In a SPIEGEL interview, bestselling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell talks about his reaction to the Utøya massacre, the absurdity of Anders Breivik’s ideas and the need to engage in dialogue with the right wing.
SPIEGEL: Anders Breivik has confessed to the Oslo bombing and Utøya massacre, which killed a total of 77 people. Is this a story and a character that you, as a world-famous author of crime thrillers, could have invented?
Mankell:Whatever I write, reality is always worse. That’s the response I like to give when I’m asked about how much reality there is to my stories. If I had used the morbid part of my brain to invent something like this, a man making his way through a summer camp and calmly shooting one young person after another, my readers would have thought it was completely unbelievable, even ridiculous. A story’s plausibility cannot keep up with the crude brutality that happens in real life.
SPIEGEL: Can Breivik simply be dismissed as being deranged?
Mankell: We can certainly tell ourselves that his personality exhibits psychotic characteristics, that he has a massive narcissistic disorder and that he is full of hatred. But what does this mean? Perhaps he is a psychopath, but that doesn’t explain anything. In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about (German-born political theorist) Hannah Arendt and her report on the (Adolf) Eichmann trial in Israel in 1961. How can seemingly normal human beings, people who otherwise are loving fathers, sons and brothers, be capable of such atrocities? It takes time and distance to find an answer. But I’m afraid that some things will ultimately remain inexplicable.
SPIEGEL: Does our consternation over the mystery of evil also stem from the fact that Breivik, as the police put it, literally came out of nowhere?
Mankell: We want to recognize the characteristics of evil early on, and we search for marks of Cain and stigmata, the warning signs of the horrific before it occurs. But that kind of thinking is based on magic.
SPIEGEL: But it isn’t just a question of the banality of evil, but also of our fascination with evil.
Mankell: You address an important aspect. What I fear most of all is that a new discussion will emerge about the concept of innate evil. That was the way people thought 500 years ago. No one is born evil. People become evil through external circumstances, which provoke evil behavior.