Equality as a contesting pillar of political multiculturalism
PhD, research fellow working from August 2009 to June 2010 in Paris (Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales).
I thank Tariq Modood for a highly inspiring and insightful book, “Multiculturalism”. My task has been to reflect on the chapter 3, in particular. A pleasant, although demanding commission!
In the chapter “Difference, multi and equality” Tariq Modood calls for a sensible and context-sensitive definition of the loose concept of multiculturalism. He himself argues for a more explicit reflection on the political dimensions of the concept, which encourages us to ponder upon the concept in its material circumstances, which may be framed socially, culturally or morally. I couldn’t agree more on his argument what comes to the ambiguity of the concept. In this short notice I will reflect Modood’s reasoning in the Finnish context, particularly vis-à-vis an uneasy political interplay between the idea(l) of equality and multiculturalism in Finland. I leave more epistemological reflections aside, and keep my line of argument at a more practical level.
In Finland, political multiculturalism can be seen as a recent topic, at least in the public discourses. In the same way, racism is still a marginal topic in the political arena of the Finnish welfare society, where issues related to equality are mostly connected with socioeconomic and gender hierarchies – and to a higher extent also with issues related to age hierarchies. Indeed, Finland finds itself in a paradoxical political situation where various legal reforms have been recently made which could contribute to making multiculturalism a more vivid issue also in political terms (i.e. non-discrimination act, 2004, http://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2004/en20040021.pdf integration law 1999). Anyhow, the application of these reforms has remained thin – both at the institutional level and at the level of everyday and political cultures related to equality.
I will highlight this Finnish paradox by 10 brief examples, which I summarize in the following, to encourage the discussion during your session in the ETMU-days:
1) Finland is a society leaning heavily on the universalist view of political multiculturalism (more than a strictly liberal tradition, see Tariq’s reasoning, or “republican” à la francaise), as a part of its welfare ideology. According to this view, political solutions should primarily appeal to laws, formal integration (citizenship, language, formal rights) and equal treatment between individuals. One can search (and find) some attachments between this universalist thinking and those early Enlightenment discourses on tolerance, calling for equal opportunities of every individual as a tool to overcome different forms of discrimination. (see i.e. the reasoning of the French researcher Taguieff). In this context, the efficient integration of minorities into the majority culture is not traditionally interpreted as an unequal (conservative) project (of assimilation) but rather as a part of the emancipatory logic of egalitarianism (this interpretation is true in the contemporary French society as well where I live right now). Despite a Finnish definition of integration as “a two-way process”, it is still formulated as a political project that concerns immigrant individuals rather than public structures of the society – not to talk about Finnish national culture with its State Church. The need to move toward a more “cyborg” (Haraway) or “transversal” (Yuval-Davis) understanding of political structures and cultures has not yet reached the Finnish public debate. This kind of approach to politics is about opening up dialogues that may resist a hegemonic understanding of political cultures or power hierarchies in the society. The concept of transversal politics as a starting point has also an important discursive implication, as Nira Yuval-Davis puts it; it regards political discourses being inevitably based on “imperfect communication” where any ready-made positionings, fixed constructions, or hierarchies are to be contested. (See Yuval-Davis, 1999; http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/collections/soundings/12_94.pdf)
2) The normative basis of the understanding of equality is heavily dependent on the Nordic ethos, which emphasizes the (supposed) neutrality of the Finnish welfare state, and the political principle of equal opportunities available, in principle, to every individual. The norm of equality is, thus, attached in Finland to the individual level – leaving diverse “identity political dilemmas” and other group-related dimensions aside. Thus, in Finland, equality may be seen to be politically articulated in the continuum which starts from individual opportunities (and related individualist ethos) and ends to the state responsibility (equal treatment) rather than discussed in more complex political terms of equal respect or equal dignity (see Modood’s conception). To be equally treated implies in this context the formal status of individuals vis-à-vis state structures.
3) In his other article, “’Difference’, cultural racism and anti-racism” (in the book Debating cultural hybridity, 1997), Modood criticizes heavily a form of political multiculturalism which he calls “colour-blind humanism”. In Finland, gender can be seen as the only established marker of identity politics in the political arena: gender as a group category is – and has been a long time – considered an important political locus, both at the discursive level of recognition (public visibility, group consciousness) and at a more material level of redistribution (hierarchies and quotas in the labour market, family politics, remuneration practices…). In this context, an inevitable question to be posed is what the claim “group as a political unit” really means – and, whether this claim should be interpreted in empirical or more ideological terms.
