finally, it could even lead to the introduction of collective punishment, since the expulsion of the inmate could derive in the expulsion of his/her relatives.
I foresee a lot of difficulties to fit this into the Finnish Constitution, EU and Human Rights legislation.
The more I read the statements made by politicians, the more I think that their main concern around this case is not the victims, but what may happen in the parliamentary elections in April. Immigration will be the main issue and some parties do not want to renounce the handful of votes that can scratch by shaking a public opinion in shock.
But beware, hate campaigns against foreigners are on the rise. Social media burn with messages of xenophobic overtones and last week a Finnish-born woman in Kangasala married to an Iraqi saw her home attacked with firearms. Stirring debates on discriminatory measures that incite hatred when elections are approaching is not the best way to ensure public interest and social peace.