So Breivik has given us an eyes wide open gaze into the abyss. Chilling isn’t it? Much has been written in the last week about the political atrocity he committed, yet this article in the Sunday Star Times today is equally wrong. Here is why.
Many years ago I recall listening to a BBC correspondent reporting from the war in Kosovo. It was one of those 30min slots which allowed for some real depth. And for the first 15min or so we got depths alright. All these years later and I’ve still heard nothing quite so graphic or disturbing. It detailed what happened when war came to these small towns and villages, when neighbours who’d lived as companions all their lives found themselves and their families on wrong sides at wrong moments.
I’m tempted to go for effect and retell one story that haunts me still, about a girl gang-raped in her own home and what they did with her eyes afterwards. Sometimes you have to think that if us humans had any conscience at all we would collectively and simultaneously simply cease to exist under our cumulative, crushing burden of shame. But that will do.
The crucial question this BBC man asked was this. How was it that these people who had grown up together, had lived, worked, traded and married among each other… could so tragically turn on each other with such venom? How did this happen in a country that while it had it’s problems, like all others, was a by and large quiet, pleasant place to visit and have a nice holiday?
And the answer he made was the best I have heard yet.
The fact is that there is always evil among us. The psychopaths and misfits, the dysfunctional and the angry who are always capable of these acts. There are a thousand Breiviks lurking at any moment, who’ve sedulously nutured a myriad narrow grievances to justify their hatreds. They are the loners, both physically and metaphorically, who’ve drifted too far away from the rest of us. Human love hasn’t touched them in too long, their souls starved, their egos fed fat with grief, anger and bitterness.
In the normal course of events society holds them in check. The will of the majority acts to suppress and for the very large part prevent their twisted idle fantasies from become real.
But not all times are normal, and all societies have their hidden fault lines. These cracks in the human psyche can be racial, or religious, or economic… but for the most part they lie dormant. Yet they store a dark power… a power that ambitious actors, self-serving political leaders sometimes seek to exploit for their own personal advancement. When the political discourse becomes tainted with this poison, deliberately fed to us … those evil ones at the bottom of society, thrive upon it. Their dark plots, their soaring orgies of death are suddenly, instead of being vile and unacceptable, are now vindicated. And the unacceptable suddenly becomes possible… approved of even. Instead of universal voices of condemnation, you know there are others out there who will believe you died a hero.
Of course no-one necessarily directed Breivik to make these bombs, arm himself and commit slaughter. But his motives for these evil acts were empowered by those who approved of them.
And it only takes one act at the wrong moment, one act of terror that strikes unreasoning fear and loathing into the ordinary people, and these dormant fault lines are activated. The people polarise into mutually suspicious, energetically fearful blocks. One act of terror becomes several, and they feed on each other. Then… and this is the dread thing…. society unzips from the bottom upwards in an unstoppable torrent of death. No-one is exempt, nowhere is safe.
John Key was correct in this particular… this unravelling can happen ahywhere, it is wrong to think little safe NZ is somehow immune.
The lesson we must learn from Breivik is not the one he had in mind. We must learn, as each generation must, that the correct response to terror is to have the courage to face it fully in all its pale dripping ugliness, and to reject the power it seeks to have over us.
The lesson we must learn from Breivik is not the one he had in mind. The correct response to terror is the courage to mourn your losses with dignity, and facing your enemy ask, “Is that the best you can do?” And then patiently seek justice… not vengence.
The lesson we must learn from Breivik is not the one he had in mind. He sought to activate our fault lines. And we must learn to disarm them.
This is why we will not tolerate the injustices of casual sexism, racism, greedy exploitation and callous cruelty, because these acts only feed the subterranian tensions between us. All these non-essential differences must be put aside. There is but one human race, there is but one planet that nutures us, and all the life we share it with.
This is the lesson at the heart of Utoya.