The Absurdity of Blaming Breivik on Jo Nesbø

18/09/2012 00:43 BST | Updated 17/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Richard Millet, the French novelist was last week shuffled away from his post on a key committee at French publisher Gallimard, after a fortnight of controversy over his pamphlet, 'In Literary Praise of Anders Breivik', which concluded that "Breivik is without doubt what Norway deserves."

The publisher clearly had to make some kind of gesture (and it is a gesture: Millet keeps his job and the roster of writers under him). No employer wants to see one of its most high-profile figures arguing that a country, by condoning multiculturalism, has brought the massacre of 77 innocents upon itself.

But as well as being deliberately provocative, Millet has also shown himself grossly ignorant, not only of Breivik and Norway, but also of literature.

His essay didn't simply blame Norway, it blamed Norwegian and Swedish crime writers such as Jo Nesbø, Henning Mankell, and Stieg Larsson, claiming that they glorify multiculturalism while turning a blind eye to its dangers.

"Perhaps they explain Breivik, these writers, squarely on the Left, these vigilants, these naifs, generally only see what they want to see," he writes. "Oslo is presented as a multicultural capital, with its non-European immigrants and its colourful neighbourhoods, so dear to France's 'bobos' [bourgeois bohemians]."

He quotes a passage from Nesbø where a character soaks up the atmosphere of a Muslim area in Oslo, and then lays out the dangers he sees.

"This soothing vision of a domestic exoticism refuses to consider that the muezzin's call sounds the death of Christianity, and as a result the end of our nations."

Anyone whose spent any time on Oslo's grand neo-classical streets, will find the claim that Norwegian muezzins are sounding the death-knell of European civilisation fairly absurd. Even after the rapid immigration of recent years, less than 4% of Norway's population have their origin in Muslim countries.

Scandinavian crime writers can hardly be accused of ignoring social problems. A better charge is that they grossly exaggerate crime, drugs, terrorism and the far-Right, in what are in fact some of the most peaceful and orderly societies in the world.

Millet talks of a wilful blindness which stopped these writers anticipating Breivik when in fact, the threat of the far-right is one of their recurrent themes. The right-wing, Nazi sympathising, psychopathic villain in Nesbø's thriller Redbreast, published back in 2000, bears alarming similarities to Breivik. As for Stieg Larsson, prior to writing the Millenium triology, he dedicated his journalistic career to tracking and publicising the threat of the extreme right.

And even if Scandinavian crime writers were lulling their populations into ignoring the dangers of their local mullahs, much of what came up in Breivik's 10-week trial suggests 'multiculturalism' was only a pretext.

Of the two sets of forensic psychiatrists who assessed Breivik, both concluded - as Millet assumes − that anger at multiculturalism was not the killer's primary motive.

Even the team of psychiatrists who looked most closely at his right-wing ideology believed his primary driver was a pathological narcissism.

"I think there is an element of Breivik thinking 'I will carry out the biggest terrorist attack ever', Terje Tørrissen, one of the two psychiatrists, told the court, when questioned about how such horrific acts could have become possible to a sane man. "When one act of terror is committed there will be a need to exceed it."

This narcissism was already clear in the pre-prepared speech Breivik made to the court at the start of his trial.

"I have carried out the most spectacular attack in Europe since the Second World War," he announced, as if it was the scale of the atrocity that was the most important thing, rather than its impact on Islam or immigration.

Millet claims to have read Breivik's manifesto, but he can't have read very deeply, as the shallowness of his ideology is not difficult to spot.

Breivik plagiarised large passages from the 'Unabomber manifesto' of Ted Kaczynski, simply swapping the word "leftist" with "multiculturalist", a clear sign that "multiculturalists" were for Breivik little more than a convenient enemy. It was Kaczynski's terror attacks Breivik wanted to emulate. The politics came later.

Millet criticises writers like Jo Nesbø for being populist and anti-intellectual. His Breivik essay looks suspiciously like a marketing ploy for the much longer 'Langue Fantôme' - a defence of the obscurity and difficult of modern French literature - which is published between the same covers.

But Nesbø's take on Breivik when he spoke at a British crime-writing festival last week, is more perceptive by far than anything in Millet's dense, overwrought essay.

"He [Breivik] represents himself and not many others," Nesbø argued. "From a social or political point of view, this is not a very interesting event."

Richard Orange's account of the country's struggle to make sense of the killer, "Mind of a Madman", was published by Amazon earlier this month.