Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying

The crimes of Anders Behring Brivik prompt difficult questions that we cannot skirt around by claiming he is evil incarnate or mentally ill.

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By Markus Göransson

As a Swede, I have been following the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, Norway’s terrorist and mass murderer, closely through the Swedish press. I was shocked by what happened in Norway last July and have been reading transcripts of the court proceedings and other reports to try to understand better how it was possible for it to take place.

Anders-Behring-BreivikI remember being stupefied when I first heard about the killings. I never imagined that such a thing could happen in Norway, which had alwaysseemed the most perfect place in the world to me.

It was as if evil had stepped into paradise. And I could not get my head around the fact that an intelligent and well-to-do person, who had grown up in that society, could turn against it, devoting all his energies, all his resources – indeed his entire life – to killing as many of its members as possible.

Sometimes people imply that to understand is to condone, but surely you can condemn someone all the more powerfully if you first understand what drove them to commit their crime – all their weaknesses, all their delusions, their arrogance, narcissism and inhumanity.

I think that it would do a disservice to his victims if we treated Breivik like a caricature, a straw man fit only for vilification and dehumanisation. His crime prompts difficult questions that we cannot skirt around by claiming that he is evil incarnate or that he is mentally ill.

With that in mind, I think that the Swedish media – and I imagine the Norwegian media too – are doing an outstanding job in covering the trial. There is not an ounce of sympathy for what Breivik did, yet there is a great deal of effort in trying to understand how he could commit his heinous crimes.

In a way we are compelled to try to understand him, because he is one of us: he speaks a language that we can understand and has grown up in a society and culture similar to our own. He is a mirror of us, and we find ourselves staring fixedly into that mirror to try to understand what, after all, sets him apart from us.

 


See also:

No Counter-Terrorism approach could eliminate a Breivik lone wolf threat 1 Aug 2011

What do we know about Anders Behring Breivik? Very Little 26 Jul 2011

Norway tragedy: How right-wing bigots are still droning on about Islam 25 Jul 2012

“I dag er vi alle norske” 24 Jul 2011

Norway’s day of terror 23 Jul 2011


 

One thing that makes Breivik such a disturbing person is that little in his life story seems to have predestined him to become the worst mass murderer in Norway’s postwar history. Yes, he had a difficult relationship to his father, and, yes, psychiatrists feared for his mental health when he was four years old, but that is light years from saying that he was bound to do what he did.

Discussions about his mental health do not give much comfort. One psychiatric examination found him to be paranoid schizophrenic and hence not accountable for his crimes, but another one concluded that he has no serious psychological disorder.

Breivik himself insists, heatedly, that he is completely sane. Some experts believe that he has an empathic disorder, otherwise he would not have been capable of carrying out his crime, as one Swedish psychiatrist put it.

Breivik denies this, too, claiming that he can switch his empathy on and off and that he has learned to keep his emotions in check through meditation and various other strategies.

While it is difficult to imagine that a person with a healthy sense of empathy can kill seventy-seven people in cold blood, I think that these discussions are, to an extent, beside the point. It is true the state of Breivik’s mental health is an important part of the puzzle of why he could commit the massacres in Oslo and Utøya, but it should not blind us to the fact that he is still a human being, like ourselves, who very deliberately took a series of steps to commit mass murder.

One of the things that have struck me in his testimony is the importance accorded to his ideas about cultural Marxism and Islamicisation. He talks about having submitted to these ideas, turning himself into a “foot soldier of the conservative nationalist revolution,” and sees his actions as the logical outcomes of a diagnosis that Norway and Europe are being threatened by cultural relativism and Islamic immigration.

He says he sacrificed his own freedom and reputation in order to serve the higher agenda of cleansing Europe of alien influences and restoring its essential Christian identity. In his mind, this agenda is more important than either the lives of his victims or his own morality.

“One hundred voices told me ‘don’t do it, don’t do it’,” he said during the trial when describing how he killed his first victims on Utøya. “Taking a person’s life is the most difficult thing you can do…It goes against human nature,” he said later.

And yet he did it. Sixty-seven times he shot and killed a human being, usually at close range, sometimes when they were begging for their lives. He defiled his human nature to put himself at the service of an idea, blinding himself to his own and his victims’ humanity in order to carry out an atrocity.

He strikes me as a kind of modern-day Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, so seized by an idea that it trumps, in his mind, every human instinct, every predilection for empathy and restraint.

