Whether it’s true that the Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik acted alone as he claims, or whether he had help (as I write this, police in Norway are investigating his home and farm, and have arrested six men in Oslo) in committing the 93-and-counting homicides in the capital and on the small island of Utøya – using explosive bullets that spray the interior of the body with tiny shrapnel – he’s already lied about certain aspects of his past years.
He calls himself a Christian – oh, the irony, then, in his using the techniques of Islamist jihadists! Real Christians don’t murder (Commandment #5 in the Lutheran Church in which Brievik was raised), and they definitely don’t kill young people they’ve never met, many of whose only crime was having parents who belonged to a political party Breivik disliked. His claiming the cover-up of “Christian” identity is mockable, as it’s obviously intended to create division between Christian and Muslim Norwegians as he went about his own well-planned jihad.
It’s clear that Breivik doesn’t really get the meaning of Commandment #2, either, the one that forbids taking God’s name in vain. Most people think that commandment simply covers swearing or cursing, shouting “Oh, God!” or “God damn it!”, for example. But I once heard an excellent sermon on the topic, and the conclusion reached was that while swearing doesn’t matter, using God’s name to excuse one’s malicious behavior is a no-no because it attempts to sanctify evil. Calling murder “the will of Allah”, or saying “God made me rape” is therefore off-limits. So is referring to oneself as a Christian (Christ being a name of God in the Trinity) while shooting at children.
And what about Commandment #7, “You shall not steal”? Breivik has boasted online that he downloaded materials without paying for them, but now it’s emerged in a London Guardian article that he’s stolen words . . . from Ted Kaczynski, the American Unabomber. The Guardian, whose reporters have pored over Breivik’s tome-like manifesto, says “Brevik often copies Kaczynski word for word, only changing the word ‘leftist’ for ‘cultural Marx[ist]’”.
Breivik mentioned that he was going to look for prostitutes before he set off the explosion. That may not be adultery, if the women were unmarried, but it’s very far from the Christian emphasis on the bond between spouses (or at least, in contemporary Scandinavia, significant others). We’ve learned that Breivik lived with or near his mother; that his retired father and stepmother live in France; but no word at all about women in his life, which is rather extraordinary for a good-looking, 32-year-old Norwegian man.
My guess is that, like the Fort Hood, Texas killer Dr. Nidal Malik Hassan, who wanted to marry an American woman like the ones he went to school with but dated no one sufficiently conservative for his tastes (yet, unusually for a devout Muslim, declined offers of marriage to women from Islamic countries), Breivik hasn’t had a woman in his life for some years. I fully expect to hear from women who knew him as an adolescent that, yes, they went out, but there was something not quite right – and that Breivik was frustrated because his life wasn’t progressing like his mates’. Or perhaps he was saving himself for his mission.
So – he’s lied, murdered, stolen and attempted to sanctify his dreadful acts. Even the right-wing groups English Defence League and Nordic Defence League have distanced themselves from Breivik, who spent time in London as a child when his father was posted there with the Norwegian Foreign Service.
Norway prides itself on openness and fairness, so there will be a trial if Breivik’s found sane enough. The maximum prison sentence for murder is twenty-one years per person. Even with a sole 21-year tariff, Norwegian law provides for an infinite number of five-year additions if the authorities determine he is a danger to society.
Norway has officially begun public mourning with a service today at Oslo Cathedral. Tomorrow will see a march of Norwegians, not as protest, they say, but as siblings. The prime minister has vowed that these cowardly attacks will not eliminate what Norwegians are proudest of, their open society in which discussion is paramount. Yet changes will have to be made, if only in security analysis, so that a second Breivik can’t mow down almost a hundred of the country’s best and brightest. Norwegians will be taking advice from – and influencing – other Western nations with their own right-wing groups, the ones claiming to be Christian.
Where is the line between mental illness and evil? Unfortunately, it’s vague and evasive, hard to pin down, harder to understand. It will take us a long time to trudge out of this tangled wood.