I do not believe Anders Behring Breivik is insane.
Certainly, his murderous rampage was horrific and cruel. His targets were young, innocent, and defenceless. How their deaths will further his avowed goal of removing Muslims from Norway is beyond me.
Insanity, however, is characterised by a lack of reason, a lack of cohesiveness in one’s view of the world. Breivik acted in a rational manner, if you share his worldview. In his eyes, the political parties—especially those on the left—represented a direct danger to the indigenous Norwegian culture due to their policies on immigration and civil rights. His fight was not with the Muslims, whom he regarded as less than human, but with those within his nation who were allowing the enemy into the Homeland.
There would be no point in purging the country of the Islamic infection without first cutting off the means by which the infection was entering the body. The internal traitors are, in his eyes, the immediate enemy. Therefore, they (and their children) must die.
It would be overly simplistic to place all the blame on the right wing extremists in northern Europe and North America. The values of traditional Islam are, to some degree, incompatible with the values of a liberal society. The treatment of women in many Muslim countries is abominable. The pronouncement of death sentences on those who convert from Islam is barbaric.
Nonetheless, the bloggers and politicians who inspired Breivik must be held accountable for their creation of an alternate universe in which his actions are perfectly logical. As Hitler taught us, words have consequences and calls for purification of the nation can lead to particularly gruesome consequences.
Unfortunately, Breivik’s views correspond exactly to the hatred and ignorance spewed 24/7 by media like Faux News (they like to call themselves Fox News) and then echoes endlessly via smaller outposts—it’s become impossible in some states of the US to find a radio station that broadcasts anything but delusional Christian fundamentalist propaganda.
This extremism, which has become the greatest threat to civilized societies, is not about churches and congregations. It’s about a way of thinking, with its own culture, celebrities, and fulltime poison pens, like Ann Coulter: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.”
The description of Breivik—extreme right-wing anti-government, anti-immigrant Christian fundamentalist gun-lover—could in fact fit the GOP’s new Congress members. These gun- and bible-bearing extremists hate Obama and liberals and despise education and knowledge: who needs that when you have a direct line to the heavenly parent.
Tea Party members show up armed (and dangerous) at county and city hall meetings. At the Republican National Convention a fan of Sarah Palin screamed about the President of the United States, to the audience’s delight, “Obama is a terrorist, kill him!”
The politicians themselves also suggest homicidal encouragements. GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle said in an interview, “people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies…what can we do to turn this country around? …the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”
“This rhetoric is not cost-free,” a former C.I.A. officer and a consultant on terrorism told the New York Times. Before last year’s elections many had asked Palin—who encouraged voters to “reload and aim” at Democrats—to tone down her violent rhetoric. One of those was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who warned of its possible “consequences.” She was to discover a few months later just how horribly personal those consequences would be when she was shot in the head during a murderous rampage by another right-wing extremist.
We should not kid ourselves into believing that this could not happen in Iceland. As much as any other society, we divide the world into Us and Them. We happily imported workers from Poland and the Baltic states when times were good, but we were more than glad to show them the door when things got tough. Our politicians are as willing to stoop to demagoguery as politicians anywhere, and Icelandic poison pens, who blog about raping and beating up politicians they don’t like, are no different than their foreign hatemongers.
It is ironic that in the decade since 9/11 the US might have changed from a nation that considered itself the world’s model of democracy and justice to its foremost exporter of hatred and violence. But mass annihilation no longer requires national military actions. As Anders Behring Breivik has shown us, and Timothy McVeigh before him, it only takes one. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Bin Laden must be laughing in Hell.