Amol Rajan: Why a spot of torture and a long rope would be too good for Anders Breivik

Norway has shown that true justice, though messy and frustrating, is the mark of a civilised society

Share
Related Topics

I know what you're thinking, because sometimes I think it too. You look at the bovine, witless features of Anders Breivik in that Oslo courtroom and you think: maybe capital punishment isn't so bad after all.

You remember the 77 people he murdered, grimly observe the fist-salute he performs daily, notice that horrible pencil-thin beard, and ask why a platform is being given to his fascistic worldview. You wonder if, instead, a few choice electrodes might be acquainted with his ball sack, and a small victory for humanity thereby chalked up.

Then you wonder if, with the aid of a noose, we might get a bigger one still. That Breivik should call for the his own death penalty - as he did yesterday, saying only that or total acquittal would be a 'just' outcome - strengthens your conviction. Why not just let him hang?

A lot of people are thinking along these lines. Is this what you think too? Well, don't. Fight it. Dismiss it immediately, and console yourself that Breivik is getting a platform because he lives in a country which, through its judicial process, is at the forefront of
civilisation. Norway has left the temptations of barbarism (which is what capital punishment - murder of individuals by the state - amounts to) behind, and for that we should all be grateful.

As Freya Berry, a student at Trinity College, Cambridge put it in an elegant column for this newspaper yesterday, "we cannot fight hate with hate". Like my esteemed colleague Owen Jones earlier this week, she quoted the exemplary Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway, who said the country's response to this massacre would be "more democracy, more openness, and greater political participation."

That is exactly right, and in resisting the impatience of those who want Breivik's punishment to be swift and merciless, Stoltenberg has recognised a philosophical distinction of great historical importance.

Retribution is of two kinds: first, social, also known as justice; and second, individual, also known as revenge. The mark of a civilised society is that it promotes the messy frustrations and delays of the former over the false consolation of the latter.

Capital punishment is wrong because it is ineffective, unjust, and uncivilised. No reliable evidence exists of its efficacy as a deterrent; there are countless examples of miscarriages of justice that cannot be reversed; and countries that resist its temptations tend to be those that also promote open justice and transparency. It abolition is a modernising force.

In helping Norway to set an example for all humanity, some good is yet emerging from the turpitudinous life of Anders Breivik.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss