INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Extremism in Finland

Published: Mon 26 Sep 2005 06:06 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HELSINKI 001013
SIPDIS
STATE FOR R, P, AND EUR/NB
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/23/2015
TAGS: PREL KMPI KPAO PGOV PHUM KDEM EAID FI
SUBJECT: EXTREMISM IN FINLAND
REF: STATE 159129
Classified By: POLOFF DAVID ALLEN SCHLAEFER FOR REASONS
1.4 (B) and (D)
1. (C) Summary: Finland has a small but growing Muslim
population of approximately 20,000. Extremist sentiment is
not widespread throughout the Muslim community, but areas
of concern exist. Embassy Helsinki's strategy to combat
extremism consists of an active outreach to Finland's
Muslims coupled with programs designed to counter
xenophobia and promote tolerance in Finnish society.
Embassy-sponsored receptions and roundtables have increased
our understanding of Finland's Muslim community and our
ability to monitor extremism. PD programming has brought
in experts to promote tolerance and sent both ethnic
Muslims and ethnic Finns to the U.S. The GoF has just
launched an ambitious strategy to prevent extremism in
Finland; it is too early to assess the effectiveness of GoF
plans. End Summary.
Finland's Demographics
-----------------------
2. (U) Finland is one of the most homogeneous countries
in the European Union; only 2% of the country's population
in 2004 was foreign-born. According to the Finnish Office
of Vital Statistics, there are 108,346 foreign-born
residents in the country out of a total population of
5,237,000. By country-of-origin, Russians made up the
largest immigrant group (24,626), followed by Estonians
(13,978) and Swedes (8209). However, Muslims now
constitute the fastest growing segment of Finland's
immigrant community. There were approximately 20,000
Muslim immigrants of varying nationalities in Finland at
the end of 2004. Finland's Muslim population is diverse,
and includes Somalis, Bosnians, Iraqis, Iranians, peninsula
Arabs, Pakistanis, Turks, Palestinians, Afghanis, and
Moroccans. Many of Finland's Muslims came to the country
as refugees or asylum-seekers, although some, especially in
the Turkish and Pakistani communities, are economic
migrants. Asylum-seekers and economic migrants are more
likely to be "secular" Muslims that are better educated,
professionally employed, and better integrated into Finnish
society. Muslim refugees to Finland are less likely to be
integrated and tend to live in relatively closed
communities.
The Muslim Experience in Finland
--------------------------------
3. (U) Finland presents several unique challenges for
Muslim immigrants. The language barrier is a significant
problem; acclimation to the Nordic environment and harsh
arctic winters can be difficult; and the country's
relatively homogeneous racial and religious composition
exacerbates natural tensions. The GoF attempts to
ameliorate these difficulties through a broad range of
social welfare programs designed to facilitate assimilation
and integration into Finnish society. Immigrants receive
language training, may participate in seminars about
Finnish culture, and are eligible for special housing and
employment assistance, in addition to the already generous
welfare state benefits enjoyed by all legal residents in
Finland. Muslim conscripts in the military are served
culturally sensitive meals. Finnish law prohibits racism,
discrimination, and "hate speech," and the country has a
long history of religious tolerance. An Ombudsman for
Minorities handles general complaints about racism and
discrimination, and a special "court" housed in the
Ministry of Justice adjudicates cases involving labor
discrimination. From the outside looking in, Finland's
official policies on integrating newcomers seem a model of
proactive, enlightened social welfare.
4. (SBU) The reality is somewhat more complicated. Many
of the GoF's programs aimed at promoting integration have
not worked well in practice. Although the large group of
Somali refugees that came to Finland in the mid-90's has a
better track record on language acquisition, many of the
more recent immigrants have poor (if any) proficiency in
Finnish, sharply limiting their economic opportunities.
The GoF resettled many refugees in medium and small towns
scattered across the country in an attempt to avoid the
concentration of immigrants in poorer inner city
neighborhoods. However, a significant number of refugees
subsequently move to Helsinki on their own. Muslims tend
to be concentrated in distinct ethnic enclaves in the
working class parts of the city. There are few overt acts
of violence against Muslims, but many express frustration
over more subtle and deeply entrenched xenophobic attitudes
in Finnish society. One Finnish Muslim described to Poloff
what he called a "culture of politeness" that was
politically correct and largely benign, but still left most
Muslims feeling like permanent outsiders in their new
homeland.
5. (U) On the other hand, many Muslims in Finland resist
assimilation into the larger polity. Leaders of Muslim
religious communities decry what they see as the
materialism and sexual permissiveness of secular Finnish
society. Finland's strong feminist movement and general
emphasis on gender equality issues is also at odds with
traditional Muslim gender roles. Some Muslims fear their
children may lose their unique cultural identity if they
integrate. This perspective has contributed to the
"separate but equal" dynamic of self-segregation that is
increasingly a part of the Muslim experience in Finland.
