Blog Archives

The Lawyer Lippestad

This will be the last post on this subject as it is too horrific and exhausting to continually engage with.

It is reported that Breivik’s lawyer, Geir Lippestad has said that he believes his client is insane. For the record, what Lippestad said is,”This whole case indicated that he is insane.” And that is the difficulty. How to separate, in retrospect, the man Breivik from his mission. And not just the man, but the man’s mind.

Once you know what horror he has perpetrated, which in my mind, Lippestad’s mind, is insane beyond belief, how can you say he is not mad? And if you are the lawyer, holed up with a mass murderer for hours listening to an individual, alternate reality wherein we are just behind in our thinking by about 60 years and by then Breivik’s actions as part of wider war will be understood, how could you not doubt the man’s sanity. Because if Lippestad did not doubt that Breivik’s whole thinking was insane, then where an earth would that leave him. A plea of insanity, which Breivik has not made, is inversely a plea for his lawyer’s sanity.

How do beliefs, realities and narratives combine to inform a true madness? Can you really retrospectively judge the mind that planned the insane and murderous action for years beforehand? Do you just judge the act in isolation or the person after it? If someone acted alone, with no group to sponsor the atrocity does that make it more a terrorist act and less mad? Where are the lines drawn?

I am back now to where they started the debate on the Today programme I think. Are we culturally more inclined to dismiss a white loner as a madman than an Islam fundamentalist? Take Richard Reid the thankfully failed shoe bomber; he acted alone, but he had trained in a terror camp in Afghanistan; that connection rendering him more sane than Breivik at least in the view of the Western World. More answers than questions here I am afraid, but insanity as a label because we cannot conceive of another’s beliefs, let alone actions, means we learn little about others and even less about ourselves.