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21 for 77.

August 24, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” Anders Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing extremist who detonated a bomb downtown Oslo, Norway, and who opened fire on a youth camp on the island of Utoya killing 77 people and injuring over 200, most definitely committed an injustice that has been felt everywhere. Breivik’s mass murder outnumbers the last three major U.S. shootings (Sikh Temple, Colorado theater, and Arizona Gifford’s shootings) by 47 lives. The numbers are somewhat arbitrary because any loss of an innocent life at the behest of an offender is one too many, but taking nearly 100 lives in a single day rivals modern warfare, and in the case of the U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, 100 deaths is typically a “bad” month, not a single day. As suspected, Norway courts found Breivik guilty. They also found him to be mentally sane; therefore, he will spend his sentence in prison and not a mental institution. His sentence is the highest Norway legally allows: 21 years. That is a little under four months served per death. Fortunately, after 21 years, his sentence can be reinstated, thus allowing him to theoretically serve a life sentence. Hopefully, this is the case.

I realize parts of Europe prefer rehabilitation to incarceration more so than in the U.S. For many, the debate is ongoing, and nations typically sentence criminals to varying degrees of lengths of incarceration attached with either mandatory or voluntary rehabilitation. The degrees by which this varies from county to country no doubt have much to do with legal precedent, cultural and political institutions, religious concerns, and academic research. The U.S., though it varies state to state, is typically more prone to incarceration and longer sentences than many parts of Europe. Breivik, a mass murderer who took 77 lives, injured over 200 more, and affected the lives of thousands; whether sane or not, deserves to be removed from society and punished harshly. Norway is a democracy, and its legislature has crafted legislation such that, in theory, it represents the citizens of its country, thus a 21 year sentence is the maximum for any crime. In reading comments from families of those affected, many proclaimed they were satisfied with the sentence and some even stated they would enjoy the opportunity to yell at Breivik, but not to do him harm as they do not believe in violence. It is quite interesting to see the differences that exist from state to state and from culture to culture in how even mass murder is perceived and thought to be dealt with.

It is good to know Breivik will be confined for at least 21 years and most likely for his life. His atrocity is an injustice incomprehensible to Norwegians as the country is quite peaceful, and even for the U.S., a country often riddled with higher violent crime rates than other democratic, industrialized nations, the crime is mind-boggling. The string of mass murders that have occurred as of late in the U.S. and the Breivik case should remind us of the fact that even in democratic, industrialized, and educated nations, we are still vulnerable to mass violence. Many claim it cannot or will not happen to their country – only to poor or backward countries, or that it cannot or will not happen now – that type of violence is reserved to an earlier, less civilized time. Even countries with some of the strictest gun laws, happiest people, highest GDP per capita, highest education levels, and lowest rates of violent crime can be struck by mass murder. Violence is an equal opportunity affliction, that crosses borders, religions, laws, political regimes, and culture.

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