In the wake of the horrific terror attack in Norway, several people have called for the preliminary hearings and subsequent court case to be held in private in order to deny the gunman Anders Breivik a platform for the spreading of his extremist beliefs.
This is an understandable reaction, not least considering the possibility of emulation and the obvious desire of Breivik to proclaim his views. Yet to deny Breivik a public hearing is also to concede him victory. It is to say that we accept the strength of his words and fear his line of argumentation will fall on fertile ground. This would confirm his worldview: namely, that the only reason multiculturalism and secular ideologies have ‘taken over’ in the West is because alternative viewpoints are suppressed.
Breivik considers he is a righteous defender of Western Christian civilization and is proud for his deeds. The young people meeting on the island of Utoya were anathema to him—their commitment to openness, diversity, political dialogue and conviviality emblematic for a type of social liberalism and cosmopolitanism which he deeply abhorred. These views are not only Breivik’s. They are shared by a number of right-wing extremists and it should, therefore, not come as a surprise if it turns out that he was well-networked, even if this specific terror attack was primarily his own doing in terms of logistical preparation and execution.
Breivik pushed to the extreme what is already entailed in seed form within fascism, namely, the belief that race and cultural purity exists, must be pursued at all costs, and is the prerequisite for nation-state supremacy. Moreover, like all good totalitarians, he began his mission with the extermination of those he considered to be against his views within his own country.
Geir Lippestad, Breivik’s lawyer, wants to pursue the ‘insanity’ route in order to defend his client. He cites Breivik’s ‘war narrative’ as evidence and the fact that he was on steroids and other drugs. That is unlikely to suffice. Nor will it be enough to show that his understanding of right and wrong is distorted, given that he rejects the validity of the democratic constitutional system on which the definition of these terms is based on.
It is tempting to want to dismiss Anders Breivik as insane. That would save us the trouble of confronting the nihilism he represents and its political implications. But even if he were to be certified insane, and as such declared not capable of personal responsibility, this should not be taken to imply the same for the ideology that has made him what he has become. It is for this reason that it is important not to hold the trial behind closed doors.