Why ABB Shouldn’t Be Roasted Over a Slow-Burning Fire

I’m outraged — by my own wish that Anders Behring Breivik be treated as a human being.

My basest instincts would love to see him fry in a very earthly hell. But although the though of him living on and perhaps even coming out into society 21 years from now, in principle cleared of his guilt, makes me angry, I still don’t think the frying pan is a very good idea after all.

Our civilization is based on a belief in a certain fundamental core of human-ness shared by all human beings. To this human-ness, we have added a set of rights.

Now, I think it’s sound to be clear that this is a belief and not an objective fact, because it gives us the opportunity — and in times of crisis, the obligation — to ask ourselves, individually and collectively, what we base that belief on.

Also, I don’t think of these rights as “universal” or “inalieanable” in any other sense than as a statement of interest: it’s something we, as a society of human beings, have established, because we believe society works better that way — not something that comes automatically, just from being a human being.

Those “rights” are being violated all the time, even in the most civilized societies. I don’t really believe that violating them once more, explicitly and consciously – e.g. by ripping the bastard apart limb by limb – would ruin the foundation upon which our society is based, nor that that would mean that he has won and “we” have lost. Letting the collective expose a person who has demonstrated un-human behaviour beyond belief to inhuman treatment, does not turn us all into a barbarian mob. Human rights is a contract, and a contract can be renegotiated in changing circumstances.

I also don’t believe in the solution that some have suggested: that he be forced to listen to the stories of the survivors and the families of the murdered ones until the day he dies. What would be the point of that? Tormenting his soul? Saving it by making him repent? Letting him realize his mistake and bringing him back into the fold of decent citizens again? Sorry, it won’t happen.

When I still don’t think it’s a good idea to roast him, it’s mainly because I believe the course staked out by the Norwegian prime minister (“We will retaliate with more democracy, more openness, but never naïveté”) and by one of the survivors of the massacre (“If one man can show this much hate, think how much love we can show together“) is a much more productive path to take.

Emphasising community, interdependence, embrace, is not only a way to improve our society — even and especially in extreme conditions — it is also an excellent way to prove him wrong.

If that thought tortures him, all the better.

The potential risk of turning him into some kind of martyr is also a reason — again, pragmatic, not ideological — to abstain from “medieval” treatment.

The problem still remains what to do with the beast in the meantime, but the best would perhaps be to ignore him completely — to wipe him off our collective memory and let his place be taken by communal values.

If we roast him, someone will hear him scream, metaphorically or literally.

He may have a contractual right to humane treatment, but not to be paid any attention.

He may have the right to speak, but not to be listened to.


10 thoughts on “Why ABB Shouldn’t Be Roasted Over a Slow-Burning Fire

  1. Thank you. Good text. My son (8) asked before he went to bed: do you really have to talk more about the murderer? I told him, no. He asked what will happen to him. Will they kill him? No, I said. Can he come to us and kill us? No, I said. He will stay in jail, locked up, under surveillance. Can he break out? No. Will they torture him? No, son, they will not torture him. He will be locked up for the rest of his life. He will eat, read, smoke cigarettes, sleep, watch tv, play computer games, talk on the phone and do what he likes. But he will never get out of jail. I felt that that was exactly what my son wanted for him.

  2. Breivik has requested the right to address the court to “explain” (I believe that is his word) why he did it. Eyolf, I would assume you would be against that?

  3. There may be one more problem, though: If he comes free in two decades, will he still be a lunatic and dangerous?

  4. @Meinhard: Thanks for your story. It’s heartening to see that while I’m trying to be academic and analytic about it, an eight-year-old can comes along and ask all the right questions.

    @PoorHoward: Yes. Not because I think that will prevent his message from coming out — it will, and he’s already a hero among neo-nazis — but because he shouldn’t be granted any wishes. Human rights is not a holy duty to sacred principles.

    @heiner: Yes, if he comes out. There is of course the possibility that he will be sentenced to some kind of psychological treatment. There is also the possibility that at some point he falls in the prison stairs.

  5. ABB as a person is not important. What he has done will take a very long time to recover from for a democratic state. I don’t think he should be forgotten, since this will mean, that he will just be remembered by the wrong people, and that Norway will live on, with a trauma that nobody talks about. Just be clear, that as a person he means less than nothing. That we, we can concentrate on the social issues which create diviants likr him.

  6. One thing that I believe this shows is that mental illness and social deviance is everyone’s problem. It’s a social necessity for people with the kinds of symptoms that Breivik has to be adequately identified, diagnosed and placed under appropriate treatment. Unfortunately in most countries there are not sufficient resources devoted to mental health.

  7. ABB sicko knew only too well that the attitude toward him
    (except the one from victims relatives and friends)would be soft,wise,kind,tolerant
    like declared in this article and that’s partly why he went for the crime
    so insolently.If he knew that he would be really punished,he would
    think many times before doing.
    As I already told, it doesn’t look like a work of a lone madman at all

  8. Bless you Eyolf. Let’s try to be better than our base insticts. We can’t and won’t evolve as a culture or a species if we keep falling back on the old hatreds.

  9. Summer vacations (in Norway, incidentally) kept me from commenting more in this thread, which I had wanted to.
    First of all, I agree completely with Gerry. As a matter of fact, ABB was fully aware that he would be punished – he even expected to be shot. That’s not where his problem is, for sure.

    @Søren: Just to make it clear: I don’t think he should be forgotten (not that he ever will), but that he should be ignored — paid no attention to.
    He will certainly be a trauma, but only because of what he has done. If there is a trauma in sight beyond that, it’s probably because there are enough Norwegians who agree with him to a depressingly high degree. Now, what to do about that? Judging from the discussions in the web fora — and I’m talking about the comment fields at the main newspapers here, not the ultra-nationalist blogs — it mostly boils down to ignorance, fear, and a low self-esteem (on behalf of the community), none of which people like having brought to their attention. Sadly, the sane people either stay out of such discussions, or they discuss in civilized but local channels, while the wackos rule supreme in the mainstream media.

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