Breivik has not been given a platform

Television has exposed the mass murderer for who he really is.

Is a televised trial giving Anders Breivik what he wants? It’s one of those odd coincidences that the start of Breivik’s trial should happen in the same week that cameras were allowed in a British courtroom to see the sentencing of murderer David Gilroy.

Not for Gilroy the chance to be facing the camera or crying at his own manifesto; he was well out of shot while the judge sent him down for 18 years. But as ever, one of the fears about cameras in British courtrooms might be that attention-seekers like Breivik could commit atrocities to find a primetime TV platform to justify their despicable views and actions.

Breivik is one of those people for whom the phrase "the banality of evil" could have been designed. As he recalls, with calmness, the meticulous planning of ending other human beings’ lives, there seems barely a trace of compassion gutting in his eyes; he could be reading out a shopping list, or talking about the weather. Only when he saw his own hateful manifesto did he blub like a baby.

He looks like everyone and no-one; he could be your next-door neighbour or your friend. It’s only when you see the photographs of him in his military gear, or making that pathetic little man’s salute, that he steps out of the everyday. Is this trial, his time in the spotlight, giving him exactly what he has always wanted – to be the centre of attention, to have a platform for his noxious ideas, to coldly justify his atrocity on the grounds of politics?

Without courtroom television, his trial would have been very different: we would have had to have relied upon court sketches of Breivik rather than moving pictures; we wouldn’t have been subjected to that salute every day (although that has now been curtailed); we would only have had reports of his statements, rather than hearing them in his voice.

It must seem to some that Norway is bending over backwards to accommodate the wishes of this mass killer, and that television coverage is way in which he is spreading his message. But the case is of such public interest, such magnitude, that it seems too important not to be covered in this way – particularly when one of the key judgements to be made is in the mental competence or otherwise of the defendant. How else can the public be informed unless they can see? There are only a few limited places in court, most of which are taken by press and relatives.

Far from glamorising Breivik’s crimes, the televised proceedings have brought home the stark reality. He  is not getting a platform, he is just getting what anyone else would be entitled to, no more, no less. He is no-one special, even though he hoped he would become so through his actions.

The more I watch, the more uncomfortable it gets. It is hard for most of us to conceive of the "evil" that would wilfully cause such suffering, but there seems to be no evil surrounding Breivik. He has made a serious of calculated choices over a considerable period of time that led him to slaughter other people, to fight a war that no-one else was fighting. Seeing the trial is a sobering experience, but without seeing, how can we try and understand how these atrocities happen, and hope to prevent them in the future?

Perhaps putting cameras in courts is one way of taking the mystique away from criminals, and showing them for the people they really are. There for all to see is the banality of evil, the pathetic grandiose dreams of someone like Breivik. His "manifesto" of cobbled-together lies and distortion has been put out, but how many has he converted to his ignoble cause? And how has television done anything but exposed him for who he really is?

Right-wing extremist speaks during his trial at the central court in Oslo. Photograph: Getty Images.
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Battle for Mosul: will this be the end of Islamic State?

The militant group's grip on power is slipping but it has proved resilient in the past.

The battle for Mosul is the latest stage in the long struggle to defeat Islamic State. The group has been around since the late 1990s in one form or another, constantly mutating in response to its environment. Undoubtedly its ejection from Mosul will be a significant moment in the group’s history, but it is unlikely to be its final chapter. The destruction of the group will only be complete when some fundamental changes occur within Iraq and the war in Syria comes to an end.

IS’s roots go back to a training camp established by the militant Islamist Abu Musab al Zarqawi in the late 1990s in Herat, Afghanistan. Founded as an army to overthrow the apostate regimes of the Levant, it fled to northern Iraq in the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan post-9/11 where it re-established itself as a force alongside Ansar al Shariah, a hardline Salafi jihadi organisation.

As American attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, the group was ideally placed to become one of the leading lights in the post-Saddam Iraqi insurgency. Brutally announcing itself to the world in August 2003 with successive attacks on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, the UN headquarters and a Shia shrine in Najaf — the latter being the deadliest attack in Iraq that year with a death toll of 95 — the group grew to assume the mantle of al-Qaeda in Iraq. By 2006 this brand had become somewhat damaged through the brutal sectarian campaign the group waged, and when its founder, Zarqawi, died it sought to reinvent itself as the Mujahedeen Shura Council. This incarnation did not last long either, and eventually it assumed the title of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), alongside a more Iraqi leadership.

This was the start of a diffcult period in the group's history. Its excesses in Iraq (including indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims to stir sectarian hatred and filmed decapitations of prisoners) lost it local support and led to the tribes in Sunni Iraq rising up and supporting the government in Baghdad's fight back against the group. By 2009, when the west abruptly stopped paying attention and withdrew from Iraq the group was largely perceived as in decline, with the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government appearing to slowly assert itself more effectively across the country.

The terrorist attacks by the group continued. And the new government started to advance an increasingly sectarian agenda. These two played off each other in a downward spiral that was given a fresh boost of blood when the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011. Drawing on its existing networks (that were leftovers from when Syria was used as a staging point by the organisation to launch attacks into Iraq), the leadership sent a cell to Syria to explore what opportunities existed within the emerging fight there. This cell became the seed that grew into Jabhat al Nusrah and ultimately IS – a label the group adopted when in June 2013 IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided it was time to reveal this link between his Iraqi group and Jabhat al Nusrah. This led to divisions and the breaking up of the two organisations.

For IS, however, it was the beginning of an upward trajectory, building on this division to grow itself substantially in Syria (with Raqqa as its capital) and in 2014 taking over Iraq’s second biggest city of Mosul. We then reach the apex of IS’s success and the biggest expansion of the group yet.

It now seems that this growth had a shelf life of just two-and-a-half years. As the group appears to be losing Mosul, it is likely that we will see the beginning of a period of retraction. But this will not be its end – rather, it will flee back to the hills and the ungoverned spaces in Iraq and Syria from where it will continue a persistent terrorist strategy in both countries. Here it will bide its time until the moment presents itself to rise up. Waiting until the governance in Iraq and Syria fails its people again, the group can paint itself as the protector of Sunnis and once more build on that group's disenfranchisement to win supporters and occupy a space vacated by local governments.

IS's grip on power might currently be slipping but as history has shown, it has waxed and waned depending on the context it is operating in. We are now going to see a period of withdrawal, but unless attention is paid by the global community, it will expand again in the future.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Visit his website at