Where Raskolnikov’s world view was warped by sickness, poverty and the nihilistic discussions in the student community in St. Petersburg, Breivik drew his intellectual nourishment from online extremist forums, visited from a computer hooked up in the posher parts of Oslo or near the isolated farm where he was preparing for his crime.

And like Raskolnikov, Breivik is guilty of staggering arrogance, believing that he has seen the truth and been compelled to act according to it. He is persuaded that it was through will power alone that he transcended his human inhibitions, which would otherwise have weakened him and prevented him from doing what was right.

He does not realise that, most of all, it was his fanaticism that blinded him, giving him that tunnel vision that removed every shred of doubt, every inkling of modesty and humility that might have prompted in him the questions, “What if I am wrong? What if the world is more complex than I can comprehend?”

No such doubts seem to have figured in his world view. The propaganda movie that he released on the day of his crime moved him to tears when he saw it in court, yet it is a badly argued, horribly produced piece, with gaping logical leaps and factual flaws (not to mention that some of the text in it has been cut and pasted from Wikipedia).

To think that the ideas conveyed by that clip inspired in him the passion to commit his massacres defies reason. Yet somehow they did. Somehow in his intellectual self-isolation he gradually stopped seeing people as people but instead as pawns in a struggle between abstract ideals.

People were accidental to this struggle, mere carriers of the ideas that truly mattered. And for this reason they could be disposed of, in the same manner that fanatics around the world are ready to eliminate people who get in the way of the higher objective.

It was the triumph of abstraction over life and humanity, the victory of arrogance over humility and self-questioning. Maybe one day, in his comfortable cell in the high-security prison of Halden, Breivik will realise the utter vacuity and horror of what he did.

If that day comes, I think his soul will be torn to shreds.

 


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49 Responses to “Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying”

  1. Nemesis Republic

    RT @leftfootfwd: Anders #Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/rb3cnqDG Markus Göransson #EDL

  2. Amster

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im by Markus Göransson #Breivik

  3. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying //t.co/nm0r5PO5

  4. Pulp Ark

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him… //t.co/nQhKseX9 #MultilateralForeignPolicy #AndersBreivik #muslim #tcot #sioa

  5. Political Planet

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: The crimes of Anders Behring Brivik… //t.co/UBzbJg8W

  6. Nemesis Republic

    RT @leftfootfwd: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying //t.co/KAZoVfNX < worth reading #EDL #BFP

  7. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying //t.co/fuZ4awlN

  8. *EnglishGirl*

    shut up you idiot,another blind naive individual.
    Anders Breivik is not alone with his views.There are many people who agree with his views and action.
    He didn’t just kill anyone he chose to kill those responsible.Why should the government be allowed to inflict mass immigration and multicultarism on it’s country and not give the people a choice?
    Obviously you have your head in the clouds and enjoy muslims to rape the women around you.
    This wil happen in england one day,it’s just a matter of time before the intolerance becomes unbearable.

  9. Stephen Wigmore

    It’s not really a vast surprise. Communists and Fascists killed tens of millions of people in the 20th Century with similarly little remorse or concern, and with similarly little logical or factual justification. They were not all mad or stupid, just fallible human beings that had allowed themselves to be convinced of the most terrible ideas, and lacked the moral courage to realise that it was all terribly wrong.

  10. Anonymous

    Those “responsible”? Ah, kids are responsible for setting immigration policy in your world, I see. Of course people have a choice…and the far right can’t win a democratic majority (or even many seats), so you turn to violence as a solution.

    Time to take action against your kind, before you cause the same sort of “problems” (slaughtering people) here. You’re no different from the Islamists, except in your choice of targets.

  11. isla

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im by Markus Göransson #Breivik

  12. Mabel Horrocks

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im by Markus Göransson #Breivik

  13. Leon Ward

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im by Markus Göransson #Breivik

  14. BendyGirl

    RT @leftfootfwd: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying //t.co/uG2H6vpf

  15. *EnglishGirl*

    No kids we’re not responsible,the labour party were responsible and they certainly brainwashed those naive teenagers for sure.

    They are the ones who should be guilty here because if it wasn’t for them allowing islam to invade norway this would never have happened in the first place.People like you are really missing the point.Yes Anders breivik done the killing but you really must rewind to where the problem arised.

    Breivik has my support.Norway is such a corrupt country that they won’t even give him media coverage anymore nor did they want to give him media coverage to express his political views before this happened.Why’s that?
    They know full well that people agree with his views.They just choose to ignore it and choose to manipulate the truth.
    Well some of us know the truth and do not walk around with our eyes and ears shut.
    Islam will overpopulate christianity in europe,how the hell is that acceptable?No way is this ok.It’s gone too far already.
    And if you think this is an isloated case think again.The next breivik will appear,it’s just a matter of time.

