Sunday, January 3, 2010

Erasto on Finland Mall Shooting

This is a guest post by Tytti Erasto, a doctoral candidate at the Univ. of Tampere. Tytti does very interesting work at the intersection of international relations and international law.

Finland Mall Shooting: Love that Went Wrong

News of shooting in a shopping mall on Thursday has shocked people both in Finland and abroad. It also undoubtedly reinforced Finland's image as a violent country. International media has been quick to present the event as the latest part of what now seems like a series of shooting incidents. In the Jokela school shooting in 2007, a 18-year old pupil shot dead 8 people and himself. A similar event occurred in the following year in Kauhajoki, as a 22-year old shooter killed a teacher and 9 fellow students. Is there a connection between these incidents? What do they tell about Finnish society? Is the most recent tragedy different because the perpetrator had an immigrant background?

As the Guardian wrote in its report on the Thursday shooting, Finland is 'among the top five nations in the world for civilian gun ownership' despite its relatively strict legislature restricting the possession of arms. The popularity of hunting and sport shooting partly explains these figures. However, the shooter who killed five people and himself on Thursday did not have a licence. As the Minister of the Interior Anne Holmlund noted, the problem of illegal firearms is difficult to tackle through legislative means. Even though there is clearly something to be improved in this respect, even a total ban of guns could hardly prevent someone determined to take the life of other people.

It is the psychological aspect, then, which deserves more attention. Clearly the shooters were all unhappy with their lives and society in general. Both Pekka-Eric Auvinen and Matti Saari had reportedly been bullied at school. How about Ibrahim Shkupolli, the 43-year old perpetrator of the most recent tragedy? Shkupolli's motivations had to do with a failed relationship. The principal victim was his ex-girlfriend. The couple had been together for 18 years but, after the break-up, Shkupolli had been issued a restraining order banning him from approaching her and her workplace. After having killed his ex-girlfriend, Shkupolli shot four of her co-workers at the shopping mall. Then he shot himself.

Despite their visibility, shooting incidents such as these are fortunately rare in Finland. Generally Finnish people regard their country as exceptionally safe. They also tend to think of it as a model of gender equality. Behind the scenes, however, this is not always the case. At least according to Amnesty International, the country has a dismal situation regarding domestic violence. It is perhaps this background, rather than the school shootings, against which Thursday's tragedy should be understood. From this point of view, the emergence of some anti-immigration statements that followed the incident in certain social networking websites are all the more misleading. The fact that Shkupolli was a Kosovo Albanian seems totally irrelevant. He had been living in Finland for almost half of his life. As in many cases, the threat did not come from outside. Instead, it is part of a problem that exists within, and which is invisible to most people.

If one wishes to find a common denominator behind all of these acts of violence, apart from the way they were committed, there seems to be at least one: hurt male pride combined with feelings of rejection, and followed by more or less premeditated, disproportionate anger against other people. In an interview regarding the situation in Kosovo in 2008, Shkupolli tells how he tried to help his fellow citizens by sending clothes and other goods to the country. Surely this man was not thoroughly evil. On the contrary, he seems almost sympathetic in the interview. Although he became a terrible example of the darker side of human nature, his case was surely not one of a kind.