Argument

Breivik Won

In the end, Norway's killer got what he wanted: official recognition that his extremist ideology doesn't make him a madman.

After being sentenced Friday to 21 years in prison for the July 22 attacks that killed 77 people in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik was asked how he wished to respond to the ruling. Did he wish to appeal? Did he want some time to think about it? Flanked by his attorneys, he shuffled some papers, pulled the microphone toward him, and denounced the proceedings.

"As I explained in my first statement to the court on April 16, I do not recognize this court as legitimate. I do not recognize this court as it has received its mandate from political parties that support multiculturalism.... The verdict is in my eyes illegitimate. At the same time, I cannot appeal the verdict, for to appeal would be to legitimize this court."

After a brief pause, Breivik continued: "I wish to end by expressing my regret. I express my regret to militant nationalists in Norway and Europe that I can no longer..."  With that, Judge Wenche Arntzen angrily cut him off. If Breivik wished to speak to his followers, Arntzen would have none of it, turning to Brevik's lawyer instead to determine whether he wished to file an appeal. He did not, Brevik's attorney said.

And with that, Norway's trial of a century came to an end -- and Brevik won. The prosecution had asked the court to find Breivik insane, an argument the court rejected, and in a press conference after the trial proceedings, it was announced that the prosecution would not appeal the ruling. But Breivik got exactly what he wanted: to be pronounced mentally fit enough to be punished for actions he has never disavowed, not dismissed as a madman.

Though he denounced the court as illegitimate and did not recognize its authority, Breivik admitted to carrying out the attack that amounted to Norway's worst peacetime atrocity. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, one question kept being asked: "How could this happen in Norway?" What could possibly compel this blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian to carry out a grisly attack against his countrymen, most of whom were teenagers at a political summer camp on the idyllic island of Utoya? Surely, many argued, this must be the work of a lunatic, someone who has lost all grip on reality, someone who is deeply ill.

But Breivik has rejected that narrative, styling himself as a foot soldier in the fight against "multiculturalism," which he thinks represents a mortal threat to all that he considers good --Norway, Europe, Christendom. In this way, Breivik represents the utmost extreme of a radical right-wing ideology that has made significant gains in Europe over the past two decades. In Norway, its representative is Fremskrittspartiet -- the Progress Party -- of which Breivik was at one point a member. Across the continent, a similar screed of xenophobic paranoia is peddled by the likes of Jean Marie le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and, before his death, Jorg Haider in Austria.

For this reason, Breivik is highly dangerous for the contemporary radical right. These parties have sought to place themselves as legitimate political movements while at the same time advocating explicitly racist policies, especially toward Europe's growing Muslim population. Breivik risks tarring these groups with his violent acts, which, in turn, endangers the parliamentary gains made by the far right. And make no mistake, the far right is on the march: In Norway, the Progress Party won 22.9 percent of the vote in 2009, the FPO won 17.5 percent of the vote in Austria in 2008, and the Freedom Party won 15.5 percent of the vote in the Netherlands in 2010.

The question of Breivik's sanity therefore cuts in two different directions. In Norway, dismissing Breivik as a madman allows his actions to be written off as an utter aberration. For the right, his insanity would mean that an ideological climate rich in racism and xenophobia had no significant role in nurturing a man who proclaims himself a soldier in a war for European civilization. But if he is sane, Norway faces the prickly question of explaining how such an act could have taken place. For the right, if he is sane, the ideological stew in which Breivik steeped becomes more difficult than ever to ignore.

In its decision Friday, the Oslo court had to decide between two conflicting psychiatric evaluations. One evaluation found that Breivik suffered from schizophrenia and could not be held accountable for his actions. The other found that while Breivik suffered from narcissistic personality disorder -- a condition marked by an "inflated sense of self-importance," according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health -- his mental state did not cross the line of psychosis and could, in fact, be comprehended within the context of his beliefs.

The court sided with the latter report and found that the first evaluation had erred by failing to consider "his actions in the light of his right-wing extremist ideology." In court on Friday, Judge Arntzen read the entire verdict, which goes into painstaking detail about the reasons for ruling in favor of Breivik's sanity.  It notes that when police arrived at Utoya after the shooting, Breivik calmly and clearly explained his actions. It notes that in conversations with his psychiatrists, Breivik is able to engage in the give and take of argument and is able to acknowledge the validity of other points of view. It further notes that he is now emotionally stable and has good impulse control.

