"Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core."
- Hannah Arendt
Since Anders Breivik's trial began a great deal of attention has been devoted to his supposedly disturbed psyche, much less to his political convictions. Flashy headlines focused on his shocking and defiant declarations without paying too much attention to their evil banality. Had he been a Muslim, rivers of ink would have inundated the pages of the press with claims linking his crimes to his religion, culture or even natural predisposition. Bin Laden represented all Muslims, Breivik, thanks God (apply accordingly), does not represent all Christians. Why?
The term 'mass murderer' has been favored over 'terrorist' in describing this self-styled member of the Templar resistance who massacred 77 men and women in July last year. Needless to say, whichever appellation is used to address Anders Breivik, the atrocious nature of his crime does not change. But...
There remains some unanswered questions that few dared to ask, such as: how isolated are Breivik's political views? How many people, though firmly condemning his murderous act, share his concerns regarding the so-called 'Islamization' of Europe? Is he a deviant exception or a disquieting symptom?
A second psychiatric evaluation has found the Norwegian fundamentalist perfectly sane, as he has always claimed and sinisterly shown to be. The court where he is being trialled will charge him for his crimes but will not determine whether they are political or not.
A responsible civil society (media, public opinion, democratic institutions, etc.) has the moral duty to investigate the socio-political causes behind Breivik's actions in order to prevent similar atrocities to happen again. To dismiss his crimes as the act of a deranged mind is to close our eyes in front of the ingrained motivations that concurred in this brutal event.
Talking to Democracy Now Norwegian sociologist and mathematician Johan Galtung, whose granddaughter survived Breivik's massacre in Utoya, observed something that is worth reporting at length here:
He [Breivik] is politically, I would say, as misguided as anybody can be, but not much more than the Norwegian government killing Afghans in Afghanistan. I do not get very popular in Norway for drawing that parallel, and I stand by it. So we have a case now where the court has to maneuver in such a way that the similarity between Breivik's killings and what the Norwegian government does as a part of a U.S.-led coalition does not come up. It's quite a difficult maneuvering. They will probably focus on his psychology, whether he breaks into tears, whether he shows signs of remorse. Well, I haven't seen so much remorse from the Norwegian government, either, for the killing in Afghanistan. And they have human feelings, too. They may be as concerned about the people they have lost as Norwegians are, and as I would have been, had my granddaughter been among the victims.
Galtung's remarks expose the dangerous tendency, not always malevolent nor conscious, to apply different ethical standards to what effectively remains a universal datum: human life. Islamophobia does not exclusively belong to the ideological arsenal of the far-right, its poisonous rhetoric finds ample resonance on the mainstream media and constituted the mendacious backbone of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their, rarely mentioned, massacres.
Shortly before having to leave his native Germany, Fritz Lang realized one of his greatest films, M (1931). The film told the story of a monster and the monstrous society that first bred and then condemned him. This dark and premonitory tale had warned German audiences of the social roots of evil and its multilateral pervasiveness; to no avail unfortunately. Only two years later in fact, the darkest chapter of modern history proved Fritz Lang's thesis tragically plausible.
Breivik is on trial, the vile and lethal ideology on which he fed is not. Political groups whose views hardly differ from those of this Aryan terrorist are growing and find increasing consent amongst alarmingly larger sections of the European population.
"Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are...the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions" Primo Levi once said; may this timeless warning guide us in the struggle against evil.