There are those who say that the ideas and words were correct but the man was a lone lunatic. They are indignant when accused of creating the world in which the murderer lived. They refute the notion that it was their writings and speeches which fed the monster and pushed him over the edge from rhetoric to action. They invoke the dangers of repression of free speech to defend their own speeches or writings. They condemn violence but will not concede that their words and ideas can lead to violent actions.
But I think they need to think again. Forbidding what people may say or write is not the answer. But those who speak and write cannot just disconnect themselves from the consequences of what they speak or write. Words and ideas are not actions but one person’s words cannot be insulated or divorced from the actions of others that they may cause. Using language is not without responsibility. If we want the freedom to speak and write whatever we want then we cannot escape from some of the responsibility for whatever ensues from what we speak or write.
Anders Behring Breivik was not born a murderer. Somewhere along his 32 years of history he became one. I have no doubt that some part of his early upbringing contributed to this and that his parents bear some – rather diffuse – responsibility. We don’t know enough about human behaviour to be certain what factors in his childhood may have laid the foundation for the choices he later made. But certainly it was at this time that the choices that would become available to him were defined. The possibility that he could become a mass-murderer – the path he could tread – was surely created then. But it was his own choices which took him down this path. He joined the Freemasons and was later seduced by a glorified fantasy of the Knight Templars. His world – by his own choice – for the last decade or so has been in that populated by the anti-left, anti-immigrant, anti-islam, christian fundamentalist bigots and a large part of that world has been on-line. He has devoured the extreme rhetoric that was there to be devoured. That it was readily available and politically acceptable – albeit with a minority – has provided him with a cloak of legitimacy for continuing down his path and eventually making the choices he did. And somewhere along the way, something in this rhetorical environment where hate was not just permitted but was politically legitimised and socially acceptable, pushed him over the edge from compiling manifestos to killing teenagers. In his world his actions were rational and those who helped to create his world cannot just dismiss his actions as those of a lone lunatic. He surely bears the responsibility for the choices he has made and for his actions. But others bear responsibility too.
Another Anders Behring Breivik is developing somewhere right now. And while we may not know where this may be and the environment in which he is developing and what rhetoric is triggering his choices, all politicians and journalists and bloggers and writers who disseminate extravagant rhetoric need to think twice about the consequences of their words. None of them speak or write to be ignored. They all have the intention – or the wish – that their words will be listened to, will form opinion and will lead to actions. And when their words lead to actions – but not perhaps the actions they intended – another Anders Behring Brevik may appear.
Der Spiegel carries a story about the behaviour of one particular group which – to me – sounds like it has the potential for creating another Anders Behring Brevik. It only takes one.
Experts are worried about the children of Germany’s neo-Nazis growing up in isolated extremist communities. The children read Nazi-era books, put together puzzles showing maps with 1937 borders and attend camps with ideological instruction.
….. The more brazen the self-identified “National Socialist Movement” has become in Germany in recent years, the more energy it is devoting to members’ children. Investigators estimate that neo-Nazi households are raising several thousand children to be familiar with weapons, violence, raiding private homes, Nazi cult objects, songs of the Hitler Youth and Waffen-SS, and the worshiping of major figures from the Third Reich. They are unwittingly becoming part of a sworn “fighting community” hidden behind a middle-class façade.