Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anders Breivik and what the question of his sanity says about us

As much as I am loathe to admit that I'm impressed by how smart a white supremacist mass murderer is, it bears mentioning that Anders Breivik actually has some half-decent insight into the way he's being framed by the media. And not just that he has any insight at all, but that he probably has more meaningful insight than the media itself.

Yesterday, Breivik made a couple of points about why his detractors want him to be found insane, some of which were surprisingly astute. (And some that were hilariously misdirected, but still not entirely wrong.)
  • No one would question his sanity if he were a "bearded jihadist." Now, Breivik is wrong about the reason that this double-standard exists, but he's right that it needs to be pointed out: Timothy McVeigh and David Koresh were batshit nuts, but Osama was a coolly-rational evil genius. Indeed, we've been told that all "militant" or "extremist" Muslims - not just the "crazy" ones! - are capable of killing large numbers of people, and that such violence is the predictable - if not logical - result of having been raised that way. But those positions can't both be right - either the Muslim and Christian extremists are equally nuts, or they're not. But that similarity needs to be denied, repeatedly but softly, so that we can maintain that shaky line between "us" and "them". (We - and by "we", I mean mainstream white America/Canada/Europe - don't even really entertain the possibility, do we?)
  • That he needs to be found insane, because it would "delegitimize everything [he] stand[s] for". Quite right, even if he gets the reasoning wrong. If he's insane, then we can deny the existence of racism among "sane" white people, and racism becomes something entirely exceptional and restricted to society's fringe.
  • That racism is responsible for the differential treatment. Yes, though - and I'm sure I don't have to explain why - he's completely wrong about what kind of racism is at play, here.

What Breivik's observations illustrate especially well - unknowingly and unintentionally, of course - is just how invested Euro-American society is in disavowing its own racism. And the need to find him insane? That's just a symptom of the problem.


Nathan Plastic said...

I *think* that I agree with you entirely, but I'm not sure what you mean by a couple of sentences:

"But that similarity needs to be denied, repeatedly but softly." Which similarity are you referring to? Who does it need to be denied by? Are you referring to the need of white/mainstream society to deny the similarities between "crazy" white terrorists and muslim terrorists? Or are you saying that we *ought* to be denying some other type of similarity? I don't get it.

"(We don't even really entertain the possibility, do we?)" What possibility? That both types of terrorists are crazy? Or that both types of terrorists are coldly rational? Or are you referring to the possibility of a double standard?

Otherwise, I certainly agree with you. Breivik makes a fair point, albeit for entirely the wrong reasons.

neilshyminsky said...

Right. "The similarity" is the similarity between white, Christian terrorists and brown, Muslim ones. And it needs to be denied by people who are invested in seeing that "we" are different from "them".

It was a slightly sarcastic sentence, and the next sentence was even more snarky. (But not obviously snarky.) Yeah, we don't see the mainstream media ("we") even consider that there's a double-standard at work - either both crazy or both rational. (Andrew Coyne's response to Breivik's testimony actually prompted this - he was Tweeting about how clearly insane he was because he wanted to behead the PM. As if that said it all, right there.)