Thursday, July 28, 2011

Anders Breivik: Insane or Guilty?

Norm has a good post today on whether Anders Breivik (the Norwegian terrorist who killed 76 people a week ago) is insane. "It's puzzling this tendency to assume that someone who does something very bad - of a degree that we're even inclined to say of it that it's evil - must be crazy."

Plenty of people who were not mad shot and killed thousands of civilians on the eastern front during WWII. The Einsatzgruppen committed their murders of Jews, Communists, and others largely by shooting people. Altogether, they killed about 1.5 million people, including most of the Jewish populations of the Baltic countries - numbering among them my grandfather's uncle Mordechai Falkon and his wife Dvora Falkon, who were murdered in July and December of 1941, respectively. The Soviets who tried and executed some of the Einsatzgruppen members after the war did not consider them not guilty by reason of insanity - they held them responsible for their gruesome acts of destruction.

Does anyone consider the hijackers of September 11, 2001 to be insane? In all of the millions of words I've read on the subject since then, I've never heard anyone suggest that Osama bin Laden and his minions were crazy.

Why shouldn't we hold Breivik to the same standard? I've read some of his 1500 page manifesto, where he lays out the ideology behind his acts. His thinking is racist, distasteful, and obsessive but his methodical description of the process involved in creating the fertilizer bomb did not strike me as at all insane.

Calling Breivik or others who commit terrorist acts (violent attacks against civilians for political purposes, in order to sow terror) insane is in most cases a way to diminish their responsibility for their actions. I can understand why Breivik's lawyer is calling him insane. I don't understand why other people are, unless they wish somehow to diminish the gravity of his acts and his responsibility for them.

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