Blurring the line

In many ways, last month’s knife attacks in Turku were feared, if not strictly expected. The truck attack mere months ago in Stockholm had driven fears in Finland. For the Nordics, the attacks were always a central Europe occurrence. Countries that were big players in world politics were most vulnerable, after all the terrorist too craved power. This meant, so long as the other countries remained vigilant while avoiding footprint in global anti-terrorism adventures, peace could prevail. And yet, it didn’t.

Abderrahman Bouanane who killed two and injured 8 during a stabbing spree did so after growing radicalised. A migrant seeking asylum, he seems to have gone rogue once his application was rejected. He was already seen by fellow asylum seekers processing and listening to ISIL propaganda material. He’s called the Finns “kafirs” and had avoided their company. He had been reported by some but the police had decided that supporting the narrative was not tantamount to criminalisation. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

Two women were killed by his savage knife. He’d been preparing for this attack for a considerable time. He regularly went to gym and stayed fit. He hung out with a very small group of fellow Moroccans (who are now in police custody) and also spent time with a mysterious rich Moroccan who flew in, met his gang, and then flew out. On the horrid day, he went on a spree and only stopped when he was shot in the hip by the police who responded in less than 3 minutes since the first call for help. Now we know that Bouanane was more optimistic about his mission. He had another attack scheduled for the same day and there was one planned for a few days afterwards. He had hoped to die a martyr’s death. Unfortunately for him, the police were too efficient and they decided on a non-lethal wound.

He is now undergoing trial. The prosecutors are digging very deep in the manifesto he complied before he attacked. They are looking into a video he sent to a group chat of himself reading excerpts from the manifesto, quoting Quran while standing in front of a church, apparently mocking it. They are looking into the conversations he had and the company he kept. The Finnish government is now looking into having more stringent policies against asylum seekers.

While this stringency hurts the asylum seekers, it hurts a significant population of the Finnish society even more. For them, deporting people just on the basis of nationalities is inhuman. These people reiterate that the asylum seekers come to these lands for protections and it is horrible to send them back. However, these people are not all talk. There have been countless protests against deportations around Finland. The state has since found it difficult to deport illegal migrants. The protests have disrupted the work, even causing delays in airport traffic in airports where the deportees were to fly from. Just last week, the protesters formed a human chain around an asylum centre impeding the police from collecting an Afghan family who were to be deported. Several backups were called and, with much difficulty, the police were able to take the family away. Last night, a 180-seater chartered plane carried some of the deportees back to Kabul. Others will shortly follow.

It is unfortunate that the brunt of the reaction on this tragic incident has landed on the question of asylums and migrations. As is obvious, the government sees it as a problem and links it to terrorism. While they can be condemned for developing such a mind-set, it is important to remember that there is a higher probability of indoctrination amongst the migrants than the locals. In many ways, the countries in northern Europe had shielded themselves of such attacks. And, in the instances when they have happened, they are rooted in the migrating hordes coming to them. As they balance their humanist principles and the apparent need to cleanse the society of terrorist elements, the State needs to be careful about the precedents they set. The presence of a vocal conscience in the public discourse is a ray of hope towards blocking these precedents from becoming a norm. However, power politics does indeed thrive on fear and paranoia and the rise of the far-right in Europe attests to that. It is for time to tell how the Finnish society puts a check on this bigotry. For now, it needs to ensure that the thin line between racism and legal deportation is not blurred and phobias are not taken as commonplace traits.


The writer is working as a health economist in a think-tank based in Islamabad.


The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.