4) The Finnish legislation related to gender equality is well-known and often referred to in diverse political contexts. However, we live interesting times in Finland; the whole package of “equality legislation” is being reassessed in a new multicultural situation. To give one example, it has been discussed whether it would be reasonable to unify different equality-related laws, to make issues (and discourses) related to equality more comprehensive and binding. This discussion has not yet led to any reforms: an Equality Act and a more recent Non-Discrimination Act continue to be understood and implemented in their distinct ways, regardless of their apparent linkages. Consequently, also the very understanding of the notion of – and the politics attached to – equality differs substantially, depending on the act applied.
5) ”The politics of equality” addressing to cultural and racial injustice can be metaphorically seen as a political No man’s land. No political party in Finland seems to be interested in inventing into political multiculturalization – as a dimension of equality policy – more than what is required to become labeled as a ”politically correct” party. Moreover, very little distinguishes Finnish Right-Wing parties (or “Conservatives”) from more Left-wing parties as far as politics of multiculturalism is concerned. Swedish People’s Party was the only political party, being chosen to parliament, which raised the issues related to multiculturalization of the Finnish society into their political priority list in the last parliamentary elections.
6) True Finns Party represents the most explicitly critical political attitude toward immigration and multiculturalization of Finnish society. Its popularity has risen remarkably since its implementation in the year 1995. In the parliamentary elections (2007) the party received 4,1% of the votes (parliamentary elections in 2003 the support was 1,6%). The official discourse of the party is formulated in a cleverly ambiguous way, and there are numerous tensions inside the party, as well as an increasing number of members who pursue a highly aggressive politics against immigrants, using i.e. discursive strategies that are common to the arguments related to “cultural racisms” (incompatibility of cultures, risks related to hybridity and heterogeneity of the society).
7) Even if multiculturalism is not seen as an acute political issue in more general terms, public discourse outside formal politics has become more and more lively. The change in the discursive climate has happened somewhat unnoticed in Finland – whether consciously or unconsciously. Let me give one example: advocates of political multiculturalism, who have wanted to develop context-sensitive antiracist tools in the Finnish politics – have always been in a marginal position in Finland. However, whereas earlier this group of people (mainly NGO-activists and researchers) has been claimed to be (too) radical reformers, today the same group is seen as representing conservative attitudes, and being reluctant of speaking about “true problems” of the Finnish society. So, before any well-formulated and contextualized anti-racist policy has been established in Finland – either in discursive or in more practical level – the critique on anti-racism has become sharp, making any anti-racist effort difficult.
8) Universalism is not a just central pillar of the Finnish political culture. Also civic action related to multiculturalization in Finland puts forward the idea of immigrants’ inclusion based on universal principles of equal treatment and the fight against socioeconomic disadvantages of immigrant people. This civic expression of “solidarity” or “altruism” resonates more easily with conceptions of nationhood and national community (naturally in a very different manner than in the nations with a distinct colonial history) than with a more transversal or hybrid idea of civic action (see point nr 1). To follow Modood’s reasoning, another possibility would be to mobilize oneself to support and celebrate collective consciousness of diverse subordinated groups, whether based on ethnic background, common roots or some more “hybrid” characteristics (see Modood’s article “’Difference’, cultural racism and anti-racism” where he writes particularly about black consciousness). In Finland, the latter kind of mobilization has been rather modest. Perhaps partly due to this, there is rather limited room for immigrant population to acquire powerful status and space as serious political agents.
9) Even if multiculturalism and racism are often depicted as relatively recent political phenomena in Finland, they have long historical roots in the Finnish society. These roots have been overlooked in the contemporary political discussion which has emphasized “a new multicultural situation of the society”. This claim has, then, been used to legitimize lacking tools and policies against racism. Roma people, for instance, experience – and, indeed, have experienced for centuries – different forms of discrimination in Finland, both at the level of daily encounters and institutional practices. Anyhow, any kind of socioeconomic discrimination is difficult to unravel on a national basis since Roma people fulfil legal requirements of the Finnishness, and the discrimination in more sociocultural terms rests a delicate issue in the political agenda.
10) Moreover, racist attitudes and manifestations against minorities in Finland may take very subtle and indirect forms, and thus, they may be challenging capture into the political discourse which emphasises, as stated before, individualistic and universalist logic of integration. To refer to the critique of Modood on unitary “black vs. white -constellations”, many forms and manifestations of racism in Finland are not formulated in any simple way as a question of “white” supremacy against “coloured” minorities. One example of this is subtle discrimination against old Russian minorities, which, regardless of their formal status in Finland and physical appearance, are often discriminated against. In addition, internal tensions of minority groups (such as “old” and more recently migrated Russians in Finland), or between minorities have been overlooked in the political discussion.