19 July 2005

Finnish reactions to London attacks

By Tapani Lausti

A few hours after the news about the 7/7 London bomb strikes had broken, we walked into a bar in Helsinki to have a quiet contemplative moment. A young man waiting for his drink talked loudly about how the terrorists are now in trouble after having provoked the British. “Watch out!” he cried, changing his language into English as if for better effect.

This admiration of British power was also expressed in some letters to newspapers. However, less reluctantly than many their British counterparts, many Finnish commentators mentioned Britain’s participation in the occupation of Iraq as one explanatory factor to the bombs in London. A widely expressed opinion in the letters pages was that it has been wise to keep Finland out of the war in Iraq.

And that is how we instinctively felt: we were in a country seemingly far away from the world’s troubles. Not that it stopped us from feeling shocked at the outrage in London and feeling anger towards Britain’s irresponsible prime minister who “knowingly [put] his own people at risk in the service of a foreign power”, in the words of Seamus Milne. (It is an insult to the dead to deny the link with Iraq, The Guardian, 14 July 2005)

Milne also quotes Osama bin Laden who once asked: if it was western freedom al-Qaida hated, “Why do we not strike Sweden?”. Why not Finland? Some Finnish commentators have been writing about the possibility of Helsinki becoming a target of terrorism. Their view of terrorism, however, is very unfocused. Terrorists are seen mainly as mad extremists who are not interested in specific political goals but just try to create mayhem in western democracies which they allegedly hate. The head of the Finnish security police is on record as having said that unlike ETA and IRA, “the new terrorism” has no clear political role.

In his excellent article, Seamus Milne addresses this issue: “The central goal of the al-Qaida-inspired campaign, as its statements have regularly spelled out, is the withdrawal of US and other western forces from the Arab and Muslim world, an end to support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and a halt to support for oil-lubricated despots throughout the region.”

As to Iraq, Milne sums it up in a few words: “Afghanistan made a terror attack on Britain a likelihood, Iraq made it a certainty.”

In Finland, as elsewhere in Europe, all the talk now is about “a common front against terrorism”. Hardly anyone has pointed out the irony of the fact that after having done their best to increase threats to ordinary citizens, the US and UK leaders are now demanding a united front against terrorism. This puts everyone in a difficult position. Of course we have to ensure our individual and collective safety, but how do we do it without joining the fake propaganda about “the civilised world”?

One obvious answer is that we must campaign for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel’s return to pre-1967 borders. This may not stop all violence but at least it would help to cool the current heat in world politics. And it is also a principled stand against policies which cause so much suffering in the countries being “liberated” by hypocritical powers advancing their own interests.

Where could an initiative come from? Let’s daydream. Maybe Finnish public opinion could offer help. Most Finns object to pro-NATO elite opinion which wants their country to be aligned with all western institutions. If they had any public forums to discuss alternatives, the Finns might opt for old-fashioned neutrality which would seek a critical distance from all destructive camps, whether that of Bush and Blair’s extremism or that of Islamic extremism. Both these camps “reject as treasonous rational analyses indicating their own responsibility for promoting violence and rejecting non-violent alternatives”. (The London Bombings, MediaLens, 18 July 2005)

This is the mindset that only neutral forces can challenge. With other non-aligned countries, the Finns might be able to contribute to international peace projects. Not that I think the Finnish government has enough imagination and courage to seek anything of the sort, but at least in theory something like that could be possible.

Undoudtedly, however, no matter what happens in the world, most of the pro-NATO elite in Finland will always see themselves as part of the so-called transatlantic community of “shared values”. Washington and London’s view of the “civilised world” is good enough for them. Neither does the Finnish government want to do anything which might create problems for Finnish-American relations. The official line seems to be that, thanks to US-UK intervention,  Iraq is now on the road towards democracy. The illegality of the US-UK occupation does not get a mention.

Even the sometimes critical-minded Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja seems to believe that the occupation of Iraq is over. At the time of the Iraq conference in Brussels in June, the Nordic foreign ministers – Tuomioja among them – wrote a joint article in which they took at face value the claims of a UN resolution on Iraq, “welcoming the end of the occupation, affirming the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and setting out the democratisation process”. (Article on Iraq by the Nordic Foreign Ministers, Government Offices of Sweden, 23 June 2005)

So where are we heading? In Tony Blair’s speech in the House of Commons on the 13th of July, there was a worrying argument. He declared to be seeking a consensus that could lead to fast-track legislation in the autumn to tighten the law against “acts preparatory to terrorism” and those who “glorify” terrorism. (Blair: Uproot this ideology of evil by Michael White, Alan Travis and Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, 14 July 2005) Also “indirect incitement of terrorism” would be included in future punishable acts.

“Glorify” terrorism? “Indirectly incite” terrorism? British defenders of civil liberties have every reason to be worried. (See Attack on civil liberties intensifies after London bombing by Mike Ingram, World Socialist Website, 18 July 2005) How soon will it be before “trying to understand the causes of terrorism” is lumped in these categories?

In Finland there has already been a worrying example of trying to label those questioning the so-called “war against terrorism” as being partly responsible for terrorism. Jyrki Iivonen, an academic who doubles as communications director of the Finnish Ministry of Defence, wrote: “Those who condemn the war against terrorism and bicker about its legality, carry moral responsibility for the continuation of terrorism and the damage caused by it.” (See "Terrorismin ymmärtäjät" 14.10.2004)

Iivonen also wrote: “In seeking alleviating reasons for terrorism, one easily drifts into a situation where it appears as an acceptable solution.”

Thus trying to understand reasons for terrorism is flippantly turned into “seeking alleviating reasons”. This is typical government-speak which aims to discourage rational analysis.

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