Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Anders Breivik found insane

Anders Breivik (photo copied from the Guardian).

On July 22, 2011 Anders Behring Breivik, the nice-looking young Norwegian pictured above, detonated a bomb in the center of Oslo, killing eight people. Then, while the capital was in horror and dismay, he sailed to the nearby island of Utoya, where Norwegian socialists organized a youth camp. Dressed as a policeman and heavily armed, he shot in cold blood at the defenceless, mainly young people, killing 69 people. The youngest victim was a girl named Sharidyn Svebakk-Boehn who had just turned 14. She had a blog where the last entry is dated July 20, 2011 - two days before her death.

Breivik was motivated by his Islamophobic and anti-multiculturalist views. For me, it meant that the perpetrator of a most horrific mass murder had views very similar to mine. I admit it created an eerie and uneasy feeling in me, and inevitably led to some soul-searching. I discussed my thoughts on Rose-Anne's post The Look of Crazy. It was not very suitable for this purpose because verbal abuse was guaranteed, but I simply wished to discuss it, and Rose-Anne was the only blogger known to me who wrote a meaningful post on the subject.

Two months later, the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks overshadowed this more recent massacre. And now - sad to say but true - the Norway victims seem all but forgotten. Most people seem to think that in the current situation, we'll have some Breiviks and we have to accept this, period. Just hope that you and your loved ones won't be around a Breivik when he detonates, because, as Rose-Anne correctly stated, usually there is no way to recognize such a psychopath before he has exposed his lethality.

What about his views? I think the observations of Breivik and his description of the current situation in Western Europe are quite true. What is wrong is his proposed solution, his choice of action. And we must admit that every time when we confront a danger associated with human beings, some of us may wish to solve the problem by exterminating these human beings. In the 1970s, some people fought communism by rounding up thousands of suspected communists to a stadium, torturing and killing many of them. In the 1940s, some sought to defeat Nazism and prevent its relapse by ethnically cleansing millions of Germans, sending mothers with babies out at Celsium -20 just because they happened to be German. And in the 17th century, other people tried to fight plague by locking victims inside their houses. All this is inhumane and utterly unacceptable, yet it does not mean that communism or nazism are acceptable, either, or that plague adds beautiful diversity to human population and so should be embraced despite its tendency to kill people here and there. I'd also point out to anyone else worried by the similarity of his views to Breivik's that we are actually comparing our sincere, unmoderated views to a highly moderated version of Breivik's views, because he took much care not to look as right-wing extremist in order not to attract attention by authorities.

From the moment when I heard that Breivik was captured alive, I was worried by the inadequacy of the punishment he could receive under Norwegian law. The maximum prison term in Norway is 21 years, and the treatment of prisoners is reportedly quite benign. The idea is that the criminal is not a source of evil but a poor person who needs help to reform and become a good member of society, rather than punishment. Like every system of morality and justice centered not on actual and potential victims but on the perpetrator, this shows its charlatanism to full degree when confronting a murderous psychopath like Breivik. During the discussion at Rose-Anne's blog, I wrote, "I may be barbarian... but I am glad that Bin Laden was shot dead, and I wish the same had happened to Breivik. We already have more of his oratory than any reasonable person would want. Now, he will have a due process in a country having humane prisons and no death penalty. He will smile from the bar in the faces of victims' parents, adding insult to injury. Yes, it is a principle that everyone is entitled to a fair trial... but he gave no fair trial - no trial of any kind - to the kids he murdered."

People, however, have found a way around this problem. In late November, Breivik was psychiatrically evaluated and declared insane. Factually, this is 100% wrong. Breivik is a very intelligent person who planned his actions with great deliberation and self-possession. He bought a farm for the sole purpose to be able to buy nitrate fertilizer needed for the bomb without arousing suspicions. (Other wannabe terrorists who hadn't the resources or far-sightedness to pose as farmers have been arrested soon after buying fertilizer, e.g. two young men of Arab Muslim origin detained in Berlin on Sept. 8, 2011.) However, from a not-so-formal point of view I think the psychiatrists did the right thing. No trial to be used as a tribune by Breivik, no smiling in the faces of victims' mothers, no release (I hope) after a decade or two. The very tissue of what we call our life depends on putting thick walls between ourselves and creatures like this murderer, although we can do it only after it is too late.


Estranged said...

Being a sociopath / psychopath, being unable to feel empathy or value human life can be considered a mental deficit, can't it?

Maya M said...

It IS a mental deficit, but not one that can clear anyone of responsibility for his actions.
Traditionally, it is thought that a person with clear perception (i.e. without psychosis) and intelligent enough to understand what he is doing (i.e. without mental retardation) is legally sane. Such a person may not value the lives of other people in general, or of a specific subgroup of people (e.g. Jews or Gypsies), yet he is obliged to obey the norms of society, because he understands it.
So I think here psychiatry is being used as repression tool. I find it justified in the case, but this is slippery slope and very dangerous. Remember the "psihushka" in the Soviet Union.