By: Pedja Ilic, JS Senior
On 22 July, 2011 Andres Behring Breivik, the thirty two year-old Norwegian entered one of the darkest chapters in Norway’s history by killing seventy seven people, and injuring some three hundred more. The attacks were meticulously planned and successfully carried out by Breivik, acting as a lone assassin. The first attack took place within Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter in downtown Oslo, where a car bomb was detonated, killing eight, and injuring two hundred people (Dagbladet, 2011). The bomb explosion caused substantial damage to many surrounding buildings. The second attack took place some ninety minutes later on Utøya, one of the three islands of Tyrifjorden, Norway’s fifth largest lake, located some forty kilometers Northwest of Oslo. The island is home to the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth camp, which was one of the main reasons why Breivik choose that particular locale. After shooting rampage that lasted roughly ninety minutes, sixty nine teenagers and adults were dead. Once Norway’s special police forces eventually reached Utøya, Breivik surrounded without further incidents, signaling the official end of what has been called, “the bloodiest terrorist attack Norway has ever seen” (CNN, 2011).
Terrorist events of Oslo and Utøya, although utterly tragic and disheartening, give us an unprecedented insight into behaviors of individuals, fueled by personal and collective agendas, ignorance, and arguably, an outright lunacy. The case of Andres Behring Breivik, like those of many other mass murderers, tends to grab an international attention in search of reasons and underlying motives behind such atrocious acts. General public is initially stunned in disbelief, having difficulties processing such horrifying information. This happens mainly for two reasons. Initially, the public has a difficult time digesting relentless media coverage of the event, which tends to depict such instances as something alien, strange, and above all – frightening. It would be tasteless, needless to say, if one was to take away those attributes from the tragic events in Norway; they were indeed every bit as frightening, strange and alien to the people of Oslo and Utøya, and arguably the rest of the country and wider region.
However, what tends to change attitudes is the fact that such events are not as rare and sporadic as people tend to notice. It should not be a novelty to anyone even remotely following the events of the world, that such mass killing are rather common, if not a daily occurrence in many other geographic locales of the world. An average television spectator, although familiar with instances of regular death and suffering of vastly larger number of people than those of the Breivik’s attacks in Norway, tends to forget and, more or less, directly undermine the importance of the legitimate misery of many other fellow human beings throughout the world. The point here is that media outlets have acquired this rather peculiar ability to shape individual’s attitudes and reactions to various events. One does not need looking further than the local nightly news, where instances of violent crimes are reported on a regular basis, emphasizing the dangers of specific groups of people who commit them. This further perpetuates largely fabricated atmosphere of mass criminality and lawlessness, in need of even stricter punishment and control. The public is fed disingenuous propaganda with a range of underlying motives, by various, sometimes more easily than not, recognizable interest-groups. In short, the phrase “blowing it out of proportion” becomes synonymous with such media coverage, and rightfully so.
In case of Andres Behring Breivik, the media did an outstanding job of depicting him as the psychopathic right-wing extremist, fueled by the hatred against Muslim immigration throughout the Europe. While Breivik himself did express views of similar nature to some extent, subsequent media coverage concentrated on mainly on Breivik’s mental construct and sanity. The story was effectively shifted from the problem of what some have labeled as an outright “Islamization” of Europe. What Breivik did, inadvertently or not, is direct some of the world’s attention to Europe’s exponentially growing problem or radical Islam, and the failure of many Muslim immigrants to assimilate to western culture. Here, yet again, the media assumed the role of the proprietor of facts and information to be distributed, effectively offsetting the balance of fair and agenda-free reporting, and often on the grounds of cultural relativism.
Second, examining Breivik’s childhood during his formative years, one learns that many recorded instances indeed fit patterns of criminological theories, which describe specific behaviors as indicative of future inclinations toward crime and deviance. Psychiatric evaluations upon arrest initially diagnosed Breivik with paranoid schizophrenia, nothing the lack of empathy and an overt delusions; Breivik was subsequently declared criminally insane (BBC, 2011). This brings into question two important points, namely the societal ability to recognize, institutionalize, and treat individuals with such disorders, and society’s willingness to acknowledge such problems in the first place. Although there is no consensus on a single criminological theory as the one with all possible answers, there is enough peer reviewed scientific research that suggests, societies/parents/guardians certainly ought to pay more attentions to such behaviors.
