Anders Breivik’s disgusting sanity
To watch Anders Breivik, in the news clips available of him in the Oslo court where he is being tried for mass murder, is to see a smile on the face of an animal much more terrifying than any beast: a human fanatic, whose own mental processes have produced a monstrous creature. That smile is so normal, appearing so naturally in his conversations with his defense lawyer Geir Lippestad. It seems almost…carefree. Indeed, Breivik does seem free from care. “I would say,” said Lippestad on Wednesday, in the precise and fluent English all Norwegians seem able to speak, that “he’s always in a good mood.”
Lippestad, who will likely never have another such shot at fame, will probably never again walk such a high wire. He must defend a man most of the world believes to be wholly indefensible and many in Norway know as one who murdered a relative, friend or acquaintance. He must accompany his client as he comes to court and gives his defiant, fist-out salute. Breivik has been asked to stop, but so far hasn’t. Lippestad is helpless in this matter, saying that “either he will or he won’t. There’s nothing that we can order him to do.” The Norwegian authorities are grimly determined that all the rules of a liberal order be followed: Lippestad, in a liberal society’s iconic (but hardly popular) role of the defender of a human horror, bears the brunt.
And he must argue, under instructions from his client, that he is sane. If he’s sane, he can get 21 years – the maximum sentence – and then, after he serves the sentence, there will be an argument (which Breivik may win) that he can be freed if he is judged no longer to be a danger to society. A judgment that he is insane could keep him in a secure medical facility for life, if that custody is constantly reimposed on three-year reviews. He has said: Give me liberty or give me death. He says the maximum sentence would be “absurd.” Norway has no death penalty: It is not about to invent one for him, even if many Norwegians would wish it (including one of the lay judges on the panel hearing the casecasec, who had to resign when he made this clear).
Breivik is instructing Lippestad to argue for his sanity because he wants the world to know that he acted consciously, logically, sanely – even, as he memorably argued earlier this week, out of “goodness” and “necessity” (the word was initially translated as “self-defense” but has since been corrected). “Necessity” in the sense Breivik wishes to convey is the needful protection of Norwegian – and European – society from Islam, from the ideology of multiculturalism that foists Islam on Christian societies, and from the agents of multiculturalism – in this case, the ruling Norwegian Labor Party, 69 of whose youth league members he killed on the island of Utøya on July 22, 2011. He would, he said, “do it again,” a claim that he must have seen as elevating his squalid massacre to the status of an opening battle in a long war over the forces that are destroying Europe.
Crazy, isn’t it? Even those who believe that immigration has been too high; who believe that Islamic extremism presents a constant and perhaps growing danger to the world, Europe included; who blame successive governments for policies that have too rapidly changed once largely mono-ethnic states into multicultural nations; who have whipped such feelings into a passion that leads them to join or to vote for parties of the far right – even they must feel that this is a diseased mind.
There is a dilemma here. Democratic societies must live with bad ideologies, including those that claim Europe must be purged of all alien races, as well as those that call for its total Islamization. That can be deeply uncomfortable, and courts dangers: Ideologies can be proclaimed with no more violence than their own inflamed rhetoric until, one day, some one or some group decides to convert the words to deeds. But we have to live in and with the messy compromises that such extremism dictates for elected governments.
We should not inflate debate about immigration and multiculturalism by democratic politicians and citizens into a claim that a new racist discourse is taking a grip on Europe. That is what Mariano Aguirre of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre did in Le Monde Diplomatique earlier this week, arguing that both Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of the UK had contributed to the rise of the far right by declaring multiculturalism “dead.” But, in fact, both Merkel and Cameron were arguing for a more integrated society in which different ethnic and faith groups didn’t feel impelled or encouraged to emphasize their separateness. They were arguing for their fuller citizenship, not their marginalization.
We can’t solve the dilemma by concluding that Breivik is mad. In this, at least, we should take his word for it. For if he is judged mad, most of the ground we have previously occupied in making moral and judicial decisions is cut away.
Those we have judged to be the chief monsters of the 20th century – Hitler, Mao, Stalin – we have generally assumed to be sane. We certainly assumed Hitler’s senior lieutenants to be sane when they were judged, and in many cases executed, at Nuremberg. Leaders of the West dealt with, indeed at different times wooed, both Stalin and Mao, and treated them as legitimate leaders of their people.
Yet were they not mad, by the same token used by those who judge Breivik to be mad? To conclude that the survival of Germany required the mass murder of as many Jews as could be obtained; to provoke and preside over a civil war (the “Cultural Revolution”) to bolster one’s position and continue the “people’s revolution”; to starve millions in the course of eradicating “rich” peasants and imprison millions in Siberian camps for a careless complaint or joke about the regime, a recalcitrant attitude to work, a friendship with or a family connection to one already judged an “enemy of the people” – all in the service of creating a workers’ and peasants’ state of advanced socialism: Are these not the actions of maniacs?
And is it not mad to declare war on the “Jews and Crusaders” – that is, the Western world – to usher in an era of harmony under the tutelage of a single, extreme interpretation of the Koran? How, then, can we judge those who have dedicated, or would dedicate, their life to this as adults responsible for their decisions?
But we have, we do and we are right to do so. Sanity comprehends the imagining, the propagation, the planning and the execution of extraordinary violence, lasting years and slaughtering millions. It includes creating machines of murder that go about their work without their progenitor being present, or even knowing how they work. It includes energetic efforts to spread murderous theories beyond the borders of the state. Sane people have done terrible things: It was their sanity, their ability to plan and to enthuse others, that made them so terrible.
And sanity includes Anders Breivik. It may be – as the prosecution is attempting to show – that he lives in a fantasy world where networks of Knights Templars giving closed-fist salutes plan other such atrocities as his to save Europe from an Islamic fate. It is certainly the case that he acted on the prompting of a belief that he was and remains a patriotic, Christian militant, able to see with clearer eyes than the apathetic majority what is happening to them.
He, who is in most eyes the embodiment of evil, is in his own mind undertaking the lesser evil: the delivery of a shock to his and other societies through slaughter to focus their attention on the much larger slaughter to come, and hence avert it. That’s hideous, and we should fear that he might inspire others like him. But he knew what he was about. It’s not mad.
PHOTO: REUTERS/Heiko Junge/Scanpix/Pool; REUTERS/Erlend Aas/ Scanpix/Pool