Norway: the evil lives among us.
Mark Singer, a writer I've admired for decades, struggles in the New Yorker to make some kind of sense of Anders Behring Breivik and the tragedy of Oslo and Utoya. And doesn't, because so far there is none, and even in time there may be very little.
What we do know from Tucson earlier this year, from the Montreal Massacre, Oklahoma City, Waco, Virginia Tech, Columbine - is that we're not dealing with terrorism or Islamofascism. Terrorists are comparative weaklings seeking to frighten more powerful agents, even nations, to do their bidding. That's not these case here. And Breivik is an Islamophobe.
These are homegrown mass murderers whose agendas are all over the place. Marc Lepine was resentful of women engineering students who qualified for studies and he didn't. The Columbine murderers were kids, fellow students who claim to have been ostracized by classmates. Timothy McVeigh, the Branch Davidians and the Tuscon assailant were anti-government conspiracy theorists. Jeffrey Dahmer, Robert Pickton, Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo were sado-sexual deviants. Breivik is a white supremist who wrote a 1,500-page anti-Islamic tract for fellow "crusaders" he hoped to recruit. Yet what has anti-Muslim sentiment to do with slaughtering scores of children at a Norwegian summer camp?
The answer, I'm afraid, is that the camp was a target close to hand for a deranged individual of limited resources. True, McVeigh shlepped from upstate New York to Oklahoma. But most of the above perpetrators committed their atrocities, of necessity, close to home. Which means we're simply going to have to pay more attention to the nutters among us, because they're most likely to strike in our own neighborhoods.
It should be obvious by now that we're fighting the enemy within.
Singer, who has written extensively on McVeigh and Oklahoma City, has a marvelous sifting of similarities and differences of the motives of these dangerously disturbed individuals. What this latest tragedy points to is a need for greater public awareness of mentally disturbed folks among us, whose odd behavior we must now take more seriously and carefully monitor. And there's no getting around the role that guns play in these tragedies. Oklahoma City was a bombing, of course, and we can thank God that the explosives the Columbine perpetrators set for lunchtime in the school cafeteria failed to go off.
But most of these tragedies - including Breivik, who used both bombs, in Oslo, and a firearm in killing, again, 68 people, mostly children, in a casual 90-minute killing spree - were amplified by access to firearms. Indeed, what the slaughter Breivik perpetrated at the island holiday camp at Utoya would have been impossible without a firearm. The same applies at Fort Hood, Virginia Tech and l'Ecole Polytechnique. It is extremely difficult to argue for open-ended firearm-ownership rights when the greater good of public safety is increasingly imperiled by a particular individual freedom.
Breivik, disguised as a policeman and armed with weapons loaded with expanding bullets, spent a leisurely 90 minutes stalking and killing 68 people, tells us that he knew precisely what he was doing to his victims. And he took a considerably longer view of history than McVeigh did. He had evidently planned his attack for a decade, and his 1,500-page manifesto envisioned an ethnically cleansed European Christian civilization in 2083. Regardless of the quality of the end product, he was nothing if not a deliberate thinker.
Like McVeigh, Breivik sees himself as a warrior, and what the two have most in common is that they each accomplished something special.
Lack of self-esteem and self-fulfilment is, we're learning, a root cause of widespread social maladies. It looms large in spouses who put up with chronic partner abuse, the turning to substance abuse, the turning in extreme cases to accomplishing something "special" by killing others.
Psychologists and sociologists can tell us which comes first, the desire to kill or the desire to be important. At some point they come together in monstrous sins against humanity. We need to get on this case now.