Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Mad and bad or just bad?

"To send a political activist to an asylum is more sadistic and more evil than killing him!"

Let's leave aside the obvious questions which arise from Anders Breivik's grandstanding statement above. One of the things which has puzzled me about Norway's only terrorist in the past few weeks (and this probably reflects my background in law) is that I can't decide on what he is exactly. There are inherent problems with defining people as terrorists as it stands, but Breivik doesn't even require an examination of the well-trod terrorist vs. freedom fighter dichotomy. He's a lone wolf of the Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh kind of course, but his peculiar psychopathology distinguishes him from these two in that unlike those two, Breivik is medically diagnosed as insane.

Now, it takes about 15 minutes of reading through literature discussing terrorism to understand that, generally speaking, terrorists are not insane in a medical sense. You can check through Hoffman, Lacqueur, Atran, Crenshaw, etc. I'm not going to bother going through the extensive discussions of terrorist psychology and sociology, because it's largely fruitless, conflicting and unauthoritative. What matters is that terrorists are not traditionally defined as being people suffering from psychotic delusions. They are broadly speaking logical actors who take issue with the state and consider their violent acts as addressing that grievance in some way, shape or form.

The temptation to categorise Breivik as a terrorist largely comes from not only his public statements suggesting some kind of right-wing martyrdom, but his extremely long, rambling manifesto which takes umbridge with people like Antonio Gramsci, Giorgio Agamben, etc. and the wider introduction of 'cultural Marxism' through the Islamification of Europe or something like that. I'll confess, I only read about 30 pages of it (it's over 1000) and the majority of it, where it addressed theorists I was familiar with, was extremely poor in its analysis. Sentences were extrapolated to be entirely devoid of their original context, logic leaped higher than an Olympian pole-vaulter, etc. Sure, the Unabomber also published a (shorter) manifesto which Breivik plagiarised in parts, but something still rubs me the wrong way about calling this guy a terrorist. I would feel more comfortable calling him a mass murderer.

Y'see, if Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer got locked up and in a subsequent interview with some trashy CNN report on "The Mind of a Killer" confessed that they did it because the Democrats reclaimed the Senate, then we wouldn't automatically jump to the conclusion that they are terrorists, even if we entertained the idea that they were just deluded but they're being honest about their motivations. The reason for this is obvious - serial killers like these take obvious pleasure from the killing itself and go to extraordinary lengths to avoid detection so they can continue their spree. Terrorists generally aren't too bothered about whether or not they're caught so long as the job is carried out and in some cases would see capture by the authorities as some kind of martyrdom or at least a legitimation of their struggle against the oppressors. Breivik wanted to be caught and clearly desires publicity, but the fact that he's diagnosed as mentally ill makes me more tempted to put him in a category with someone like Raoul Moat, who a couple of years ago went on a rampage in the North of England because of some issue he had with police officers. The main difference between Moat and Breivik is, obviously, that the former spent no time 'planning' his actions, whereas Breivik clearly thought about his attack. But my point is that both had some kind of quasi-political delusion motivating their actions and both were clearly disturbed people - just in Breivik's case we have an actual diagnosis.

This is more of a political point than a legal point, but I think having charged Breivik with terrorism is an unrealistic assessment of what Breivik actually is and actually serves to confirm his thesis that he is in fact a political agent. The Norwegian anti-terror statute is fairly standard and makes reference to a political mens rea and a disruption of government functions, yadda yadda, but I would submit that a simple charge of murder would suffice. A murderer can have all kind of motivations - madness included, but a terrorist generally operates from some kind of logical basis, which Breivik doesn't. He has a rambling, incoherent manifesto that makes no logical nexus between his acts - the 'logic' is understandable only to himself.

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