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Soldiers of Odin: The far-right groups in Finland ‘protecting women’ from asylum seekers

Finns create an anti-immigrant group called the Soldiers of Odin after reported cases of harassment against women, allegedly by migrants

Anthony Faiola reporting for The Independent: one dark night in a dark city, three local men, dressed in dark clothes, pulled up to a curb in a van, which saw better days, with the stars and bars of the American Confederacy (because they just liked the look of it). Later, they joined a group of a dozen other bullish looking vigilantes gathering on a sidewalk for their first patrol. A patrol set to keep “our women” safe, as they said.

Enter the Soldiers of Odin, a fresh-born far-right group of Finnish men spawning local chapters all across Finland. New members are coming with each new day, as this northern nation becomes a case study in the fear and suspicion gripping Europe after multiple sexual assaults, allegedly committed by asylum seekers and others on New Year’s Eve.

As it is now commonly known, there have been an increasingly staggering number of complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. It was a tipping point in the debate over a continuous stream of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

While many European countries already put up a barbed wire in order to keep illegal immigrants out, Germany has announced moves meant to delay refugees from bringing in close family members for at least two years, and to reject and deport more asylum seekers arriving from North Africa. The Danish Parliament backed a measure allowing seizures of cash and valuables from migrants. Slowly, the rest of the Europe wakes up to the reality.

Suddenly, many Europeans are asking an uncomfortable question: Do asylum seekers — more specifically, some of the men from conservative Muslim nations — pose a significant threat to free of shackles of dogmatic texts and casually dressed Western women?

“These refugees do not respect our women,” said Ilkka, a 33-year-old sprinkler installer who would give only his first name. “I have four daughters, and they used to be safe in Finland. We need to do something about it.”

Some critics say the danger is exaggerated, and they denounce the attacks as the work of a few bad characters. However, even asylum seekers acknowledge that some in their midst have a hard time coping with progressive Western European norms, especially regarding women. New reports of sex crimes suspected to have been committed by asylum seekers are now emerging in Finland, including several alleged rapes that predate the New Year’s Eve crime wave.

In Sweden, a 22-year-old woman, working as an aid worker was stabbed to death last week by a 15-year-old migrant, authorities said. Her death caused a fresh firing line of arguments about a threat posed by the migrants, who include large numbers of young men traumatized by war.

Some of the migrants, however, understand the situation better than most and do what they can to prevent a confrontation. Abbas al-Arja — a 25-year-old former Iraqi boxer who moved to Finland in 2010 — said he intervened in the town center last month to stop two young Iraqi asylum seekers from pushing themselves onto a Finnish woman who was “clearly uncomfortable.”

“Some of them coming now have a lot to learn,” he said. “They do not understand a woman dressed like that.”

But, it seems his rhetoric was a poor excuse for many and after the recent stabbing of an asylum seeker by a group of Finnish men and a suspicious arson at a refugee center near Tampere, the newcomers are also more fearful. The new patrols by the Soldiers of Odin, Arja said, have only made the situation worse.

“Now Muslim women are afraid to go in the streets because of the Soldiers of Odin,” Arja said. “What have we achieved? We are afraid of them, and they are afraid of us.”

There’s, of course, a “good intentions” blanket which many of the attackers use as a cover. While some believe that they’re actually helping their country, others look to exploit such a convenient excuse.

“We want to have a society again in which women and elderly people can move safely and freely in our streets,” the leader of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, said in January. “The misogyny and contempt we have seen unfortunately has Islamist roots . . . because it is directed against ‘infidel’ women who are often insulted as whores for not wearing a headscarf and a veil.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Police and national authorities have expressed concern over the rise of vigilante groups and citizen street patrols with names such as the Finnish Resistance and such. The ranks of Soldiers of Odin, who is a Nordic god of war and death, include known neo-Nazis and men with criminal records, as well as more common people, who tend to think of the good of the country while also being exploited by the former group.

But the Soldiers’ first foray in Tampere recently was a far cry from. Moments after they hit the streets, a troop of protesters dressed as clowns and calling themselves the Loldiers of Odin (a play on the Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud”) ambushed the black-clad vigilantes.

At one point, the clowns — most of them women — surrounded the men and taunted them by singing a local version of “Ring Around the Rosie.”

“They are clowns, too, doing what they’re doing,” said one young protester, who, like the others, declined to give her name. “We are here to show tolerance, because these clowns,” she said, gesturing toward the men, “are the ones who are winning in Finland.”

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