Norway appeared to be just about as close to paradise as one could get: a home to unspoiled nature and a prosperous and egalitarian society. Three Scandinavian novelists describe the pain inflicted by the tragic attacks in Norway and their fears of the loss of the country's idyll.
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.
SPIEGEL: But everyone has the inherent capability to be evil?
Mankell: In the Balkan wars, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, neighbors who had lived together in peace until then suddenly began attacking one another. I saw child soldiers in Africa, 14 and 15-year-old boys, who slaughtered their parents after someone had held a gun to their heads. I'm not sure what I would have done, as a child, in their situation. The explanation for evil lies in its circumstances and conditions, not in its diabolical nature. That is what Hannah Arendt taught us.
SPIEGEL: Breivik apparently saw himself as a political assassin.
Mankell: Yes, he sees himself as a soldier, a warrior against the alleged dictatorship of cultural Marxism and the expansion of Islam. He apparently believes that in 60 or 70 years' time, he will be retrospectively recognized as a heroic figure.
SPIEGEL: That would explain why he has confessed to the crime without acknowledging his guilt.
Mankell: But even if one could say that he was applying the logic of the soldier or knight, he would have committed despicable war crimes and violated all of the Geneva Conventions, if I may follow the absurdity (of his thinking) to its logical conclusion. This is precisely what makes it possible to try him for crimes against humanity in his self-proclaimed civil war. Then he will disappear behind bars forever, namely for 30 years plus preventive detention.
SPIEGEL: What symbolic power did he hope to unleash with his actions? In a passage in his Internet manifesto, he claims that what was once considered treason is seen as tolerance today.
Mankell: For days, I have been thinking about the question of which ideal society Breivik imagines as the alternative.
SPIEGEL: The ideal world of our forefathers?
Mankell: To be sure, his murderous act is an expression of a rebellion against the complexity of globalized society. But what can he offer instead? Isolation, surveillance, enforced political conformity and zero tolerance. A system like that would not be viable, because it could not engage in any interaction. The totalitarianism of a sect would rule within that system. Horrible. It's precisely for that reason that the beacon he finds so promising will go out without having had any effect. It offers no promise.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, his crime will have political consequences. Is Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg right when he promises more democracy, openness and tolerance as a reaction to this crime?
Mankell: The consequence of this tragedy can only be a stronger social dialogue. The democrats' willingness to talk cannot diminish, neither toward the Muslims nor the right-wing populists or nationalists. I hear that there are those in Germany who periodically call for a ban of the (far-right party) NPD. That's the wrong approach. The party can reappear under a new name and in a different form, or it can continue to exist in the underground. It would be just as wrong now, after Breivik's mass murder, to end the discussion with Scandinavia's right-wing parties, just because the killer shares a disconcertingly large volume of ideas, opinions and positions with them. There is movement in debate, while exclusion merely produces inertia. Talking, talking and listening -- discourse as the means of finding a solution. That is what we have inherited from the Enlightenment.
'I Was Physically Attacked Once'
SPIEGEL: Can't the do-gooders' constant assertions of their willingness to talk be interpreted as naiveté?
Mankell: This risk can be averted through the quality of the arguments and the communication. Democracy involves continuously taking risks -- it is constantly called upon to prove itself, again and again, every day. We cannot get into a panic over the growing strength of populist right-wing parties in Scandinavia and elsewhere. If a society is torn apart by fear, then democracy's will to live is extinguished.
SPIEGEL: But when necessary, a democracy also has to defend itself. Often attempts to engage in dialogue with those who are blinded by ideological self-righteousness fall on deaf ears.
Mankell: Refusing to engage in dialogue is also a form of self-righteousness. A few weeks ago, I heard a man sitting at the next table in a café severely berating Africans. I turned around and said to him: Don't you know that the cradle of the human race was in Africa? That all of us, including you and I, share the same African ancestors? He recognized me, grumbled a little and clammed up. Maybe I planted something in his head.
SPIEGEL: You, too, must be a figure hated by someone like Breivik. You have been involved in charitable work in Africa for decades and you champion the Palestinian cause. In your work you repeatedly expose the cracks, fractures and dark sides of Sweden's model society. Do you feel personally attacked by a terrorist like Breivik?
Mankell: I was actually physically attacked once, by a man in the street who suddenly jumped at me and gave me a hefty blow to the head. I receive threats and hate mail. But I won't be intimidated.
SPIEGEL: Did you follow the uproar in Germany over Thilo Sarrazin, a politician who wrote a controversial book criticizing immigration?
Mankell: I don't know him and I haven't read his book. But I would talk to him. It's wrong, at any rate, to boycott him. His statistics are one thing, the numbers are what they are, in Germany and in Sweden, but one can debate the question of why they're that way and about the causes.
SPIEGEL: Islamophobia, a sense that the integration of foreigners has failed and resistance to so-called multiculturalism are no longer the preserve of right-wing fringe groups. They have already reached the center of society. Is it possible that Muslim immigration is overwhelming, both politically and morally, the liberal, enlightened societies of the West?
Mankell: Historically speaking, almost all European societies emerged from waves of immigration. Conversely, millions of Europeans, including many Swedes, were also immigrants in Africa. We must constantly be vigilant and resist the temptation to turn minorities into scapegoats for our problems.
SPIEGEL: Is Scandinavia, especially after this mass murder, a lost utopia?
Mankell: The same question was asked after the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. There is a Swedish myth, although it's one that was more likely created by foreigners than the Swedes, namely that they are liberal, tolerant, enlightened, peaceful, affluent, harmonious, egalitarian and united. Most of that is true. But it doesn't mean that we are not confronted with various grave social and political problems. On the other hand, I don't believe that the crime of an individual, as incomprehensible as it may be, can change an entire society.
SPIEGEL: Would you be tempted to address such a singular event in your writing one day?
Mankell: I don't think so. I think about this drama a lot now, but I'm uncertain. You know, if I were asked to write a novel about a large-scale strike movement, I would probably choose a strike-breaker as my protagonist. I always search for a different, opposing dimension. I haven't found it here yet.