Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who used bombs and guns in a terrifying killing spree a little over a year ago, got what he wanted: He was judged as a political terrorist and not insane, sentenced to prison for ten to 21 years, Norway’s unbelievably minimum “maximum” — with the state’s option of keeping him confined indefinitely if judged too dangerous for release.
Which sounds rather “clinical” to me. Even without a ruling of insanity, Norway appears to treat its murderers as madmen.
But as one survivor of the Utoya massacre explained, “I believe [Breivik] is mad, but it is political madness and not psychiatric madness.” Exactly.
“Madness” is some sort of loss of self-control, a dangerous instability; “insanity” legally defines that subset of madmen who cannot distinguish between right and wrong. It is pretty obvious that though Breivik is deeply off his rocker, his condition is the result chiefly of bad ideas channeling base impulses.
And yet . . .
Breivik’s terrorism — like all others — justifies killing innocent people to serve a political goal. In doing so, the terrorist’s ideology becomes de facto insanity, rendering the terrorist incapable of recognizing his own evil.
In this case, his ideology also kept the terrorist from seeing the actual consequences of his horrifying violence. Breivik’s politics is of an extreme anti-Muslim nature. It has surely been fed by the rise of radical Islamic terrorism. But killing 77 people, including scores of non-Muslim teenagers, doesn’t exactly serve to rally European “militant nationalists” to an anti-Muslim pogrom. Mad. Wanton. Feckless.
But just “evil” will do.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.