But above these psychiatric niceties hovers the fictional organization to which Breivik claims to belong, the Knights Templar. Investigators have found no evidence of any such organization, and Breivik's insistence that there is in fact such a group dedicated to the battle against multiculturalism remains a prime example of the kind of delusional thinking that marks his worldview. But the court discounted this argument, contending that the Knights Templar was but one piece of Breivik's elaborate -- and rational -- plan. Such an organization, the court argued, was imagined to add legitimacy to Breivik's actions in the immediate aftermath of the attack and helped strike fear by raising the specter of other attacks. Crucially, the court argued, Breivik has de-emphasized the organization over the course of the trial, a clear example of his ability to think rationally and strategically.

In the days after the attack, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg delivered a widely praised speech in which he promised that Norway would respond to the attacks with "more democracy, more openness and greater political participation." A repudiation of previous responses acts of terror that have been followed by security crackdowns and rollbacks of civil liberties, Stoltenberg's vision was hailed as a brave embrace of democratic values. Stoltenberg's vision came to fruition Friday with a numbingly procedural reading of his verdict in a civilian courtroom with a team of lawyers at his side. But that wasn't enough to wipe the smug look off Breivik's face.

In the press conference with prosecutors that immediately followed Friday's ruling, a reporter for the Associated Press asked whether Breivik hadn't gotten everything he wanted. His attack was successful, and, now, an Oslo court, defying the wish of the prosecutors, had validated his sanity. The prosecutors dodged the question, saying they respected the court's decision, but the question hung in the air.

When he left the courtroom, Breivik made his trademark gesture: his clenched right fist touched his heart, and then he extended his arm in a modified Heil Hitler, his fist still clenched. Sixty-seven years after the end of World War II, it was a ridiculous gesture. But as his face curled into a smile, it was also gesture of victory -- at least in his mind.

Junge, Heiko/AFP/GettyImages

Argument

Sex and Scandal in the Holy Land

Washington went into crisis mode over news of a GOP congressman skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee. Israelis can barely stifle a yawn.

A nation was scandalized and titillated this week when it was revealed that a notable ruling class scion from abroad partied, disrobed, at one of its iconic tourist sites.

The giddily aggrieved publication breaking the scandal used language -- BARE ASSED, WILD and "hot chicks" -- that underscored the younger nation's Freudian glee at uncovering shenanigans by a "respectable" visitor from an older and in some ways more conservative ally.

I'm speaking, of course, of TMZ's coverage of Prince Harry's session of strip billiards in Las Vegas.

The revelation that Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) leapt nekkid into the Sea of Galilee a year ago? Not so much.

Back in the United States, however, the news has evolved into the sort of mini-scandal that Washington occupies itself with in August. Politico broke the news with a slightly breathless front-pager, noting that the Sea of Galilee, "a Christian holy site, is where Jesus is said in the Bible to have walked on water." And as nudist groups claimed validation from the controversy, Yoder issued an apology for his "spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea."

Israelis, however, greeted the story with a yawn. My review of Israeli Hebrew-language coverage of Yoder's folly came up only with brief pickups of Politico's original story, written in dry wire-service style.

Travel magazine-style file photos of the world's most famous misnomered lake unfailingly accompanies Israeli news sites' web versions of the story. Channel 2's website featured a perspective of the lake Israelis call Kinneret that any local would recognize as taken from the winding road slithering down the Golan Heights, northeast of the lake. Globes, the business daily, ran a lovely shot of a squadron of pelicans. Y-Net, the web sister to the mass circulation daily Yedioth Achronoth, posted a summertime view of the lakeshore greens bleached yellow by the heat.

(The story at least generated one of the great corrections of this year: "The Sea of Galilee is a lake," Politico apologized. "An earlier version of this story mischaracterized it.")

The collective effect of trolling through these stories is of an ADHD conversation. "So this American guy swam naked and ... and ... It's so lovely up around the Kinneret, isn't it?"

