In the wake of terrorism and mass murder in Norway, people will clamor to understand what the incident means. Because the accused justified his acts with a hatred of Islam and a condemnation of his government for accommodating Muslims, some will debate, decry and even defend the slaughter. Many will search for its meaning.
This act though, and all such acts, signify nothing more than the existence of a savage and brutal evil in this world. They do not represent or reflect "the problems of society," Norwegian or otherwise. They do not prove points about multiculturalism, or instinctive discomfort with multiculturalism, or liberalism or conservatism or patriotism or Christianity or Islam.
If Anders Bering Breivik killed nearly 80 people on Friday, he is a monstrous and callous murderer, not a messenger.
Breivik is accused of having bombed a government building in downtown Oslo Friday, possibly as a way to distract security forces from his next rampage. Ninety minutes later, dressed as a police officer, Breivik allegedly opened fire on about 600 young people at a political camp who had gathered together during their island retreat to get more information on what had happened in downtown Oslo.
While his 1,500-page screed, published on the Internet just hours before this deadly spree, suggests he wishes to be considered a philosopher or teacher, we shouldn't grant him that honor by parsing his work.
As for lessons, the one we can learn here is an echo of the knowledge gained in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn two weeks ago. What is shocking about Breivik, 32 and icily handsome, is that he is so classically Norwegian, and in what had traditionally been such a peaceful and homogeneous society, seemingly trustworthy merely by dint of his appearance.
What was shocking about the dismembering of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was that his alleged killer was exactly the type of man he had been told to trust, a fellow Hasid whose dress, hair and beard resembled his father's. We are instinctively drawn to people like us. We feel comfortable with them, and assume empathy. We know we are not killers, and think anyone who is so violent would look and act very differently than we and our loved ones do.
But surrounding ourselves only with people who look, speak, dress, think and worship like us doesn't make us any safer. That's likely always been true, but many of us are only now learning it, and in the most horrifying possible way.