It is the only way that most people can make some sort of sense of what Anders Behring Breivik did in Oslo and a nearby holiday island in July last year.
Five Norwegian judges, however, have unanimously decided that Breivik is sane and have sentenced him to 21 years in jail, the maximum that Norwegian courts can mete out, even for such a horrendous crime. After two teams of psychiatrists produced conflicting evidence – one deciding that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, the other that he was sane – the judges took the view that he may well have narcissistic personality characteristics – was a self-obsessed oddball, in plain language – but was otherwise sane.
Breivik planned his atrocity with such meticulousness, it is hard to see how anyone other than a sane person could have done it. He collected a huge quantity of fertiliser and made a large car bomb, which he successfully detonated, and then travelled to the island youth camp in a fake police uniform equipped with a pistol, an automatic rifle and lots of ammunition. An insane act, but he planned it sanely.
His declared motivation might be judged insane too. He believed that the Norwegian government, and the Labour Party in particular was engaged in the Islamification of Norwegian society, promoting multiculturalism and destroying the country’s and its people’s identity. His acts, he hoped, would rally the like-minded to his cause. Most may well think that insane too, but in truth it is merely bizarre.
In taking these views, the court decided that Breivik is a bit weird and has nutty beliefs, but that does not make him insane. In so doing, it decided there is no defence for what he did and must take the due punishment prescribed by law. To British eyes, the sentence may look a bit lenient but since Breivik was also defined as someone dangerous to society, it means that he may well stay in prison a lot longer if there is any lingering suspicion that he still presents a risk.
Are there any lessons? Yes, but they are of limited value. Clearly anyone interested in acquiring automatic weaponry and large amounts of ammunition has to be viewed with great suspicion. But because the ways of doing that are diverse and can be hidden, the surveillance that would be required to detect it in advance and prevent it may well be too great for an open society to tolerate. The fact is that tight gun control does indeed make a difference, but cannot be a total defence against such acts.
The sad fact is that no matter how decent and ordered a society is, and Norway is pretty far up the decency league, there will always be monsters capable of monstrous acts.
The wrong kind of exposé
Press freedom is essential to a democratic society and should be defended vigorously. But it is hard to support the action of the Sun newspaper in publishing pictures of a naked Prince Harry taken in a hotel suite.
The defence is that Prince Harry is third in line to succeed to the throne and, therefore, the public has a right to know about all his activities. The pictures had already been published on the
internet and were, therefore, in the public domain. The pictures were taken in a room into which people he hardly knew had been invited, so the right of privacy had been forfeited.
The arguments are spurious. Respect of privacy is enshrined in the Press Complaints Commission’s Editor’s Code of Conduct, a code agreed by the industry – and a hotel suite is a private space no matter how many are invited to share it.
The fact that the pictures are already available to any newspaper reader with an internet connection does not give a newspaper license to publish. The decision to publish demands consideration of whether a public interest is being served. Try as we might, The Scotsman cannot conceive of a public interest defence that carries any weight. It might seem odd for a newspaper to argue thus, but the truth is that newspapers have to be seen to act responsibly and in accordance with agreements that are already in place. At a time when news organisations’ rights to self-regulate are under close scrutiny via the Leveson inquiry, newspapers should be even more acutely aware of maintaining and repairing the contract we have with our readers and society in general which the actions of a small number have damaged.