Thursday, April 19, 2012

Evil: Call It What It Is

Having lived in Norway, I have followed with interest various developments surrounding the mass murder of 77 people in Norway on July 22, 2011. Some of the facets of this horrific event include the current trial of the confessed perpetrator and the shoddy police response on 7/22/2012 that gave the man time to continue his killing spree for an extended time.

The murderer first detonated a car bomb in front of the office of the prime minister, killing eight people and injuring 209. He then drove to a Labor Party youth camp on an island a little over an hour away. Posing as a police officer he gained access to the island and opened fire on the campers, ultimately killing 69 and injuring 110. Most of the victims were teenagers.

Norway is almost 2½ times the size of California in area, but it is stretched out over 1,200 miles from top to bottom. Its population is less than 5 million. Although population density is less than half that of Utah, "on average 1 of 4 Norwegians knew a victim affected by the attacks." Norwegians were stunned to find out that the two massacres were carried out by one man.

Much has changed in Norway since I lived there. Norway still has a low crime rate, but perceptions of personal and property security have undergone dramatic shifts in recent years.

Three decades ago it was not uncommon for people to leave their homes unlocked, even while away, and for people to leave their car keys in the ignition. Vandalism of public property almost seemed like a national pastime, but personal property was rarely violated. It was said that if a lady were to accidentally leave her purse on Karl Johans Gate, she would have no problem finding it unharmed when she returned hours later.

Nowadays, people are far more likely to lock their homes and cars. Gang violence has become more common, especially among the immigrant class. Violent crime (including rape), while low compared to most other countries, has been on the rise, much to the consternation of many Norwegians.

But none of this prepared Norwegians for the ghastly events of last July 22. Part of the reason for slow police response was that the country simply had not had to deal with a crime anything like this attack outside of wartime.

Modern Norwegians view vindictiveness with abhorrence. The death penalty was abolished in 1979. The last time it was used was in 1945 to punish a handful of war criminals. Crime sentences are relatively light and focus fairly heavily on rehabilitation. There is no such thing as a life sentence in Norway per se, but there are options for keeping someone locked up that is deemed a threat to society.

Despite the fact that the murderer has confessed and that the evidence against him is overwhelming and incontrovertible, Norway's justice system insists on granting him a fair trial. The purpose of the trial is not to establish his guilt or innocence, but to determine whether he should be sentenced as a criminal or a person with mental illness.

The culprit has made it clear from the beginning that he intends to use the trial as a platform for preaching his ugly beliefs. Victims and their families, among others complain that the man is getting away with his plan. While I understand that the victims may feel violated anew by the current trial, I think that Norway is doing itself and the world a great public service.

Acts of murderous terrorism have become common during my lifetime, as individuals and illegitimate syndicates (some sponsored by governments) have made the murder of innocents a political gesture. These actions are undertaken for shock value and are intended to cause entire populations to live in fear of a relatively small number of bullies intent on forcing others to adopt their radical ideals.

Much has been said about these killers, but rarely has an opportunity been presented for the public to see into the thinking of these people—to understand what makes them tick. It doesn't matter that Norway's mass murderer describes himself as a militant Christian; his thought processes are similar to those of all terrorists.

We now know that the Norwegian terrorist spent years meticulously planning, preparing, and training for the attack. We know that he still feels badly that he couldn't have killed more victims, and that he wanted to film the beheading of at least one high profile target. We know that he spent years dehumanizing his targets and convincing himself that his philosophy was the only correct philosophy. He came to justify his actions under the rubric of maintaining Norwegian racial purity.

While it is not uncommon for people to come to believe that their way of thinking is the only legitimate course, most of these do not believe that they can successfully force others to adopt their thinking through violence. (At least, not without the force of government to back them up.)

Some, including mental health experts, insist that Norway's mass murderer is less than culpable due to mental illness. They simply refuse to accept that any accountable person could choose to be so callously evil. In court, however, this man seems to be readily demonstrating that he is quite aware of what he has done and is quite capable of engaging in long-term planning and preparation. This is reminiscent of some Nazi zealots in WWII Germany.

I find it interesting that few would consider the 19 hijackers that carried out the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks to be mentally ill, but this is the first conclusion to which many jumped following the arrest of Norway's infamous terrorist.

One of the features of modern society is the tendency toward moral relativism. The concepts of good and evil become passe. While this can help bridge divides, it can be taken to such an extreme that otherwise erudite people respond in ridiculous ways when faced with actual evil. The institutionalized inability to conceive of individuals as willingly choosing evil may be one of the reasons that Norway's police were not up to the task of properly handling last year's terrorist attacks.

With each passing day, the trial of this terrorist increasingly demonstrates how brazenly wicked humans are capable of becoming. There is certainly a danger that the trial could enthuse and inspire some terrorists or would-be terrorists. But there is value in that the facts laid out in the trial inspire visceral revulsion among most people. The trial can't help but discredit this man's philosophy in the minds of the vast majority of people.

Norway needs to handle this case according to its laws. Regardless of how the case is decided, it is imperative that this man never again be permitted to be in a position to injure others in the name of his political beliefs. While the man wishes to be executed, supposedly to become a martyr for his cause, that is simply not possible under Norway's laws, no matter how much it is deserved. Besides, there is some poetic justice in knowing that this heinous killer won't get his way.

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