Breivik’s actions puts him in a different category to Martin Bryant, Michael Ryan, Thomas Hamilton, Cho Seung-Hui or countless other madmen who destroyed multiple lives randomly in mundane settings. Breivik’s aim was to wipe out an entire political class, the current generation at the Oslo offices of the Prime Minister and the next generation at the youth camp in Utoya, leaving almost 100 dead people in his grisly wake. The first hand account of Prableen Kaur on Utoya is more chilling than anything Hollywood could dream up by way of terror. Unlike most of the other mass murderers, Breivik did not turn the gun on himself. Instead he gave himself up and spoke freely of his actions in the start of the second act of his deadly charade.Breivik’s careful planning took into account the aftermath. In setting up his recent Twitter and Facebook accounts, he knew the media would trawl all over his digital footprint in the wake of the atrocity. He was relying on mass media to get his message out beyond the lunatic fringe. This was why the judge closed the court when Breivik appeared this week. Breivik desperately wanted an open court and be seen wearing a uniform. Some painted it as a press freedom issue, but the question is “press freedom to do what?”
Judge Kim Heger agreed with police there was nothing to gain from giving him a soapbox. Heger did the right thing by kicking the media out and placing Breivik in solitary confinement for four weeks. Despite the need for transparency in the law, the media could simply not be trusted. On Saturday, established journals were led astray by the feverish demands of the media machine, and blamed Islamic extremism without a shred of evidence. Nature and the media abhor a vacuum and the information gap was filled with “fact free conjecture” as Charlie Brooker put it.
There was the inevitable mad scramble to find out as much as possible about the life and motivations of the killer. Most picked up the crumbs of evidence he deliberately left behind. Others rushed into the arrant nonsense the shootings somehow “destroyed Norway’s innocence.” Nor was Norway “suddenly exposed to the banality of evil.” Many people have lost relatives or friends but that is no reason to infantilise the tragedy. Norway is a complex first world country not an eight-year-old child.
Immigration is on the rise in Norway as it is across Europe. Many are uneasy with the changing demographic though few would be violent about it. Islam is the country’s second largest religion and there has been a corresponding rise in support for the anti-immigration Progress Party, now the second-largest party in Parliament. Lilit Gevorgyan, Europe analyst at the IHS Global Insight think-tank, sees the killings as a chance to be a catalyst for an honest discussion of the issue in the political centre. “If the twin attacks fail to trigger an honest discussion of the issue, exposing often scare-mongering arguments used by the extreme right, this may marginalise the radical groups and worsen the situation, which in turn could bring more similar attacks in the future,” Gevorgyan said. “This is not just an issue in Norway. Across Scandinavia and also in Western and Eastern Europe, you have a lot of people who are very frustrated by the lack of open debate.” Maybe this is giving in to Breivik, but he has released the genie and it will be impossible to put it back in the bottle.