Muslim leaders in Norway say they are concerned that the anti-Islamic ideology of Anders Behring Breivik, the far-right fanatic now on trial for killing 77 people, is being overshadowed by questions about his mental state.
The self-described anti-Muslim militant shocked Norway on July 22 with a bombing and shooting rampage targeting the government headquarters and the Labor Party’s annual youth camp. Since he has admitted to the attacks, the key issue for the trial is to determine whether Breivik is sane enough to be held criminally responsible.
“I’m not a psychiatrist, but what is important is what he has done. That should be the focus, not how crazy he is,” said Mehtab Afsar, head of the Islamic Council in Norway, an umbrella organization of Muslim groups in the country. “He wants to get rid of Muslims and Islam from Europe. That is his main message. So I don’t see the point of using so much energy on is he normal, is he insane?” Afsar told The Associated Press.
Breivik has told the court his victims had betrayed Norway by opening the country to immigration. He called for a “patriotic” revolution aimed at deporting Muslims from Europe. In a 1,500-page manifesto he posted online before the attacks, Breivik frequently cited anti-Islamic bloggers who say Muslims are gradually colonizing Europe. But so far, much of the trial has focused on his mental health, rather than his ideology.
Some Muslims question the validity of pathologizing Breivik, saying the Norwegian is easily comparable to Islamic terrorists. “Nobody questioned Osama bin Laden’s sanity,” said Usman Rana, a doctor and newspaper columnist, following Friday prayers at one of Oslo’s largest mosques, the Sufi-inspired World Islamic Mission. “I believe he is sane, definitely. Those who think he is insane don’t know anything about terrorism,” Rana said.
“The reason we are focusing on him as a crazy person is because we have difficulties accepting that ‘one of us’ could do such a thing. In many ways a natural reaction, but still wrong,” said Shoaib Sultan, an adviser on extremism at the Norwegian Center against Racism. “There’s nothing new in the hatred of Behring Breivik, except for his gruesome actions,” Sultan said.