On 22 July last year we were on vacation, at Mieroszyno on the Baltic coast. The weather over the two weeks was patchy, but on that day it was hot and sunny, and we had a good day on the beach. When we got back to our lovely rented cottage by the edge of a forest we switched on the tv, while we got showered and changed for our usual stroll in the town for chips and ice cream.
The lead item on the news was the shocking events in Norway that day. We saw the government building that had been badly damaged, with consequent loss of life, by the car bomb – that was bad enough. But then the story switched to the carnage and awful events unfolding at the youth camp on the nearby island of Utoeya, and learned that in total 77 people had died, many of them kids, at the hands of a lone gunman.
Over the next days, as the gunman was captured and the pictures of him in paramilitary uniform, toting an automatic rifle and other killing gear were released, the shock gave way, at least to me, to a feeling of confusion.
Things like this happen, all too regularly, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, even the US where college lockdowns are a regular feature of American life. Israelis and Palestinians have lived under the threat of terrorist atrocities for years. New York and Madrid and London have experienced their fair share. Even the beautiful holiday resort island of Bali, basking in South Pacific sunshine, has suffered terribly.
But Norway – one of the most affluent, tolerant and well-ordered countries in the world……
Unbelievable. How did that happen?
* * *
It emerged that the perpetrator was one Anders Behring Breivik, from Oslo.
He had acted alone. He had toured around the country assembling the ingredients that went into the bomb he manufactured himself, in his little apartment, using an internet guide in how to make a bomb – there are, apparently, plenty of militant websites that carry that kind of information if you know where to look (I don’t, and have no wish to). He did it as a protest against an, to him, alarming increase in Moslem immigrants to Europe generally and Norway in particular. Quite how slaughtering so many innocent young Norwegians was supposed to stop that remains unclear.
When he was taken into custody, he freely admitted carrying out the acts and in the months since then has shown not a shred of remorse. The fact that he was arrested unharmed is, in itself, remarkable and demonstrates the pacific Norwegian way. Can you imagine New York’s Finest, the NYPD, showing that kind of leniency? Or any other US police force, for that matter… The French gendarmerie? Non. Even the Met? Well, possibly. But a bullet riddled corpse would be the most likely outcome, once his whereabouts had been discovered.
But no, arrested he was, quite safely, and he has been incarcerated since then while his sanity is investigated. Since he’s admitted the killings, it’s not an issue of guilt, but a question of whether he was of rational mind when he did it, or just off his rocker. A madman. A monster.
He is now on trial in Oslo, and for the past week he’s been presenting his defence. The court has to decide whether he is insane – in which case he will serve a sentence in a secure mental institution – or rational – in which case 21 years or so in the slammer await him. Neither verdict will satisfy him – he has already stated in his testimony that the only verdicts that in his opinion are respectable are complete acquittal (and probably a vote of thanks for standing up for the rights of every Norwegian citizen) or the death sentence. Since Norway does not recognize capital punishment neither of those will happen.
He has of course been widely condemned as a madman, a psychopath.
But I’m not convinced.
* * *
Although shocking in the way he has presented his testimony, complete with clenched fist fascist salutes at the start of each day (a practice he politely stopped after complaints – reverting to normal manners), he has not come across as crazy, at least to my eyes. He clearly put an awful lot of thought into his preparations for a start, with careful selection of his weapons and bomb making equipment, and his choices of targets. He then carried the acts out with a cool precision, and in his own words fully expected to die that day – a fate he was happy to accept. He has been eloquent in describing his reasons – the huge numbers of Moslems that are coming to Europe from various middle eastern trouble spots, to him, represent a clear and present danger (to borrow Tom Clancy’s phrase) to Western – for which read white Christian – society, and more than that a danger that governments across the western world seem unable or unwilling to confront. He has stated that there are many people across Europe and elsewhere who share his views, and has referred to a shadowy organization called the Knights Templar that is dedicated to fighting this Islamification of the Continent……although he insists he is not a member and was not working for them when he carried out his crimes.
Predictably, these statements have been roundly condemned in court and in the press. The parallel of an essentially white anti-Islamic terrorist organization to a historically factual Christian and chivalrous company of knights in shining armour is very uncomfortable to most people, me included. But then you consider that the original Knights Templar were formed specifically to fight the spread of Islam 800 or so years ago, and spent many years on Crusades in the middle East, sacking Jerusalem, fighting the armies of Saladdin (a Moslem ) and in later years formed a protective barrier to the eastern-most regions of Europe – well, it’s not such a bad comparison.