The declarative headline at NRG, the Maariv daily's web sister, was laconic: "Republicans got drunk and swam naked in the Kinneret." (Just one, Yoder, swam naked, although about more than 20 Republicans altogether jumped in.)

"Most people I spoke to couldn't understand why it was even news," an Israeli journalist friend wrote when I asked what page the story made in the print editions. (Generally, page 8.)

Aaron Sagui, the Israeli embassy spokesman, summed it up this way. "Two words -- well, one actually: Non-issue. You could speak to a million and one Israelis and a million wouldn't even know what you were talking about. And the one guy who did would think it's a nice summertime story."

There may not be Israeli outrage here. There is, however, Jewish outrage.

Spokesfolks for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader who led the 2011 summer tour, made it clear to Politico and whomever else called that the highest-ranking Jewish lawmaker in U.S. history was not amused.

"Twelve months ago, [Cantor] dealt with this immediately and effectively to ensure such activities would not take place in the future," Doug Heye, Cantor's deputy chief of staff, told Politico.

Patrick Dorton, a crisis manager who also sometimes speaks for the American Israel Educational Foundation, the affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that sponsored the tour, went into full crisis mode.

"After dinner that evening, some in the group went swimming in the biblically significant sea," his prepared statement said.

That last part explains, perhaps unwittingly, why this was no big deal for Israelis. Galilee not only is not a sea, it's not biblically significant -- to Jews. Much in the surrounding area has religious significance -- the region boasts a rich Kabbalist tradition. But the waters of the Kinneret are just that -- water -- for Israelis. It is suitable for drinking (it constitutes about a third of Israel's potable water supply), boating on, and swimming in.

Yes, Israelis are not exactly strangers to the practice. No Israeli among my circle of friends (and I include myself) would ever actually, in the thick vicissitudes of middle age, cop to having skinny-dipped in Israeli waters, but we've all, um, seen it happen.

"There's barely a body of water in Israel that hasn't been skinny-dipped in," Naomi Paiss, the spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund (NIF), a group that promotes democracy and civil rights in that country, told me.

I called Paiss because her group's most recent initiative touches directly on issues of visible flesh. NIF is raising money to push back against an increased effort in recent years among the fervently Orthodox to keep women hidden, among other means by defacing and removing images of women from public display in Jerusalem.

But that is an altogether different issue, Paiss explained. The Orthodox are not overly bothered by the notion of naked people as long they are (a) not visible to the Orthodox and (b) not Jewish.

"They're not going to care about an American congressman who is not Jewish -- the same rules don't apply," she said.

And secular Israelis? "Israeli secular culture is sexualized and liberated and ‘who cares'," Paiss said, noting the plunging necklines that seem to be de rigeur for Israeli women newsreaders.

"Israeli male friends ask me why I cover so much up if I'm not religious," she said. "I explain it's because I live in Washington."

Bare flesh is simply no big deal in much of Israel. And it's not only anyone who has been to Tel Aviv that should have figured this out. Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with Israel's film industry -- especially the famously frank 2001 film festival favorite, "Late Marriage" -- would have also caught on. As would anyone remotely familiar with Leonardo DiCaprio's love life, of course.

The thing is, it's not new. A version of free love was practiced in the first pioneering years of several kibbutzim. It didn't stick, but it was a signal of a broader trend among Israelis of leaving behind the conservatism and pieties of their Diaspora forebears.

My uncle, after immigrating to Israel from Turkey, lived from the 1940s to the 1960s on a kibbutz, Ginossar -- positioned, as it happens, on the shores of the Kinneret. He likes to tell the story of how a resident of the kibbutz -- the wife of a noted poet -- would torture the kibbutzniks with her unattainable beauty.

One day not too long after his own arrival, my uncle was asked to look after some new Turkish arrivals. They had been in Israel for only a short while and knew no Hebrew. In short order, he lost them.

He set out to look for them and found them crowded around a shack. They shushed him and pointed toward the window. Inside, the poet, returned from the fields, was engaged in vigorous lovemaking with his wife.

That, my uncle says, is when he knew the Turks had acclimated.

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images