With typical alacrity, the islamophobic right have moved from claiming the Norwegian terrorist was a muslim, to claiming it was a “false flag” operation to claiming he is just a lone madman. The reasons they have to do this are obvious – labeling him a terrorist places him in a political context, and the political context in this case is scum like this, who have been peddling exterminationist anti-muslim, anti-“marxist” propaganda with increasing stridency in the past few years.

Recently on this blog I’ve been examining the role of propaganda in driving Allied and Japanese atrocities in world war 2, based on my reading of the book War Without Mercy. The “lone madman” excuse is relevant to this, because a lot of the people making this claim are doing so purely on the fruits of Bleivik’s work – that is, anyone who would kill 70 unarmed people must be a madman – and I don’t think history tells us this is a valid logical approach. The right-wing shockjocks and anti-“cultural marxists” are unable to point to his writings as proof of his insanity, since they are basically a quite lucid reproduction of the works of Pam Geller, early Little Green Footballs, Free Republic, Glenn Beck, Andrew Bolt and Melanie Phillips. So instead they point to his actions as evidence of his insanity (just as they also point to his actions as evidence he can’t be a christian).

But the history of war – and even recent wars, in Vietnam and World War 2 – show us that you don’t have to be a madman to kill a lot of unarmed people. The atrocities depicted in War Without Mercy were carried out by otherwise quite ordinary people who returned comfortably and without difficulty to ordinary lives after the war. Machine-gunning lifeboats, murdering unarmed sailors floating in the water, shooting significant numbers of prisoners in cold-blood, calibrating your flamethrowers so it takes the enemy a while to die, cutting out their fillings while they’re still alive, making them dance to your shooting before you finally tire of the game and kill them, throwing them from planes, or forcing them to fight after they try to surrender – all in a day’s work for some ordinary Allied soldiers in the Pacific War. So are we to conclude that these ordinary soldiers were also mad? We can’t conclude they were driven mad by war, since none of these things were done in significant numbers in Africa or Europe, even when the Allies were losing. Why should only Allies in the Pacific theatre be mad? Some selection process?

No, the answer is that they weren’t mad, and they were doing what they believed was necessary. For another example of the same, consider the “order police” described in Richard Browning’s Ordinary Men. These soldiers, mostly too old to join the regular army, usually married and with children of their own, participated in large-scale extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe over a 2 year period during world war 2. They were offered at first the chance to avoid these duties, many of them had to get drunk to do it, and often they tried to get local collaborators (e.g. Tiwis) to do the worst of it. But many of them still did it, even though it sickened them. They were doing what they thought was necessary, and they thought it was necessary because the propaganda told them so. History provides us many many examples of people who did terrible things from a position of lucid sanity, and there is no reason to judge the Norwegian terrorist by any different standard.

If he is mad, he will be judged so on DSM-IV criteria by a physician, not on the basis of this action. Similarly, if he is christian he should be judged so on his participation in christian rites and acceptance of Jesus, not on the basis that “no christian would kill 70 unarmed people.” And whether or not he was insane, the islamophobic right needs to accept that he picked his targets based on their propaganda. Whether he chose to kill 70 people because he was insane or because he thought it was a necessary first act in a war, the people he chose to kill were identified for him by the right-wing propagandists whose ludicrous paranoid rantings he was so obssessed with. He is a terrorist of the right, and the right needs to accept the crucial role their propaganda played in prepping him and identifying his targets.