  16. Anonymous

    I see, exposing kids to ideologies other than your own is “brainwashing”. Keep on justifying murder. Keep on accusing anyone who is not your kind of bigot as “guilty” of being normal people, and not racists and xenophobes.

    Justify, justify, justify. It’s MURDER. Your hands are red. You’re pushing a conspiracy theory based on your far right views.

    And yes, of course there will be more cases of your kind of far right wingers attacking innocents. It’s why your intolerance cannot be tolerated. You’re just as much a threat as the Islamists to society.

    Heck, more.

  17. Bexatron

    RT @leftfootfwd: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying //t.co/uG2H6vpf

  18. Anonymous

    Well they say every country has it’s morons and idiots and boy your both, if you think killing innocent people then I suspect the Police need to take a look at you.

  19. Anonymous

    I would not bother it’s obvious this person has the mental age of a child in nappies.

  20. Andy Henley

    RT @leftfootfwd: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying //t.co/uG2H6vpf

  21. napowitzu

    It’s not fallibility and it’s not insanity – it’s just a part of humanity that we like to pretend doesn’t exist: within us all is the ability, as a means of self-defense, to disengage from emotion and reason and thereby become (temporarily) monsters. If we didn’t have this ability then we wouldn’t be able to defend ourselves against other monsters; we wouldn’t be able to fight wars. That we can and do constantly fight wars shows that, in the right setting, i.e. with a belief in the righteousness of what we’re doing, we can set aside the compassionate aspect of our humanity and engage the awful, shadow side as a means to an end. It is very unfortunate that with today’s advancements in weapons individuals are able do this on their own and cause such mass destruction and loss of life – but that is all the more reason to acknowledge this potentiality of humanity and take the necessary steps to divert it before it’s too late.

  22. *EnglishGirl*

    You are still missing the point.
    Why should anyone have to put up with mass immigration and multicultarism?Why shouldn’t the people be given a choice in the matter?It’s the same in England,we are forced to put up with it and not have a say in the matter.
    Lets face it none of us are given a choice,it’s just forced upon us and this is the end result.

    And don’t use the “racism”card because that is not always the case.
    The truth is the numbers are growing and growing along with crime rates. If they we’re kept down at a low reasonable level then people wouldn’t notice so much.
    God put different cultures and religions in different countries for a reason.Take a hint!

  23. *EnglishGirl*

    Well there must be lots of idiots and morons in the world then because many people agree with Anders Breiviks views.I did not say it was right,however i understand the case from all angles and i can see why he did what he did.
    Politicians really should take a hint.They should use this tragedy and learn from it,otherwise in years to come things will get worse and everybody will be saying”That breivik was right”.

  24. Anonymous

    EnglishGirl,

    You say:
    “God put different cultures and religions in different countries for a reason.Take a hint!”

    Did God stick your head up your backside, or was it just your way to provide your vision of purity?

  25. *EnglishGirl*

    It’s true different religions and cultures we’re seperated for a reason so each nation could succeed in it’s own quests,but that’s clearly failed thanks to the intervention of politicians
    Obviously you know nothing about life and it’s purpose,I pity you and the other left wing loonies who live in cuckoo land.
    I do not wish to keep defending the truth anymore,so don’t bother replying.

  26. Shamik Das

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im by Markus Göransson #Breivik

  27. Anonymous

    EnglisGirl,

    Obviously you need to get a life!

  28. *EnglishGirl*

    And if you all think left foot is the way forward then you are ALL seriously deluded.
    They haven’t done much good here either.They have completely destroyed this country and let immigration get out of control.
    How many illegal immigrants live in england?The governent don’t even know.
    Thanks to LABOUR the worst party in the world.
    Id rather drink my own urine than follow anything remotely left.

  29. Blarg1987

    I think you find we do have a say in it and always have, people have wanted lower prices and lower costs in services but haven’t cared how that happens, so needless to say labour has come in to fill jobs which people do not want to do or people are unable to afford to do.

    The right is as much to blame as the left with regards to immigration, the only difference being the right uses it to downgrade terms and conditions for employees the left wants to make it all equal and therefore loose its value.

    I think most stories about shia law etc are just scare stories society will not stand for it.

