Breivik Psych Report: An Alibi for Hate

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The court psychiatrists evaluation of Norwegian neo-fascist killer Anders Breivik as paranoid schizophrenic follows in a long line of similar evaluations of recent far-right murderous attackers in Western Europe and gives the lie to the notion that the political abuse of psychiatry was a phenomenon of the former USSR alone. By rendering his crimes "apolitical" the official version of "not bad, just mad" absolves the propagandists of the hate that motivates Breivik and other far-right extremist killers of any responsibility for their violence. The Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips, whose vile stream of hate-propaganda against muslims was extensively quoted in Breivik's manifesto for murder, will doubtless be toasting the Norwegian psychiatrists verdict with champagne. (Pic: Passport photo of Breivik released by Norwegian police for press use)

This Tuesday the two psychiatrists appointed by the Norwegian court to carry out a psychiatric evaluation of the state of mind of Anders Breivik stunned Norway by announcing that, in their assessment, he was suffering from psychosis at the time of his rampage this Summer and could not be held legally responsible for his actions. Breivik's bombing of government buildings in Oslo and subsequent murderous spree at the Norwegian Labour Party Youth conference on the holiday island of Utøya this July left 77 people dead, 153 injured and hundreds more traumatised.

Breivik had started his political life as a neo-nazi but later followed the growing trend by European fascist movements of trading in his former anti-semitism for islamophobia and re-inventing himself as an Israel-friendly defender of Christian (white) Europe against the "islamic menace". In this he was not only following the drift of many of his former neo-nazi comrades, but plugging into a wider right-wing “clash of civilisations” movement stirring up paranoia against muslims in Europe and further afield. Ever since 9/11 made the “War on (islamic) Terror” the watch-word for the Right in USA and Western Europe, the right-wing columnists and media commentators have promoting the fear of muslims as the collective threat to Western civilisation. Much as their forebears in the 1920s and 1930s whipped up popular prejudice and racism against the Jews of Europe, so their modern day counterparts are stigmatising the “moor next door” as the enemy within, never mind the bankers...

Breivik’s attacks were preceded by those of the English BNP nail-bomber, David Copeland in 1999 and the French neo-nazi Maxine Brunerie’s assassination attempt on then President Jacques Chirac in 2002. In both cases the culpability of the attackers was reduced by attempts to label their actions the result of individual mental illnesses (depression in Brunerie’s case and paranoid schizophrenia once again in Copeland’s) and the link to their extreme-right political activities was glossed over.

There is a fundamental asymmetry here between this treatment and that of left-wing, anarchist or republican authors of armed attacks. In the latter case both the media and police are immediately united in linking the presumed perpetrators to a whole network of assumed associates. The results, experienced so many times over the years, are that known political activists are arrested, websites are shutdown and computers seized, meeting places or even non-politically affiliated community or social centres known to be frequented by “fellow travelers” are raided and shut down. Arrested republicans or left-wingers tried for attacks may be vilified in the press but only so as to further increase their assumed culpability and to extend the logic of guilt by association as widely as possible amongst anti-capitalist or anti-state sympathisers. No greater contrast could be found than that with the consistent treatment of fascists and neo-nazis charged with attacks or found in possession of arms and explosives (many of whom walk free).

This gives the lie to the supposedly even-handed treatment of left and right wing “extremists” by the state and media. The reasons for this go deeper than favouritism towards the “useful idiots” who channel social resentment into violence against marginalised scapegoats rather than the ruling capitalist and political elites. It is less to do with the patronage of racist losers than protecting the freedom to propagate the politics of hatred by the “respectable” hired opinion-formers in the corporate media. The likes of Melanie Phillips may not get their hands dirty pouring petrol through the letterboxes of their muslim neighbours, but defending their right to spread the ideological poison that motivates those that do, is a priority for the capitalist employers they serve. The corporate media are not neutral in the politics of hate, they have too much vested interest in the matter.

Of course it is not possible to diagnose the presence or absence of mental illness through the pages of a newspaper. It may even be that Anders Breivik actually suffers some mental illness. But what is clear is that all the reasons advanced from immediately after his arrest, for why he was clearly ill - the horrific nature of his actions, the extremity of his beliefs - can equally be the deeds and actions of a perfectly sane right-wing extremist. The reason for the recurrent pattern of pathologising right-wing terror attacks as the acts of isolated sufferers from personal delusions - accidents occasioned by disease, rather than political acts - has nothing to do with leniency for the perpetrator, who is likely to spend the rest of his life in a secure mental hospital, a prison with added chemical cosh, and everything to do with the protection of hatespeech itself.

Let’s leave the last word to a Norwegian commentator, Aslak Syrah Myhre who wrote in the Guardian: “As most Norwegians, I do not have the medical skills to support or overrule the verdict of a psychiatric commission. Either way, the paranoia and the crimes of Anders Breivik are his own, but his hatred does not come from a delusional mind. We recognise it as the white man's hatred that we have known for a century. His acts of terror mirror the views and expressions of a multitude of rightwing extremists. He is not alone in his madness.” 

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