Less Extremism, but Limited Monitoring Ability
--------------------------------------------- -
6. (C) Support for violent extremism and jihadism is less
evident in Finland's Muslim communities than in some other
Nordic countries. There is no Finnish equivalent to Mullah
Krekar in Norway or to the more radical imams in Sweden and
Denmark. There are three main religious communities in
Helsinki and smaller communities in Turku, Tampere, and
Oulu. Finnish authorities believe that these communities
are less politicized than many of their counterparts
elsewhere in the EU, although there are several persons of
interest (particularly in Turku) that are closely
monitored. Recent immigrants are more likely to express
support for terrorism and extremism than members of
established communities.
7. (C) Finnish authorities admit that given the lack of
assimilation and integration of many Muslims into
mainstream society, they have limited ability to monitor
extremist sentiment in religious communities. In the words
of one senior officer in the Frontier Guard: "We really
have little idea about what is going on inside these
groups." However, others argue that monitoring efforts are
limited because some senior Finnish security officials
simply do not believe that Finland could ever be a
terrorist target. Events such as the London and Madrid
bombings notwithstanding, their thesis centers around the
argument that the Muslim population is simply too small and
too diverse to pose any real or potential threat. As a
senior British diplomat has commented to us, "I have every
confidence that the Finnish security police would handle
any terrorist threat with the greatest efficiency. I just
fear that they are not looking for those threats as
efficiently as they should."
Embassy Helsinki's Muslim Outreach and Other Efforts to
Combat Extremism
--------------------------------------------- -----------
8. (SBU) The Embassy has a dual approach to combat
extremism in Finland: reaching out to the Muslim community
as a means of heading off nascent extremism while helping
to address unhelpful xenophobic and reactionary tendencies
in larger Finnish society. We work closely with Finnish
authorities and partners whenever possible and appropriate.
The centerpiece of our outreach effort has been a series of
four receptions and roundtables during the past two years
for secular and religious leaders of Finland's Muslim
community. The events gave us an opportunity to expand our
knowledge of and contacts in the community; Muslim
participants used the fora to sound off on issues such as
discrimination, obstacles to and concerns about
integration, gender equality issues, U.S. policy in Iraq
and the Broader Middle-east, terrorism, and special
concerns such as the Abu Ghraib scandal. Some commented
that it was ironic that it "took the U.S. Embassy" to
convene such meetings in Helsinki. Our outreach program is
ongoing and aims at long-term results. The Embassy will
host another roundtable (or possibly an iftar meal) this
fall.
9. (SBU) We use PD programming to combat extremism. In
2004, we sent a Muslim woman (Aysu Shakir) to the U.S. on
an international visitor program for young European
leaders. Shakir is an ethnic Turk/Tartar, and was a Social
Democrat Party candidate for Parliament in 2003. Although
she was not elected at that time, she was the first Muslim
candidate for national office in Finnish history, and was
subsequently elected to the Helsinki City Council. By
cultivating moderate Muslim leaders (especially younger
leaders) like Shakir, we hope to encourage a more positive
image and better understanding of the United States. This
year, we selected a Member of Parliament from the Green
Party (an ethnic Finn) to participate in an IV program
aimed at promoting multicultural diversity. Anne Siinemaki
is an up and coming young politician who narrowly lost a
bid to become her Party's chairperson, and who enjoys
strong support cross party support among Finland's youth.
We hope Siinemaki will gain valuable experience during the
IV visit with a view toward fighting racism and
discrimination and encouraging tolerance for religious and
racial diversity Finland.
10. (SBU) The Embassy also programs expert American
speakers inside Finland. The Embassy co-sponsored a
seminar on resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe with a Finnish
NGO and Finland's Parliament. The one-day seminar (at
Parliament House in Helsinki) featured Finland's Justice
Minister as keynote speaker, as well as panel discussions
about the roots of current anti-Semitism in Europe and the
role of education in combating anti-Semitism. Our Public
Affairs Section facilitated the participation of Deidre
Berger, the Associate Managing Director of the American-
Jewish Committee in Berlin, in the seminar, and arranged
additional meetings for her with Finnish social and
education authorities.
11. (C) In December of 2004, we arranged a visit to
Finland by Dr. Paul Jabber, a leading USG consultant on
Salafi fundamentalism and the cultural and ideological
underpinnings of jihadi theology. Jabber spoke to a group
of approximately 40 senior and mid-level officials from the
Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior, and Social Affairs
ministries, as well as police and security officials. The
audience was carefully selected by the MFA's Counter-
terrorism Coordinator, Ambassador Ilvo Salmi, with a view
toward enhancing the GoF's ability to understand and
recognize extremism at home and abroad, and encouraging
discussion within the GoF about ways to prevent it. As we
hoped, Dr. Jabber's visit sparked GoF dialogue about the
problem of extremism, and we received several subsequent
requests for additional material from his presentation that
Finnish authorities used in creating their own response.
