The Prime Minister’s Office in Finland (Valtioneuvoston kanslia) has granted funding for the SYPONUR research project. The name comes from the Finnish words for discrimination, polarization, youth and violent radicalisation, and it was initiated by three Finnish researchers Marko Juntunen, Karin Creutz and Juha Saarinen.
In this project the researchers are looking into factors influencing Islamic radicalisation in Finland; to what extent the public discussion can increase radicalisation, and what kinds of linkages radicalisation has to exclusion, marginalisation and racism. Juntunen, Creutz and Saarinen highlight that understanding the bigger picture regarding the consequences of the current public discourse is required, because the viewpoints represented at the moment are in many cases one-sided and prone to simplifications.
SYPONUR brings a fresh perspective to the academic field related to the discourses around Islam and immigration, because previously the extreme representations of the discussions have been studied only separately. SYPONUR instead focuses on the dialogue between these extreme standpoints and the effects of the polarized discourse.
The topic is undeniably a hot potato in the media at the moment, but Juntunen, Creutz and Saarinen are worried about the state of public discourse relating to Islam and immigration in today’s Finland. They underline that polarization directs many of the conversations towards hate speech, which may even in some cases lead to terrorism. The goal of the research project is to understand where these kinds of radicalisation phenomena stem from, especially in the Finnish context, which has not been intensively studied before. Similar studies have been made elsewhere in Europe, but in Finland violence-focused political studies have concentrated on for example the division between the right and the left wing.
Juntunen has previously conducted research on everyday Islam, youth and international mobility, for example in the contexts of Iraqi diaspora in Europe and human smuggling in Morocco. Saarinen’s expertise is on studies relating to terrorism, the strategic models of organisations like al-Qaida, political Islam and more recently the Finnish members of international terrorist organisations. Karin Creutz has made a career at CEREN since 2002; she has done research themes like integration, minorities, racism and the image of Islam in media.
All researchers underline the importance and the real life relevance of the SYPONUR project as they are hoping to participate and enrich the public discourse relating to the growing Islamic community in Finland. In addition, they value the fact that their research results can be used later on when creating policy guidelines and political recommendations, but also in the interaction with the grass-root level actors.
The length of the study project at the moment is eight months, but Juntunen, Creutz and Saarinen are optimistic about future funding and continuation of the research.