  30. REAL English Girl

    I’d just like to reassure anyone reading these comments that the muppet incapable of stringing a valid arguement together (“No kids were not responsible…” later contradicted “he didn’t kill just anyone he chose to kill those responsible” I mean make your mind up!) named “EnglishGirl” is not typical of English Girls, most of us are capable of rational thought, common sense and morality and believe that, while immigration may be a major problem here in Britain and elsewhere, we’re all sane enough to differentiate between an actual feesible solution and just jumping on some nutter’s bandwagon, “EnglishGirl” I haven’t a clue what your problem is, maybe you weren’t hugged enough as a child, who knows?? but agreeing with a mass murderer that killing innocent people will ever solve anything, that just sounds to me like your trying to grab some attention for yourself by riding on the coat tails of some deluded killer. It is a shame that your life is so empty you need to do this, I pity your tragic existence, please please PLEASE get a life soon!!

  31. Mary

    I don’t think he’s insane and I don’t think he’s mentally deficient in an way because his views are, whether people like it or not, shared by a very small portion of others. If you TRY to think about it from his point of view, then you could see why he did it, (just to make this clear I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS AT ALL. I DO NOT THINK HE WAS/IS RIGHT), I think the question is HOW could he make himself do something like this? Just… how?

  32. Africana

    Excellently written article, well thought through. Also one of the most apt I have read on the Breivik phenomenon thus far.

  33. Africana

    True

  34. Noxi

    #edl RT @leftfootfwd: Anders #Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/kfnDi1i8 by Markus Göransson

  35. Noxi

    #edl RT @leftfootfwd: Anders #Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/qYfgLxvd by Markus Göransson

  36. Nazis Not Welcome

    #edl RT @leftfootfwd: Anders #Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/qYfgLxvd by Markus Göransson

  37. Anonymous

    Why should anyone need to put up with your calls for “not putting up” (i.e. violence) against anyone who isn’t a carbon copy of you?

    You ARE a racist. It’s no card, it’s a literal description. And “growing”…like the far right vote.

    Oh, right, they crashed out in the latest elections. Shame about your conspiracy theory.

    And “God put”….mm-hum. You’re evidently not up on the reasons why Oliver Cromwell let the Jews back into England.

  38. Anonymous

    Yea, definitely time the police took a look at you.

    Reporting form, reporting form….

  39. Quiet Riot Girl

    From yesterday: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im #Breivik

  40. Melanie RJo

    From yesterday: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im #Breivik

  41. phillip cole

    From yesterday: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im #Breivik

  42. Maria Khan

    A fascinating article (we're all thinking it, but he said it!) by a Swedish geezer about #Breivik //t.co/oa73KIUL

  43. *EnglishGirl*

    oh is freedom of speech not allowed then?I don’t recall being offensive or racist towards anyone apart from left wing..It’s a view/opinion not a damn offence. I didn’t realise that i was living in a goldfish bowl and not allowed to express my opinion.

  44. Anonymous

    No, freedom of speech is conditional in every society, and you’ve charged right over the boundary. That you view left wingers are a race speaks of your extremism, bluntly.

    You’re directly advocating violence, not an opinion. What you’re doing is most certainly an offence.

  45. Robert Sparey

    RT @leftfootfwd From yesterday: Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/P11AW5CO #Breivik

  46. Dan Fringe ダン

    A fascinating article (we're all thinking it, but he said it!) by a Swedish geezer about #Breivik //t.co/oa73KIUL

  47. Polka23dot

    Islam will bring rivers of blood into our cities. There will be no mercy – millions of Muslims will die, and Islam will die with them.

    Every country has heroes it deserves. I wish we had a non-violent hero who stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe before the civil war became inevitable, but now we are beyond the point of no return. Anders Breivik is our hero because no one else had the courage to fire the first shot. The sooner the civil war begins, the better are our odds of winning the war.

    Talking about terrorists… Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat were terrorists killing civilians, and yet they received the Nobel Peace Prize. Anders Breivik may get the same prize if we win the civil war with Muslim invaders. The French Revolution guillotined lots of innocent people, and yet Frenchmen celebrate the Bastille day. Americans are just as proud of their bloody revolution. Russians admire Joseph Stalin. North Koreans admire their dictators, etc. etc.

    “Muslims must kill non-believers wherever they are unless they convert to Islam.” – Ali Gom’a (grand mufti of Egypt, the highest Muslim religious authority in the world, Al Ahram, April 7, 2008) source: //www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/8066

  48. nofrills

    Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying: //t.co/sTSaC0im by Markus Göransson #Breivik

  49. Look Left – Miliband’s speech, the Queen’s Speech and Vidal Sassoon | Left Foot Forward

    […] Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying Markus […]

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