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Al-Hol Camp and changing Finland : an analysis of the media debate

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Title: Al-Hol Camp and changing Finland : an analysis of the media debate
Author(s): Foudila, Karoliina
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Degree program: Master's Programme in Intercultural Encounters
Specialisation: no specialization
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2021
There has been a vivid public debate in Finland about the women and children who have been staying at al-Hol camp in Syria after the collapse of the ISIS caliphate. This thesis investigates the public debate in the media about these Finnish women and children. Using the method of qualitative content analysis, I examine 117 articles from Helsingin Sanomat from the period from May 1st to December 31st, 2019. My aim is to analyze the key issues that are raised in the debate; how the women and children are depicted; and the linkages between this debate and the changes taking place in the larger Finnish context. These changes involve on the one hand the society becoming more multi-religious, and on the other hand the rise of right-wing populism, anti-immigration, and Islamophobia. The theoretical basis of my analysis is the concept of othering in social sciences, namely the act of creating and using oppositional categories of ‘us’ versus ’them’, which are, for example, based on religion or race. The results show that the women are depicted as ’the dangerous Muslim other’ who could pose a security threat if they are brought back to Finland. These depictions are also shaped by the larger Finnish context, where there are contestations especially around religious diversity that is increasingly becoming a characteristic of society, about Finnishness as a modern identity, and about the challenges of Muslim communities today. My analysis also shows that while children’s rights and wellbeing remain an important goal of Finnish policies and legal obligations, the rights of the Finnish children in the camp have been contested in this debate. This is partly because of legal complexities regarding their repatriation to Finland, and partly because of a security-oriented perspective that sees some of the children as suspects and their relationship with their mothers as a problem. Overall, the analysis shows that the debate about these women and children at al-Hol is not just about whether the people should be repatriated, but about the current changes in Finnish society and the anxieties related to these changes.
Keyword(s): al-Hol child welfare Finnish Muslim families Finnishness Islam ISIS othering populism

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