Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong?
–credited variously to Norman Mailer, Gandhi and other sources
Anders Breivik, the Norwegian gunman who killed 77 people in one of Norway’s worst mass murders, (look, he has his own Wikipedia page!) has demanded he be acquitted, pleading not guilty by virtue of a sort of perverse heroism. While it’s difficult to fathom how bombing civilians and shooting unarmed young people at a summer camp can possibly be anything but deranged, Breivik has suggested he was defending his homeland against multiculturalism, which he sees as a precursor to an Islamic takeover and the imposition of Sharia law…
…a point of view he apparently shares with Newt Gingrich and several others. But I digress.
Breivik committed murder, a punishable offense in most countries. Among the punishments available in this country is death, at least in thirty-five of fifty states. That number may drop, as Connecticut’s Senate has voted to abolish the death penalty at the beginning of April. Nonetheless, the Unites States overall remains in the group of countries Amnesty International calls “retentionist”, countries that continue to permit executions. Norway has no death penalty, which means Breivik might either spend a few decades in prison (possibly more, if he’s considered to be dangerous at some future point) or confinement in a psychiatric institution. This is a man who, on the second day of his trial, described his killing spree as a “spectacular sophisticated political act,” one which he’d repeat, mind you.
A self-important, agenda-driven, platform-seeking individual who may not even be technically insane—two initial reports contradict one another—who managed to arm himself to the teeth despite Norway’s strict gun control laws could be back on the streets before he hits his mid-fifties. Meanwhile, taxpayer money will be used to house him.
How does everyone feel about this?
In Norway, some left-leaning intellectuals are hoping Breivik is determined sane, given that he sees his actions as “logical” in light of his extreme ideology. “One has to go to the bottom of the horror – as deep down as it is possible to go,” one civil servant suggested. Others believe that Breivik’s politics must be central to the trial in order to remind Norwegians that Islamophobia is rising throughout Europe. As one English writer living in France noted, “Going about their daily lives there are probably tens of millions of Europeans (and Americans), shocked at Breivik’s actions, who would, just the same, probably agree with the premise that drove him to action: Muslims are a threat to the Western world.” (see earlier note on Gingrich, Newt).
Others hope he’s declared insane, which would allow the courts to sidestep both the circus of a protracted trial and the dram of a defendant requesting death or acquittal in a country where neither is possible.
Most Norwegians, it seems, are not so much captivated by the trial as weary of it less than half way through. Norway’s second-largest media outlet, Dagbladet, offers a trial-free news option on its website (although it’s not immediately apparent when visiting the tabloid-style homepage with lurid pictures and over-sized typeface). The UK’s Telegraph reports that one man recommended “They should just lock him up and forget him.” Other outlets have noted the average citizens’ reluctance to comment…well, except for the civilian judge on the trial who was dismissed after posting on his Facebook page, “the death penalty is the only just outcome of this case.”
Speaking of which, here in the United States, we don’t worry about keeping our mouths shut or our opinions to ourselves. Freedom means never letting propriety stand in the way of an argument we feel absolutely has to be made. Thus we have gun control opponents who happily claim Breivik’s ability to get gun’s despite Norway’s strict gun laws is proof that such laws don’t work. On one truly scary website called AmmoLand, one writer declares “These deluded laws disarmed the victims, and completely enabled the perpetrator. That is what ALL ‘gun control’ laws do.” The writer is listed as “Charles Heller, Executive Director, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership,” a title that encapsulates the very essence of paranoid delusion on more levels than I can fathom.
On the subject of the death penalty, we have the associate professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who insists that withholding the death penalty in the case of Breivik reduces the value of human life. On Cal Watchdog, whose mission is “to uncover governmental waste,” the lead article suggests the Breivik trial might imperil a ballot initiative calling for the repeal of the death penalty. The “independent” editorial voice then goes on to remind the reader that “no state can stay naively immune from the realities of ideological terrorism. Nor can a state hide behind the self-righteousness of banishing the death penalty, if in so doing it unintentionally results in a perverse incentive for mass murder and offering a platform for spreading a murderous ideology.”
And there we have it: another justification for the elevation of the “kill or be killed” doctrine as a logical, justified and entirely effective way to defend, defeat and punish the criminals in our midst. While poor Norway, proud of its tolerant civil society and liberal traditions, must now be subject to the insatiable gaze of a news-starved international media and the highly selective commentaries of the righteously indignant, some of our noisy citizens know what must be done. Ignore the foolish hand-wringers. Banish the outliers. No mercy for evildoers. We must protect ourselves at all costs. To arms!
Just the sort of legacy Anders Breivik was hoping to promote.