I have no evidence that Breivik is doing more than fabricating this organization – but to me it’s plausible enough to hope that the security organizations across Europe and the US and elsewhere are taking it seriously enough to at least investigate the claims, and if they find some truth in them, then DO something.
* * *
You see, I happen to accept his words when he states that there are many people across the world who share his views, and that he has merely had the “courage” to do something other than talk about it.
Over the years, certainly since the London bombings about 7 years ago, I’ve noticed an increase in anti-Moslem e-mails circulating on the internet. I tend to receive a few in any given month, forwarded by various people I know, who in turn have had it forwarded to them, and so on. The vast majority of them are relatively harmless, being a selection of very lame and unfunny jokes, attempting to ridicule Moslems and their faith. Some are actually thought provoking – I received one last week, allegedly a “true story” (aren’t they all?) from a guy in the prison service with an MBE to his name who had attended a seminar where representatives of various faiths (Christian and non-Christian) gave presentations with the aim of helping prison officers understand better the cultural needs of their inmates; the guy claimed to have confused and embarrassed an Imam by questioning him about the meaning of the word “infidel” – the Imam had been unable to provide a non-contradictory answer when questioned.
Others, and it’s a very very low percentage, have been, for the want of a better word, sick. There have been cases in the recent past (so this year, and we’re only in April) where pictures have found their way from the internet into reputable newspapers showing American soldiers urinating on Afghan corpses, or waving suicide bomber’s dismembered body parts around. Rightly, they have been condemned and one hopes that the morons in the pictures, and those who took them, will be suitably and publicly disciplined (though I’m not holding my breath). But frankly these have been mild. I’ve received in the past (and a few years ago now) grotesque and violent movies of a clearly military origin that I have no wish to describe. After seeing the first piece of film on each (the Subject line was suitably innocuous) I deleted them. All of these mails – the mild or the monstrous – have ended up in my in-box as a result of a simple forwarding process, and there is no telling how far they have travelled, nor how many times they have been forwarded, before their arrival. Their origins are equally opaque.
The point is, there is quite definitely a strong anti-Islam feeling in many Western countries, especially those with growing Muslim populations. This past weekend for instance we have seen Presidential candidates in the French election standing on an anti-immigration platform, and the country has in the recent past passed legislation that is clearly discriminatory against followers of the Islamic faith. I freely admit to knowing next to nothing about that religion, but branding every Moslem a potential terrorist and danger to society is quite simply ridiculous. It’s like back in the 70s and 80s branding every Irishman a member of the IRA, or every German a Baader-Meinhoff sympathizer. The difference of course is that nowadays, with the internet being such an integral part of all our lives, it’s so much easier to concoct and circulate this poisonous crap – and there are many idiots who are quite happy to believe it.
* * *
It seems to me that Breivik is one such idiot. I’m not taking sides here, by any stretch of the imagination. Massacring a whole bunch of people in defence of a vague ideal, as he did, is wrong. Palestinians firing rockets across into Israel is wrong, and a disproportionate Israeli response is equally wrong. The recent case in France where a lone gunman, who alleged he was “associated with al-Qaeda”, carried out a shooting spree that led to a number of innocent deaths (including schoolchildren) and his eventual shooting by the police after an overnight siege of his apartment, is to be condemned. The 9/11 attacks were evil. So were the Madrid train bombings and the London bus and tube attacks. So is what is happening in Syria right now – that is no less than state-sponsored terrorism and no-one seems to be taking strong enough action to stop it. The unrest last year in Egypt and Libya and Bahrain cost many more lives that Breivik took in Norway, but were all in the name of freedom from oppressive regimes – an argument he has made to defend his own actions.
It seems to me the main difference between Breivik’s actions and all the others is that clearly, and on his own testimony, he acted alone and not as part of a wider conspiracy. He admits to spending hours on the internet looking at some of its more extreme websites and no doubt has thus seen far more and far worse than I have. And no doubt these images have influenced his thoughts and his subsequent actions – he has admitted as much already.
But does this make him insane? No. Rational? Well, that’s questionable. But if you define “rational” as being an ability to carefully plan and execute some task (whether good or evil, it makes no difference) then I would say the bloke was perfectly rational and should be treated and punished accordingly.
But then, I’m just an ordinary man, not a psychologist.