12. (SBU) All of the Embassy's programs are designed for
long-term impact. The target audiences range from leaders
in the Muslim community (20-30 persons) to individual IV
programs. Our early assessment is that the programs are
very effective. Increased availability of IV and VOLVIS
opportunities, as well as an enhanced ability to bring
American speakers to Finland, would greatly improve our
ability to affect and prevent extremism in Finland.
Finnish Plans to Combat Extremism
---------------------------------
13. (C) Until very recently, the GoF had no real strategy
to combat extremism within Finland. Apart from the
previously described programs to facilitate integration of
immigrants and refugees into Finnish society, there was
little "official" contact between authorities and the
Muslim community. Few Finns have experience in the Middle-
East, and even fewer speak Arabic or Farsi. That said, we
have detected some tentative shifts in the "it can't happen
here" attitude over the past year. The Van Gogh murder in
the Netherlands and subsequent discussions between Dutch
and Finnish officials opened some eyes to the possibility
of future problems in Finland. One report drafted by a
Finnish liaison officer at Eurojust about extremism among
Dutch Muslims was widely circulated among government
agencies. The London bombings may have added some sense of
urgency to GoF deliberations about how to prevent extremist
sentiment in Finland.
14. (C) A clear positive sign is the June 2005 creation
of an "Office for Muslim Outreach" within the Ministry for
Foreign Affairs. Ostensibly the new office is designed to
educate Finnish officials from all ministries and agencies
about Islam. The office (which currently consists of only
one person-- Director Kirsti Westphalen) organized its
first event last month, a seminar (largely drawn from the
Jabber presentation) for Finnish ambassadors who were
gathered in Helsinki for an annual conference. Additional
seminars are planned in the coming months for senior
officials from other agencies. Westphalen told Poloff that
eventually the GoF hopes the office will expand its
operations and chair an intra-agency committee to serve as
a policy coordination clearinghouse for both domestic and
foreign policy involving Islam. For example, Finnish
development assistance for a large Sudanese irrigation
project would be first considered in the context of local
conditions and Koranic teachings about agriculture and
water rights.
15. (C) Westphalen's most ambitious plans involve the
domestic issue of integrating Finland's Muslims. The GoF
proposes forming a type of "Finnish-Muslim Council" to
create a space for dialogue between Muslims and the
government. Westphalen believes Finland can prevent the
formation of extremist sentiment by aggressively reaching
out to Muslim communities and bringing any radical elements
into the political process. Rather than investigating or
deporting radicals, they would be made political
stakeholders. Using the analogy of postwar French and
Italian communists having been "tamed" by their inclusion
in coalition governments, Westphalen says that it is
possible in Finland and elsewhere to reach out to
unpalatable elements in this way and influence better
outcomes than through a "policy of confrontation."
Proactive long-term strategic planning-- such as
identifying areas of conflict between Finnish and Shari'a
law and incorporating the latter in some way into the
Finnish legal code-- would be an essential part of such a
strategy.
16. (C) The GoF is also working with NGO and think-tanks
to address the problem. Next month, the prime minister's
chief of staff will give the keynote address at a
conference on the "Roots and Routes of Democracy and
Extremism" sponsored by the U.S. National Academies,
Finland's Aleksanteri Institute, and the Russian Academy of
Sciences. The conference will look at factors affecting
the development of extremism within democratic societies,
the detection of early warning signs of conflicts within
ethnic groups, and challenges to national education systems
in avoiding and coping with extremist sentiment. Thomas
Pickering will participate in one of the panel discussions.
17. (C) Comment: It is too early to assess the effect of
the GoF's efforts to prevent and counter extremism in
Finland, but the GoF is clearly waking up to the need to
better understand the country's small but growing Muslim
population. Westphalen's office may be small, but it
represents a solid start, and she reports that her access
to senior officials -- including President Halonen -- is
good. However, her personal views about the inevitability
or desirability of mass immigration from Muslim countries
to Finland and the need for Finnish culture and society to
adapt accordingly are probably not shared by a majority of
Finns, in or out of government. Finland's immigration
policy is among the EU's more restrictive, and it is by no
means certain that even with a looming demographic
shortfall, the country will look to increased immigration
from the Muslim world to ameliorate the situation.
18. (C) Comment, continued: Still, more workers will
leave Finland's workforce this year than enter it, and
demographers predict a serious labor shortage by 2010. A
recent, slight increase in Finland's birthrate is
insufficient to ameliorate the problem in the short-term.
Politicians are reluctant to suggest Finns should have more
babies for fear of being labelled racist or, as in the case
of Prime Minister Vanhanen in 2003, sexist. It seems just
as unlikely that Finnish retirees, workers, and students
will accept a reduction of the generous welfare state
benefits that they currently enjoy. Given that, increased
immigration, whether from Muslim countries or elsewhere,
will remain an option and issue of sharp debate for the
foreseeable future.
MACK
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