Are Terrorists Mad or Bad?

Anders Breivik
Image by Oslo politidistrik via Flickr

Anders Breivik – Convicted Terrorist

It seems that Anders Breivik is insane. Mr Breivik will therefore go to a psychiatric hospital rather than a prison.

Mr Breivik is the man who shot dead 77 Norwegian people during a killing spree at a Labour Party youth camp.

That was, indeed, a very terrible crime. Mr Breivik admitted as much:

He has previously said the attacks were atrocious but “necessary”, saying he was fighting to defend Europe from a Muslim invasion, which was being enabled by what he called “cultural Marxists” in Norway’s Labour Party, and the European Union.

The two psychiatrists who decided he is insane said he lived in:

his own delusional universe where all his thoughts and acts are guided by his delusions.

The BBC says they have concluded he is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Hmm. I’m afraid I don’t find that terribly convincing.

Clearly, any right-thinking, decent person would find Mr Breivik’s crimes appalling and awful. Does that make him mad?

Just because we cannot understand his actions, or accommodate them within our own view of the world, does that make him clinically insane?

Are terrorists who carry out mass murder automatically ill? Were the IRA terrorists suffering from a psychiatric illness?

Mr Breivik’s world view is alien and awful to most people. But that does not necessarily mean that he has a clinical, medical illness. Unless he was hearing voices telling him to do the murders or something, his actions were the actions of a terrorist, not a madman. His world view is wrong, and it is wrong to murder people to further a political struggle in any case. But people who do those things are not mad. They are, instead, immoral and dangerous. They are bad, not mad.

As far as I can see, Mr Breivik’s actions were an appalling mass murder and he should face the consequences as a criminal, like any other terrorist. Pretending he is ill is an insult to his victims, demeans the profession of psychiatry and is even unfair on Mr Breivik. To give him the respect to which he is entitled as a human being demands that we hold him accountable for his actions.