Under Norway’s criminal code, article 147a, Andres Behring Breivik was charged with destabilizing or destroying basic functions of society, and creating serious fear in the population, both acts of terrorism under Norwegian law (Domstol, 2011). Due to Breivik’s diagnosed illness, it is speculated that future role of forensic psychiatry in Norway will be heavily influenced by these proceedings. The trial began on April 16, 2012 and is still under way. Under Norwegian law, the maximum penalty that can be prescribed is twenty one years; if Breivik’s initial diagnosis of criminal insanity is overturned, this will indeed be his maximum sentence. This fact has angered many, namely scores of people in countries like the United States, where not only are the maximum sentences much longer/harsher that those in Norway, but the death penalty is still carried out as a state’s legitimate right to permanently “dispose” of the “most dangerous” and “deserving” convicts. It is important to note that one out of ten people executed in the United States has been proven not to have committed the crime for which he or she was executed (Stevenson, 2012). One out of ten! If the same ratio was representative of an air-transportation, every single plain would be grounded indefinitely; yet, various states like California and Texas still keep executing people, despite frightening statistics mentioned prior.
As one follows the trial of Andres Behring Breivik, either through the press, or conventional and/or social media, there is a significant rift in opinions and attitudes found between the spectators form European countries and those from the United States in particular. Expectedly, argumentation stemming from the United States swears that the only way justice (the term justice is applied rather loosely) will be carried out, is if Breivik becomes fertilizer six feet under. Generally, the (US) public is outraged to learn of the treatment Breivik has been receiving while confined. It seem somehow that the public request of Norway’s prison authorities to have volunteers accompany Breivik in playing chess and hockey, makes the brains of American demagogues explode in anger and disbelief (Orange, 2012). It is very difficult for people with a completely different mindset as it relates to crime and punishment in particular, to even imagine possible alternative ways in which, even admitted criminals might be treated while confined. The societal norms of punishment are fundamentally different on various continents, it seems. While one country or society might prefer rehabilitative and methods of genuine reintegration, the other drifts away from such correctional approaches as from the opposite magnetic pole.
The case of Andres Behring Breivik seems like a perfect testing ground of both, the societal attitudes toward punishment, and the level of civilizational maturity of the society whose attitudes are being examined. Although countless pages of analysis have already been written and discussed on the topics of similar nature, it is a safe bet to assume that there is enough, and perhaps required, space for thousands more. As Breivik’s trial continues, it will be interesting to observe the courtroom dynamics, as well as subsequent public responses.
BBC News – Norway massacre: Breivik declared insane. (2011, November 29). BBC – Homepage. Retrieved June 16, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-15936276
Breivik drepte med «Tors hammer» og «Odins spyd» – nyheter – Dagbladet.no. (2011, November 18).Dagbladet.no – forsiden. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from http://www.dagbladet.no/2011/11/18/nyheter/
Orange, R. (2012, May 31). Norway prison to hire ‘friends’ to play chess and hockey with Breivik.http://www.telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/norway/9302676/Norway-prison-to-hire-friends-to-play-chess-and-hockey-with-Breivik.html
Ruling on holding Anders Behring Breivik in custody . (2011, July 25).www.domstol.no. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from www.domstol.no/upload/OBYR/Internett/
Stevenson, B. (2012, March 7). Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice | Video on TED.com. TED: Ideas worth spreading. Retrieved June 16, 2012, from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_about_an_injustice.html
Suspect in Norway attacks to face second interrogation – CNN. (2011, July 28). Featured Articles from CNN. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from http://articles.cnn.com/2011-07-28/world/norway.attacks_1_oslo-police-bomb-blast-police-headquarters?_s=PM:WORLD