Anders Behring Breivik and Norway's Illness

Lessons from the trial of a mass murderer held in a society obsessed with being nice.

The trial of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is, in the words of a perceptive Norwegian reporter-blogger, a "media circus." The killer is being allowed to spout his extremist views on a wide variety of subjects, and although he murdered 77 people with no apparent provocation, he is being permitted by the court to plead self-defense.

And amazingly, the trial began with the presiding judge and the prosecutors advancing to the defendant's box and shaking Breivik's hand--a mass murderer who admits his crimes and expresses no remorse.

Plainly, there is something wrong with such a "non-adversarial" criminal trial, and with the politeness-obsessed, conflict-averse Norwegian society that has created such a criminal justice system. Other aspects of the trial are equally non-adversarial. While in an American courtroom the defendant's lawyer would argue that his client is not guilty by reason of insanity--the only plausible defense for a murderer who freely admits his guilt and expresses pride in his crimes--Breivik's lawyer is allowing his client to argue that he is sane. In his remarks to the court and the press, the lawyer freely admits that he finds it distasteful to represent his client, and he doesn't make any serious effort to defend or even excuse him. "I feel I have lost my soul as a result of this case," he told reporters.

On the other hand, while the defense attorney shows little interest in defending, the prosecution seems equally uninterested in prosecuting. It has not argued that the defendant is sane--which it must do in order to obtain a conviction--and is instead leaning toward the view that Breivik is insane. In other words, the prosecutors are on the whole more helpful to the defendant than his own lawyer.

But whether he is convicted or found "not guilty by reason of insanity," Breivik will live a comfortable life under some form of detention, with numerous rights and privileges that in Norway’s ultra-humane correctional system are granted to all criminals. On the other hand, he will be detained indefinitely in either case--until and unless he can persuade his "guardians" that he is no longer a threat to society. In Norway’s permissive, soft-hearted and soft-headed society, he might just succeed in doing that some day.

Why then, hold a trial at all?

In an American courtroom, a defendant pleading self-defense after killing 77 unarmed, unresisting people would be required to produce evidence that he actually was under attack and needed to use deadly force to protect his life. Any other "evidence" offered by the defendant would be disallowed by the judge as irrelevant, incompetent and immaterial. Instead, the Norwegian court is allowing Breivik to mount a "political" defense that his atrocities were necessary to protect his society from multiculturalism, socialism and an Islamic takeover. This makes for a prolonged, extremely painful trial for the relatives of the victims, who must sit there listening to a remorseless killer boast of the dreadful things he did to their deceased loved ones, and attempt to justify, even glorify, his crimes. Since none of this "testimony" has any real bearing on the question of Breivik's guilt or innocence, allowing it in court serves only Breivik's twisted purposes--and perhaps those of others who seek to exploit his atrocities, and the horror they have inspired, to advance their own political agendas.

Some of these “others” who are seeking to make political capital out of the Breivik massacre are commentators for the “mainstream media” (MSM) who seek to blame Breivik’s atrocities on conservative politicians and bloggers. Their rhetorical trope is guilt-by-association-- but they provide no evidence of any association between the people whom they blame for the murders and Breivik, who committed them.

Typical of this MSM blame-game response to the Breivik massacre is New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who claims that nearly everyone on two continents who has warned of the danger to Western civilization posed by militant Islamism, even those who have made no criticism of Islam as such, are "enablers of terrorism" and responsible for Breivik's vicious deeds. According to Cohen, Breivik's "many ideological fellow travelers on both sides of the Atlantic" include such conservative politicians as "Geert Wilders in the Netherlands,” “the surging Marine Le Pen in France,” and “Republicans like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Peter King,” as well as “far-rightist parties in Sweden and Denmark and Britain,” and “U.S. church pastors using their bully pulpits week after week to say America is a Christian nation under imminent threat from Islam."

Cohen leaves out one small detail: none of these people have ever advocated violence against Muslims, or much less indigenous Norwegian Christians, who formed the overwhelming majority of Behring's victims.

On the other hand, New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Hegghammer, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment in Oslo and co-author of "Al-Qaida in Its Own Words," prefers to link Breivik to "counterjihad" bloggers:

While Mr. Breivik's violent acts are exceptional, his anti-Islamic views are not. Much, though not all, of Mr. Breivik’s manifesto is inspired by a relatively new right-wing intellectual current often referred to as counterjihad. The movement's main home is the Internet, where blogs like Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs and Gates of Vienna publish essays by writers like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Bat Ye'or and Fjordman, the pseudonym for a Norwegian blogger. Mr. Breivik's manifesto is replete with citations of counterjihad writers, strongly suggesting that he was inspired by them.

However, Hegghammer concedes that "the leading counterjihad writers have virtually never advocated violence, and several of them have condemned Mr. Breivik's actions" and that "the more belligerent part of Mr. Breivik's ideology has less in common with counterjihad than with its archenemy, Al Qaeda."

Hegghammer portrays both the international Islamist-jihadist-terrorist movement of which Al-Qaeda is a part and Breivik as new "macropolitical" movements that advocate total war between clashing civilizations:

In the Muslim world, so-called pan-Islamism has a long history and has inspired militancy since at least the 1980s, when Arabs traveled to Afghanistan to fight with fellow Muslims against Soviet occupation. The West has long lacked similar movements, but the rise of counterjihad in the 2000s and the appearance of the Breivik manifesto suggest that this may be changing.

When we think about Hegghammer's analysis, however, the asymmetry it postulates between the "maropolitical" jihadist movement and its supposed Western "counterjihad" counterpart is staggering. The jihadist "macropolitical" phenomena includes hundreds of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, thousands of terrorists, as well as millions of people and several governments--e.g. Iran, Syria, Pakistan --who support them. Hegghammer's putative Western, anti-Islamist "macropolitical" counterpart, on the other hand, consists of--Anders Behring Breivik.

And then there is former BBC reporter Alan Hart, now writing for Dissident Voice, who compares Breivik favorably to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu:

"The man now on trial for killing 77 people in bomb and gun attacks in Norway last July has admitted, even boasted about, what he did. Netanyahu denies Zionism's crimes.”

What these two individuals have in common, according to Hart, is “the mania of victimhood” and “the fact that they both live in fantasy worlds of their own creation and talk a lot of extreme rightwing nonsense.”

"The nonsense Anders Breivik speaks is driven in general by his fears about the consequences for Norway of immigration and multiculturalism and, in particular, by his vision of an Islamic takeover. The nonsense Netanyahu speaks is driven by his perception of Israel in danger of annihilation."

Perhaps Hart's vicious comparisons require no comment, other than that they reveal the extreme malice and total disregard for the truth of Israel’s enemies.

While the pro-jihad, anti-Israeli demagogues have drawn false lessons from the Breivik disaster, there are some legitimate ones that may be drawn from it: A society like Norway’s, which seeks to avoid conflict at all costs by avoiding public discussion of sensitive issues, may succeed instead in exacerbating conflicts and permitting them to fester.

After all, Breivik succeeded in getting the attention he wanted for his ideas, and above all for himself, by committing mass murder. Before he did that, no one had noticed him and his ideas, and no one was likely to have paid any attention to them.

And a society that discourages from early childhood the expression of negative feelings by such harmless or relatively harmless means such as crying, shouting, or blunt language may end up with the spectacle of Anders Behring Breivik, dressed in an elegant suit, discoursing calmly and in meticulous detail about the 77 murders he has committed.

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