Madmen or monsters?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called the gunman who killed three French paratroopers and a rabbi and three young children in Toulouse, a “monster.” Given that the rabbi and the three children were Jewish, he perhaps felt the need to embellish the description, calling the murderer an “anti-Semitic monster, but first of all a monster.” The “anti-Semitic” label does not quite square with the fact that the three slain soldiers and another who was seriously wounded were of North African or French Caribbean origin, but let us allow for a certain amount of shock in Mr Sarkozy’s reaction.

The murderer, Mohamed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian extraction, is now dead. Speaking to police negotiators on Wednesday, he confessed to the killings and described himself as a jihadist, saying his actions were in revenge for the killing of Palestinian children in the Middle East and French military postings overseas. He also told a journalist that he was motivated by France’s ban on wearing the burka. Whatever his reasons, it appears that Mr Merah’s murder spree was as calculated as the horrific massacre carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway last July.

Mr Breivik was initially assessed by court-appointed psychiatrists as criminally insane although another team of experts said they did not believe he was psychotic. In the absence of new evidence, it seems that prosecutors will seek an indefinite term of psychiatric care when Mr Breivik goes on trial on April 16. Whatever the defence argues to plead insanity, Mr Breivik is nothing more or less than a monster in the court of public opinion.

As for Mr Merah, nobody is calling him a madman yet, but the reason for this may have more to do with stereotypes and perceptions propagated by the western media. In this respect, Robert Fisk’s March 17 article in The Independent, “Madness is not the reason for this massacre,” should be obligatory reading.

Reacting to the slaughter of 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar, allegedly by US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, Mr Fisk is scathing of the attempt to explain away the massacre as the act of a “deranged” soldier. For the veteran, British Middle East correspondent, this is “the same nonsense used to describe the murderous US soldiers who ran amok in the Iraqi town of Haditha. It was the same word used about Israeli soldier Baruch Goldstein who massacred 25 Palestinians in Hebron.”
As the narrative peddled by the western media whenever one of the supposedly good guys goes rogue and butchers innocents, it is not good enough. And Mr Fisk is appalled by the western double standard of branding massacres perpetuated by the enemy as “evil, wicked, mindless” terrorism whilst seeking to rationalise the equally horrific, vengeful atrocities carried out by western troops – for example, the Americans at My Lai in Vietnam, the Scots Guards at Batang Kali in Malaya, and the French in Algeria – as perhaps the inevitable results of the brutalising aspect of war.

Already, it is beginning to look as if Mr Bales’ defence will focus on some aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder. Worse, as if Americans find it difficult to grasp that one of their own can also be a vicious, racist, murderous brute, who should face the full force of the law in Afghanistan or stand trial for a crime against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr Bales has been spirited away to be tried by a US military court. Of course, the USA has not signed onto the ICC, for even though in America no one is above the law, it appears that, internationally, no other law is good enough for Americans.

Mr Bales even appears to be receiving better treatment under detention than Private Bradley Manning who was held in solitary confinement for some time whilst awaiting a court martial for passing classified information to WikiLeaks – presumably a more heinous offence than murdering 16 unarmed Afghan men, women and children in their sleep and setting some of their bodies on fire. But hardly anybody in US officialdom or the western media is calling Mr Bales a monster. After all, as Mr Fisk puts it, “As usual, the journos had got into bed with the military to create a madman rather than a murderous soldier. Poor chap. Off his head. Didn’t know what he was doing. No wonder he was whisked out of Afghanistan at such speed.”

Good people can never truly comprehend the twisted thinking of murderous psychopaths who exhibit not only a total disregard for the rights of others and the rules of society but also coldblooded contempt for the sanctity of life itself. Whether you call them mad, deranged, insane or psychotic, killers like Messrs Breivik, Bales and Merah are first of all monsters.

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