Commentators often look at the violent act of a deranged person and see some greater societal ill where there may be, in fact, only insanity. From the Kennedy assassination to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, we see bigger forces at work and try to distill them into something we can understand, and then perhaps change.
Sometimes, though, as Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar.
So the question for this week’s The Maine Debate risks assigning logic to madness. But in the Norway bombing and shooting and killing of 76 people, larger issues will be forced into public discussion by the man who confessed to the heinous acts.
Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian shooter who built and detonated a bomb in Oslo and then posed as a police office at a camp on an island so he could, apparently, shoot and kill as many young people as possible, wanted to trigger an anti-Islamic revolution in Europe. He planned to dress in a military uniform at his court appearance on July 25 and espouse his views, but a judge refused, closing the hearing.
In some quarters in Europe, anti-Islamic fervor is stronger than it is here in the U.S. European nations such as Spain and the United Kingdom have suffered deadly attacks at the hands of al-Qaida, an extreme Islamic group. A Danish editorial cartoonist faced an ax attack in his home for drawing what he imagined the Muslim Prophet Muhammad looked like.
Immigrants from countries where Islam is the dominant religion and culture have come to European nations, looking for economic opportunity. France, a country tolerant of many things, enacted a law banning women from wearing burqas, the traditional Muslim veil worn by women.
Is animosity toward those of a different religion and culture reaching a critical mass? Will there be a return to the kind of violence seen during the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition? Of course, there have been American versions of this fear of outsiders, coming as a response to each wave of immigration, from the Irish to Hispanics.
Norway’s Breivik, whom that country’s law enforcement authorities are now referring to as a terrorist, hoped his killing spree would call attention to what he saw as the threat of Muslim immigration. Timothy McVeigh, the former U.S. soldier who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, also hoped to incite political action. Is there any parallel between the two men?
In some ways, it would be more comforting to learn Mr. Breivik had lost touch with reality. But this may not be the case. One news story quoted one of his childhood friends, now a Norwegian broadcaster: “Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s crazy,” said Peter Svaar. “He’s cold, intelligent and resourceful. He’s playing us all like a piano.”
Mr. Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto released on the Internet and accompanying YouTube video and Facebook page suggest, as Mr. Svaar notes, that he had a marketing strategy for his views.
Join us at The Maine Debate, 10 a.m. to noon and beyond.