Friday, November 09, 2007

The world according to Mr Boyes

At first I didn't think I'd post on this subject, but here we go...

It's nice to see the Times doing its bit to uphold journalistic standards. Wednesday saw the publication of an article by columnist Roger Boyes on the Jokela school shooting, a piece of journalism as absurd as it is ridiculous. After a deluge of comments on the original article, Boyes today published a follow-up, in which, instead of righting the wrongs of his first piece and engaging in constructive debate, he continues to ridicule Finns and Finland with comments such as:
Finland ranks as one of the happiest countries in Europe. It also has one of the highest suicide rates, the third highest divorce rate in Europe (beaten by Sweden again!) and 56 per cent gun ownership. So that adds up to a pretty complex society, no?

At the last count, the original post had received 192 comments. I don't know whether the Times has decided to stem the flow of comments on the new article, but the one I posted earlier this evening still hasn't appeared. So, for the record, here is my response to Mr Boyes.
Mr Boyes. As, behind your sarcasm, I’m sure you’re well aware, the outrage over your article does not represent an unwillingness on the part of the Finns to discuss the implications (for Finland and elsewhere) of Wednesday’s events, rather it is an expression of dismay at a cobbling together of isolated statistics which, at the Times, apparently passes as serious journalism. As a foreigner here, one’s eyes are perhaps more open to the problems that exist, and those problems should rightly be discussed, but your original article goes no way towards doing this. The young feel disaffected in many countries (not least the UK); they carry mobile and spend hours on the internet; their parents are divorced. What, then, if we disregard your misplaced Kalevala analogies, makes this “a very Finnish affair”? Whether you have visited Finland in the past is beside the point. It is the specious nature of your comments that has caused offence, not the fact that you ask valid, necessary questions.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bowling for Jokela

As incredible as it sounds, I only heard about the school shooting that occurred only some 50km from where I live about 12 hours after it happened. Not having a television and being on the move all day yesterday may have had something to do with it. When I was on the bus, I heard something on the radio about somebody being "rushed to Töölö hospital", but couldn't hear the rest of the item.

It goes without saying that yesterday's events were shocking beyond belief – I don't think there's any need to reiterate that. In a Finnish context the idea of a school shooting seems even more outlandish, because things like that simply don't happen here. Virtually nothing happens here – or so people like to think. Finns and other Scandinavians often seem to live in a fairytale land where they believe they are immune to these freak attacks. But if, as the media has now pointed out, Finland does indeed have the third highest ratio of guns per capita in the world, the answer to the question "How can something like this ever happen in Finland?" seems painfully obvious.

From the Guardian, 8th Nov 2007:
Police said the killer's gun was legally owned but he had obtained a licence only three weeks ago. Finland has the most heavily armed civilian population in Europe, and is third worldwide, after the US and Yemen.
Although murder rates are higher in neighbouring Russia and the former Soviet Baltic states, Finland has the highest murder rate in western Europe at around 28 per 100,000 people.
According to a survey this year by Geneva's Institute of International Studies, there are 56 privately owned firearms for every 100 civilian Finns. The guns must be licensed and a licence costs €32 (£22.50).

Can I really be the only person to whom these statistics come as a real shock? I'm stunned that a firearm licence costs less than the average train ticket and that anyone over the age of 18 can obtain one. However, Finland having the highest murder rate in western Europe doesn't come as a surprise. You only have to open the paper to see that, particularly in the countryside, the only way to sort out an argument with your neighbour is to shoot them with your hunting rifle. "My girlfriend left me, so I shot her" is not an uncommon quote in Finnish newspapers.

Where does this leave the indignation of those asking how this can happen in Finland? It does happen in Finland, it probably happens every day – on a smaller scale – but too often we turn a blind eye to it. I glanced at Finland for Thought this morning, the blog I love to hate, to see what they were saying about the shooting. The issue of guns in Finland came up there a few months ago. The opening comments on blog owner Phil's post speak volumes about the prevailing attitudes over at FfT:
Finland has the third highest number of guns in the world per capita, yet everyone isn’t shooting each other!? This must really confuse the anti-gun advocates! Or maybe, it’s not the *guns* that are the problem…??

Every time something like this happens (Dunblane, Columbine, Virginia Tech), we ask ourselves how many more people are going to have to die before something is finally done about the gun laws in our countries. The Second Amendment (and rest of the Constitution) was written in the belief that most people are decent, honourable citizens who will treat others with dignity and exercise restraint in front of the privileges the Constitution affords them. Perhaps I'm a misanthrope, but I'm not convinced that the majority of people have the common sense necessary to handle a firearm. Though I often dislike his style and his methods, on the issue of gun control, Michael Moore is absolutely right.

I love seeing conservatives and libertarians proved wrong; I only wish it had been in different circumstances. Perhaps you'd like to retract the above statement, Phil?