The Breivik verdict: Justice for his victims & a setback for the Right

by · August 25, 2012

I have some pieces up responding to the Breivik verdict today (see below for links). I was also interviewed by New Scientist magazine, so watch out for that. Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so yet, you can still buy the e-book that Elizabeth Humphrys, Guy Rundle and I co-edited last year in response to the Norway Massacre, On Utøya: Anders Breivik, Right Terror, Racism and Europe — seller details here.

I have said this elsewhere, but one thing that has not come out enough in all the debates about Breivik’s mental state is how the casual presumption that violence is linked to mental disorder has been inflated by many commentators, when in fact it is a much weaker connection than is often supposed. I think this has led to the increased stigmatisation of people with mental health problems.

The Guardian’s Comment is Free section commissioned an initial response from me.

Once it was realised a white, middle-class Norwegian man was the culprit and that he’d left a sickening but coherent 1,500-page manifesto for all to read, the race was on for some on the right to depoliticise Breivik’s acts. The problem was that his politics were not just similar to their own, but often drawn directly from their statements, cut and pasted into his tract. In many cases the only difference was that he took their language of a war of civilisations to its logical conclusion in violence. …

The main form this depoliticisation took was the medicalisation of Breivik’s actions in terms of psychological or psychiatric pathology. Within days, everyone from forensic psychiatrists to the London mayor, Boris Johnson, felt the need to put Breivik in a diagnostic box. Occasionally, even reportage of his personal history and psychology went to ludicrous extremes to seek his motives in anything but what he actually said. This reached its pinnacle with the first court-ordered psychiatric report, which found him to be suffering from “paranoid schizophrenia” on the basis of clumsy and inappropriate interpretation of ideas and behaviours common in far-right and online gaming subcultures.

I also wrote an article for the UK-based Socialist Worker newspaper:

There’s a racial double standard here. Entire Muslim communities are routinely demonised for the actions of Al Qaida. But when the terrorist is a white, middle class male, he is painted as a “lone wolf” or “madman”. The implication is that the roots of his behaviour are nothing to do with the society he emerged from.

In Norway and elsewhere, we have seen increasingly strident Islamophobic and nationalist rhetoric enter mainstream politics. This has in turn fed the growth of hard right subcultures and organisations.

And Richard Seymour has posted the original version of his contribution to On Utøya at his blog, Lenin’s Tomb.

Breivik’s 2083 is a fascist manifesto not because it apes the language of fuhrers and duces past, but because it has absorbed the elements of contemporary reactionary discourse and articulated them in an agenda of mass rightist insurrection.  He has eschewed many of the obsessions and talking points of much white supremacist discourse, which has been concerned with reviving the prospects of fascism by restoring the reputation of the Nazi regime.  He does not need Holocaust denial to articulate his agenda, any more than he needs the hard biological racism of the colonial period to express his supremacism.  His vituperations about ‘cultural Marxism’ have, by placing crypto-communists in senior positions of authority, provided the conspiracy that he needs to explain the nation’s parlous circumstances.  The nefarious ‘Jew’ of anti-Semitic discourse is not rejected, but is qualified, allied to a Zionist posture, and is at any rate secondary to his wider schema.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank various people who have helped keep me informed and made me think about the Breivik case, starting of course with my On Utøya co-editors, Liz and Guy, as well as the other contributors: Richard, Jeff Sparrow, Lizzie O’Shea, Antony Loewenstein, and Anindya Bhattacharyya. Sigrun Tømmerås has kept me up to date with the psychiatric aspects of the case and Michael Seltzer has provided amazing background on Breivik’s past and ideological influences (which I hope to write about in more detail soon).

Discussion1 Comment

  1. […] (2012) ‘The Breivik verdict: Justice for his victims & a setback for the Right’ [online].… [accessed: 6 September […]