Much discussion, both at his trial and in the wider world, about whether Breivik is “mad or sane”. I am guessing that at least part of it is a technical issue related to his sentencing. Seems incomprehensible to me, but if I understood correctly the maximum Norwegian sentence for “murder while sane” is 20 years. And it seems not to matter whether you killed one person or 77 people, you don’t even get a couple of sentences one after the other, 20 years is your lot. Now if I am right then all you can say is the law in Norway is a ass. On the other hand I assume that if found to be insane then Breivik gets locked up for rest of life or at least until he is found to be sane again. This is all baffling. No of course I don’t agree with death penalty, it has no part in civilised countries, but a justice system that doesn’t see Breivik in jail for life (like the comparable Martin Bryant in Australia) is a busted system. Perhaps they thought such an event could never happen in Norway, but they must have had serial killers occasionally?
But let’s leave that aside. I’m guessing that a twenty year sentence for Breivik will see Norwegians marching in the streets, but that is their business. Instead I wanted to consider the broader question of sane/insane irrespective of the law. At one level the question itself is insane. Here is a creature who blows up innocent passers-by on a city street; then goes to island and shoots dead dozens of innocent young people one after the other, hunting them down without mercy, in a scene too horrible to think about for long; then pleads “self-defence” in court! Stark raving mad, just on the evidence of those three broad facts.
But that doesn’t take us very far, really. Think about it. There are plenty of insane people who commit murder, no question. All kinds of childhood circumstances, sexual aberration, brain malfunction or injury, bullying or other personal negative interaction, can lead to single or serial or mass murders. No problem recognising, say, the Moors murders, or the House of Horrors, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or indeed the man who suddenly kills his aged parents, or his children, as being the results of all kinds of mental problems. But that’s not what we have here, nothing like it, so do we need some other concept of “insane”?
At least since around 1900, when the very nasty Anarchists were in full flight, there have been small groups of people all over the world, fanatical light gleaming in eyes, so utterly convinced of the rightness of ideology or religion that they were happy, more than happy, to kill any who disagreed with them, or who merely didn’t recognise their Truth. Worse, their hatreds were so strong as to include those of a different ethnic group (to their own tightly defined one), a different skin colour, different language, different political sympathy. All helps to fuel the urge to kill these people who are different, who are, must be, less than you, less, indeed, than human. So shoot them, blow them up with bombs, crash planes full of them, fly planes indeed into tall buildings full of them. Kill them, men, women, children, kill them all. It is an ethnic cleansing in reverse, where a small group of believers would happily, if they could, cleanse the rest of the world of those different to themselves.
These groups arise like poisonous mushrooms on a dung heap. They may spend some years whipping up each other’s hatreds, they may launch straight into bomb making. Some, like the Anarchists, eventually, fade away, but there will always be another take their place. You know them. Oh they may wear different badges, espouse different causes, claim different outrageous provocations, but they are all one, brothers in arms. They are the IRA (and still, heaven help us, the “Real IRA”) and the UDA, ETA, Bader-Meinhof, Al-Quaeda, American Militias, the MNLF, the LeT, Taliban, Ustashi, elements of the Tea Party, Shining Path, the Neo-Nazis in so many countries, Nepalese Maoists, anti-abortionists, the KKK, and so on. And beyond them are the apparently non-ideological killing-spree people. I used to think people like Martin Bryant and the Columbine killers were different to the terrorists. Descriptions of the killers at the Bombay train station, smiling as they hunted down and killed innocent people sound no different to the murderers roaming the school halls at Columbine (and many others) or picking off tourists at Port Arthur. The common thread is the love of killing, and a fake sense of grievance (“bullying” in school, or being sacked from a workplace, or receiving “poor” service, are no different to excuses related to religion, or migrants “stealing jobs”, or some distant historical claim to land).
Once, and still in most cases, formal terrorist groups were close knit cells or network of cells in one part of a country, and shared a common specific aim of gaining some territory, say. These days with internet communications, individuals who share an ideology of hatred and a love of killing, can get in contact with like minded individuals and groups all over the world. The hatred can ferment in the suburban bedroom to the glow of the computer screen, and ideas can be gained about killing methods and tactics.
Which brings us back to Breivik. He fits comfortably into this framework, does he not? Is he insane? Of course he is, but then the members of all these groups are insane. I guess the only question would be whether he was more insane than the people blowing up a nightclub in Bali, or an office building in Oklahoma, or a shop in Belfast, or a school in Afghanistan. No, still not seeing it.
An uncomfortable fact to ponder. All of those groups and individuals (with the possible exception of the school shooters) have been, are, supported by some, often many other people (even, astonishingly, Martin Bryant, defended as a victim by the gun lobby, pretending he was set up in order to bring in more gun control). However bad the massacres, however many innocent people die horribly, supporters will argue the cause is just, the “war” must be fought.
Which brings us back to Breivik again. Desperately arguing he is not insane, that he was at war with these children, that he was at war with “multiculturalism”, that he acted in self-defence and so on. That is, pretending that he was some kind of “soldier” in a legitimate cause, although, when he stopped hunting down screaming, crying, terrified, unarmed children and shooting them dead, he quickly demanded to surrender to the armed policemen who were finally arriving. No gunfight with armed men for Mr Breivik.
He needs to be declared for what he is, insane, and locked up, incommunicado, to rot in prison until he dies a forgotten old man. So do they all. There needs to be a clear statement from the civilised people of the world that these murderous thugs are all psychopaths, sociopaths, whatever, but mad. No glorious causes, no pretend flags and uniforms, no war language, just insane. And each one in turn, locked up like Breivik for ever. No noble speeches, no martyrdom, no communication with deluded followers and supporters. Just a declaration of insanity. A clear message to supporters – you are following madmen.
Might help, a bit.
he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts benighted, walks under the midday sun; Himself in his own dungeon