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.