The discussion about what happened in Oslo and Utoya will continue for days and months and years, but already at this point change needs to happen.
When we talk about it, we need to stop saying “it’s unbelievable”, “it’s without reason” and “who would do such a thing?”.
Believe it. It happened.
We know who did it.
And however twisted, there were reasons.
Though it’s a term I’ve used myself, we need to stop characterising Anders Behring Breivik as a madman.
That’s not because he wasn’t, but because every time we describe him as one we are absolving ourselves of our responsibility to understand why he did what he did.
No more than Mohammed Atta, Bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh, Breivik didn’t just fall out of the sky.
He is the product of a family, a school, a church, a university. He had friends, he likes soccer and he worked out.
But he went a little further than the rest of us. He went further than the vast majority of people could in their worst nightmares imagine.
Somewhere along the line, something awakened a hatred of his fellow man in him – not just a hatred of Muslims.
He hated all of those whose politics differed from his, even if they were mere children. He sentenced them to death.
He executed them.
What is unique about Breivik is that he wants us to understand what he did. Unlike many mass murderers, especially those who have gone on shooting sprees, he did not take his own life, but instead surrendered to police.
He can now be interviewed, studied, analysed. He can explain his motivation to us.
And in his staggering arrogance, he has even given us a 1500-page explanation of his entire ideology and method – meant to inspire others to follow in his footsteps, it is vital ammunition in the fight against all violent extremists, and not just those of the anti-Islamic far right.
He will give us even more. What he longs for most of all is to speak from the dock, with the world’s press present, to put forward his ideology to the world.
He sees himself as a martyr to his cause, yet somehow he remains blind to the remarkable similarities between himself and the radical Islamists and “cultural Marxist” bogeymen he claims he wants to destroy.
Breivik claims in his writing that he has spent the last nine years planning this attack.
Nine and a half years ago, in September 2001, two planes struck the Twin Towers in Manhattan.
Anders Behring Breivik was probably sitting in front of his television, listening to the pundits telling him that what he was seeing was “unbelievable”, “without reason” and “impossible to understand”.
“Who would do such a thing?” they asked.
When Anders found out that it was radical Islamists, he believed it. He found a reason.
Then he sent out on a path that led him to Utoeya.
To stop others – on both sides – following his path, we need to understand.
We need to believe it. We need to accept that there are people who do such things.
We need to realise that, even though they are madmen, they are someone’s father or son or husband.
And we need to find a way to stop them coming to the same extreme convictions that Breivik has.