Ideology is not insanity.
With a tradition of stressing rehabilitation rather than punishment, Norway does not impose the death penalty, and the maximum criminal jail sentence is 21 years. So at most, Anders Breivik, the self-proclaimed neo-Knight Templar behind the July bombing that killed eight in Oslo and the nearby massacre of 69 more people, would spend 100 days in jail for each of the mostly youthful victims he systematically hunted down and, as he put it, “executed.”
But now, a report released by court-appointed “experts” has declared him legally insane, which means Breivik could be held in a mental health institution rather than being imprisoned at all. He could even be released if such experts later determine that he is no longer a threat to society.
Psychiatrists claim Breivik had developed paranoid schizophrenia and was psychotic at the time of the attacks, and that his condition persists. Their report describes examples of different forms of “bizarre delusions,” according to a prosecutor:
They especially describe what they call Breivik's delusions where he sees himself as chosen to decide who shall live and who shall die, and that he is chosen to save what he calls his people.
A lecturer in forensic psychiatry at Oxford University expressed polite skepticism at the diagnosis:
From the initial reports that came out about him, he came across as someone who planned this extremely carefully over a long period of time and was terribly well organized. Usually, with people with severe mental illness, their lives are slightly more chaotic than that…
People with severe mental illness are at increased risk of committed violent crimes - although that's often in the context of drug and alcohol problems, which he doesn't appear to have.
Others are more outraged and think that perhaps it is the Norwegian justice system that is insane. “This is completely incomprehensible,” said a leader of the populist Progress Party, which campaigns for tougher criminal sentences. “How can someone who has planned this for such a long time... be considered insane?”
Good question, but careful premeditation isn’t necessarily an indicator of sanity. Case in point: Jared Loughner, the lunatic shooter of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He had been fixated on Giffords for years as his sanity unraveled, ever since she apparently did not adequately answer an insane question he once asked of her. He planned his attack and even left behind a note saying, “I planned ahead.”
A more appropriate question might be, “How can someone whose motivation to kill stems from a rationally constructed ideology be considered insane?” Loughner’s attack, like that of John Lennon’s shooter Mark David Chapman or Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr., was premeditated, but did not derive from any ideological motivation. The Left and its propaganda mouthpieces in the news media jumped at the opportunity to make the case that Loughner was a rightwing gun nut directly inspired by conservative talk radio, the “violent and racist” Tea Party movement, and Sarah Palin’s campaign strategy map, which was dotted with gunsight icons. Of course, he was utterly ignorant of those sources and apparently uninterested in politics. Like Chapman and Hinckley, Loughner was quite simply unhinged.
But not so Breivik. The prosecutor told a news conference that Breivik “lives in his own delusional universe and his thoughts and acts are governed by this universe.” But could this not be said of anyone who adheres strictly to a particular set of beliefs? Unlike Loughner, Breivik was a successful, fully functioning adult in society who also held a thoughtfully articulated, if rambling, ideology laid out in a 1500-page manifesto. That ideology led him to blame what he saw as the traitorous multiculturalist European elites for embracing the Muslim immigration causing the disintegration of Western culture. That ideology ultimately compelled him to declare war and to target an Oslo government office and the next generation of those elites at a leftist youth camp.
If he is insane, why not Osama bin Laden or another Islamic terrorist as well? When bin Laden declared all participants in democracy to be valid targets of violent jihad because Allah, not man, should rule man, did this statement stem from personal lunacy or from the “delusional universe” of Islamic fundamentalism to which he subscribed? When he described the worldwide Muslim ummah as being under attack from infidels and therefore justified in waging defensive jihad, could it not be said that, like Breivik, he considered himself “chosen to decide who shall live and who shall die,” and “chosen to save his people”?
If Breivik is insane for waging war against those he perceived to be the enemies of civilization, why not also Nidal Hasan, whose slaughter of 14 people (13 adults, one of whom was three months pregnant) at Fort Hood in 2009 was likewise premeditated and derived from his absolute devotion to Islamic supremacism?
Many would argue that the systematic mass murder of innocents is prima facie evidence of insanity. How could a sane person possibly rationalize the Final Solution for Jews, or justify the Great Purge of political dissidents, or cheer as the collapsing Twin Towers buried innocent fathers and sons, mothers and daughters?
To excuse such horrific deeds as the acts of madmen is to let their ideologies off the hook. To dismiss Hitler as insane is to divert blame from anti-Semitism. To excuse Stalin as insane is to absolve Communism. To label bin Laden insane is to say, as the Obama administration would have us believe, that the atrocities he committed and inspired have no grounding in Islamic theology.
This is not to equate Breivik’s belief system with that of Islamists like bin Laden or Hasan, only to point out that lumping Breivik in with the truly insane like Jared Loughner opens the door to calling Islamic terrorists insane as well, which takes our eye off the ball of the ideology that inspires their terrorism.
I’m no psychiatrist. I cannot say that Breivik was not psychotic during his rampage. He may indeed have had delusions of grandeur, as bin Laden may have had in his dream of a worldwide caliphate. But he committed those murders in the name of his beliefs. We must not declare the ideologue to be insane. If we do, then we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to hold believers and their belief systems accountable for their victims.
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