About a month ago, I held my right hand up and read the Oath of Allegiance out loud at a government facility. After 27 years of waiting, I was finally at the cusp of achieving my dream, my American Dream.
To finally become a US Citizen meant to me more than just the right to vote in an election. It meant that I earned the right to be viewed as equal in the eyes of my neighbors, my friends, my community. I might not have been born in the United States, but now I had the same rights and privileges as those that were.
And one of those privileges includes my right to stay here, that I can’t be deported back to my birth country of Finland due to my political views and background.
This was a real fear of mine as a former permanent resident. Everyone has seen how political disputes have flared up and oftentimes escalated into violence and arrests. All it takes is to see what happened to those who resisted COVID-19 mandates, the Antifa fights against the Proud Boys during the George Floyd protests, and those who went to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Never allow a good crisis go to waste,” said President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. We know that the federal government used the panic after 9/11 to push through the Patriot Act and create the Transportation Security Authority.
While I might have a more secure position as a citizen than as a permanent resident, that does not make me immune to having anxieties about the potential of government tyranny. After all, we have seen glimpses of what a state of emergency can do to a nation that claims to pride in its democratic foundations.
But there is only reason to fear: if the people become too complacent to fight back.
I was not in Finland during the pandemic, but I read and heard enough to make my heart drop.
There was little to no political resistance or dissent against the COVID-19 measures the Finnish government took. People simply went along with it, even months and years after the initial lockdown measures. But here in the United States, some small businesses chose to remain open, some local sheriffs chose not to enforce lockdowns, some citizens chose not to follow the mask mandates, and some stores simply chose not to enforce it.
I believe this sort of calm-and-content mentality has to do with how Finland came to be versus the United States. While Finns have had to fight a civil war and two wars with the Soviet Union to preserve our Finnish independence, the creation of the Finnish state was the result of diplomacy and opportunistic timing, while the foundations of the United States were laid in blood during a popular uprising.
But there is still hope, right-wing parties that displayed dissent with COVID measures across Europe, even in Finland, have gained momentum and even become part of government coalitions. However, they face significant setbacks by other governmental forces.
Last year, a German court had ruled that a prominent right-of-center political party, Alternative for Democracy, was a threat to democracy. More recently, German elected officials are discussing banning the party.
Equally concerning, free speech in Europe is now virtually meaningless due to hate speech laws. A member of Finnish Parliament, Sebastian Tynkkynen, was charged with “ethnic agitation conviction” and was fined 4,400 euros. This was the result of a social media post in 2017 saying that asylum seekers are sexually harassing women and young boys in Finland.
Apparently commenting on something Finnish citizens witness frequently warrants a governmental prosecution. A review of crime data found that 38% of sexual assault suspects in Finland came from the migrant populations, who make up fewer than 7% of the country. But these facts are irrelevant when political correctness trumps freedom and truth.
That is why I can sleep easier at my Raleigh home than in Finland. Here, the Constitution holds firm in the hearts of the people, and any extreme overreaching behavior by a government official — such as the recent temporary ban on all guns by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham — are subject to scrutiny by both Democrats and Republicans. My freedom is safer here.