Circus Breivik

It is time for the circus of the century, when the trial against Anders Behring Breivik starts in Oslo this week. His defence is scheduled to begin on Tuesday (April 17), and even though the court has decided that no audio or video recording will be allowed, we can expect a theatre without its parallel in Norwegian juridical history.

The list of witnesses called for the defence ensures that. Breivik’s list is dominated by high-profile figures in Norwegian public debate, including the controversial Islamist insurgency/terrorist leader Mullah Krekar (himself recently imprisoned due to death threats), founder of the Odinist neo-nazi organization Vigrid, Tore Tvedt, maverick religious studies “scholar” Hanne Nabintu Herland, and famous politicians on the right and left, including Carl I. Hagen, former leader of the right-wing “Progress Party”, and Thorbjørn Berntsen, veteran of the Labour party. In addition, several journalists, bloggers, and academics, including the historian of religion Mattias Gardell (who wrote an excellent book on right-wing religion in the US, Gods of the Blood), and the professor of anthropology Thomas Hylland Eriksen, himself pointed out as a target in Breivik’s “manifesto”.

Whether all of these will show in the end remains to be seen. It is going to be a show anyway, and its focus is not going to be what happened on July 22 last year. This trial will be about two things: psychiatry and ideology. Two drastically conflicting reports on Breivik’s mental health have already ensured this. Added to this, of course, is Breivik’s own clearly stated wish to be judged as sane, and have his actions confirmed as ideologically motivated.

The trial is thus already highly unusual and its eventual outcome cannot fail to have an influence on the Norwegian juridical system in the future – especially the problematic relation between psychiatry and the courts.

On another level, the trial  will be followed carefully by scholars studying the ideological spectrum that Breivik appears to belong to: particularly counterjihadism, the European New Right, and the so-called “identitarian” movements. Incidentally, we will be discussion some of these questions at the conference on “Regimes of Religious Pluralism” in Amsterdam at the end of the week. The Breivik trial will most likely appear as a very special background to these discussions, and not least, show the great relevance for further academic research on this insidious part of contemporary politics.

(On a related note, I have a long editorial piece on Breivik in the present issue of The Pomegranate, which has just appeared in print. It was based on my three [1, 2, 3] blog posts on the topic from last summer. Check it out if you have access.)
Creative Commons LicenseThis blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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