Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Lucid Mr. Breivik

by Ryan Fleming

Photo courtesy of

“When you see something so extreme, you could think that it is insanity,” remarked Anders Behring Breivik, referencing his double-pronged attack in Norway last July involving a truck bomb in Oslo and a summer camp rampage against the sons and daughters of Labour Party leadership. “But,” he added calmly, “you have to differentiate between political extremism and insanity in the clinical sense of the term.”

Brevik’s July 22 massacre shattered the tranquility ascribed to Norway and revealed deep societal fractures and stresses surrounding ‘multiculturalism’ that drove Breivik to kill. As Breivik’s trial continues in Oslo, more details of the planned attack have surfaced, including a particularly chilling plan to capture the ex-Prime Minister, behead her, and post the video on the Internet.

Elements of Breivik’s plan are nothing short of shocking, even to the most media-saturated, dulled, and desensitized of us. July 22 is so extreme and difficult to fathom for the average person that insanity seems the only plausible explanation. Why gun down helpless teenagers at summer camp, some as young as fourteen?

“They are supporters of the anti-European hate-ideology known as multiculturalism, an ideology that facilitates Islamisation and Islamic demographic warfare,” Breivik explained matter-of-factly in court, reading from a prepared statement. “The category A and B traitors I executed were killed in self defense through a pre-emptive strike. They have been found guilty of high treason and condemned to death.” He concluded by underscoring his belief that the teenagers were complicit in “the ongoing processes of cultural and demographical genocide and extermination.”2

The first psychiatric evaluation conducted on Breivik after his arrest concluded that he was insane, both during the attacks and at the time of examination. More recently, a second evaluation has found the opposite: there is nothing mentally amiss with Breivik that would suggest insanity. In the absence of clinical consensus, we must all ponder the implications of a man like Breivik being, in a medical sense, as mentally well and stable as we are.

The bigger question is how the question of his sanity affects our interpretation and contextualization of his actions (and, by extension, our response). If July 22 was the work of a demented maniac on a senseless killing spree, we can toss him in a psychiatric ward and be done with it. Understanding July 22 as a carefully calculated attack by a cold, yet sane, political activist carries with it an entirely different set of implications. It also forces us to place Breivik’s actions in a continental context: no longer an isolated madman, he is instead a canary in the mine of Europe. Consider the following quotes:

“We worry too much about the identities of those who've arrived here, rather than about the identity of the very country taking them in.”3

“This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and live happily with each other has failed. Utterly failed.”4

“Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.”5

None of these were lifted from Breivik’s rambling manifesto. Rather, they are the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and David Cameron, respectively. They’re not particularly radical – Cameron’s speech, in particular, is a pretty level-headed assessment of multicultural Europe’s underbelly – but considered with each other and with the myriad laws banning burqas in France or the construction of minarets in Switzerland, the issue becomes much larger than Breivik’s fringe extremism. Breivik is no longer a random madman, but an extreme symptom of very real social and cultural strife acknowledged in the highest circles of power.

Breivik may ultimately turn out to be insane. If so, it will be all too easy to dismiss July 22 as a lunatic acting in a vacuum. In the real world, though, no act occurs out of context. Failure to take a step back and analyze the origins of the mood festering across Europe – and to a lesser extent, in our own country – would be a grave mistake.

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