People who believed they were right, continue to believe that they are right, and then go on to make people believe they are right, and then proceed to surround themselves with people they have successfully persuaded to see this self-conceived righteousness… Perhaps this is one of many ways a psychopath is made, and from which the occasional extremist emerges. The process is like a progressive cocooning of one’s self within layers of increasingly skillful self-rationalisation. Eventually the cocoon gets so thick and airtight that even a loss of or disenchantment among that cocooned person’s followers no longer moves him to reflect.
One can only guess what goes on in the mind of a man like Anders Behring Breivik who on the 22nd July allegedly shot to death more than 75 Norwegian Labour Party activists — many of them teenagers and young adults — at an island retreat as part of his crusade to “save Europe from Islam.” Even now remanded in police custody, he remains unremorseful about his actions and continues to refer to other “cells” in the organisations he associates himself with that remain out there willing to continue his fight.
Then again, perhaps it might be easier to understand such men than we think, considering that we most likely meet and routinely interact with milder versions of Breivik everyday. Garden variety psychopaths — perhaps not quite the extremist that a man like Breivik is, but in various stages of evolution into one such — surround us. One or two of members of our family perhaps, a handful of our colleagues at work maybe, fit a profile. Still more can be spied strutting about — on TV, in social media, on Church pulpits — expressing what to them is a crystal-clear but tunnel-visioned view of the world expertly tailored to fit an oversimplified ideology or dogmatic framework…
Without empathy and, therefore, lacking any capability to form normal relationships with other people, psychopaths apparently develop a talent for internal rationalisation. That is, they are able to spin a story that fits their preferred view of the world and the relationships they maintain in it and then tell this story to themselves. This seems to account for the psychopath’s inability to take external input on board or properly interpret responses to their behaviour exhibited by the people around them.
While an utter inability to grow or evolve characterises such people, there certainly is a continuum that exists between mere social annoyances and the murderous monsters like Breivik. This highlights the one thing Breivik achieved, maybe even something the families of his hapless victims can find feeble comfort in — that the valuable lesson is yet again reinforced, that terrorism is not a course of action engaged in solely by Ismalists. It is the outcome of a perversely exceptional style of thinking that can be identified and routinely profiled in a way that transcends race and religion, an opportunity sort of highlighted in the words of Zaheer Ahmad, president of the National Association of Muslim Police in the United Kingdom…
“We’ve been too busy looking at the threat from Islamist extremists and taken our eye off the ball on tracking the extremist right [...]”
Whether it is “Islamist extremists” or the “extremist right,” however, is beside the point. The point should be more around the need to apply a more fundmental criteria used to prioritise the intelligence-gathering activities of governments’ security forces — perhaps one drawn more along general behavioural cues (identifying what turns a tiny proportion of relatively benign psychopaths into the Hitlers, Bin Ladens, and Breiviks of this world) rather than along racial or religious lines. This possible misallocation of intelligence resources was revealed in what may have been a missed (albeit slim) opportunity to anticipate such attacks in the UK where the English Defence League (EDL) which Breivik had claimed to be linked to is based…
Nick Lowles, director of anti-extremist campaign group Hope Not Hate, said the decision not to classify the EDL as an extremist rightwing group severely limited the capacity of the police to “gather intelligence on the EDL, its members and its activities”.
“Despite the violence and racial hatred whipped up by this street gang the authorities refuse to label the group as “far-right extremists”.
As a result the police do not monitor the group like they do dozens of Muslim organisations and take little interest in its activities. One police officer who has responsibility for monitoring extremists recently told us that the EDL was only an issue when it had a knock-on effect on Islamist extremist groups.”
Sad that it is the blood lessons that often turn out to be humanity’s most valuable ones learned.