Over July and August, news reports are usually very boring in France. Everybody is on holidays, including l’Élysée, and there are no new bills to protest against. Seasonal pieces usually revolve around the Baccalauréat (the national high-school graduation exam) late June, then journalists are dispatched all over France to interview beachgoers (the water is invariably too cold), students working summer jobs (hourly wage is invariably too low), seasonal business owners (season is invariably the hardest ever), supermarket managers (best-selling items invariably include beach toys, water bottles, and ice cream) etc. Basically, people are complaining as usual but not over the big stuff, just the little things. Sports take over the headlines with the Tour de France, the World Cup of the Olympics. Once in a while, something happens—usually a major bus or car accident or a forest fire. But overall, it’s quiet in the newsroom.
Except this year. There was the attack in Nice, then two attacks in Germany, then another in France where a priest was killed in a hostage situation in a church. This is big news. France isn’t a country where violence is common. Shit happens, of course, but not that. Not for a long time, anyway.
It’s hard to know what to say. I don’t know what to say. I’m angry because I don’t want anyone to kill and get killed in the name of… in the name of what, exactly? Of course, ISIS claims responsibility of the attacks, all of them. But there is no clear pattern and the line between the act of deranged people and political action is very blurred. I think ISIS is ready to claim anything done by someone with an Arabic-sounding name. “The gunman’s name was Mohammed? Yep, sure, that was us. Ah ah!”
When I read that one of the two guys who killed the priest was born in 1997, I froze. Shit. He wasn’t even 20. He was a kid. A kid who had been brainwashed, manipulated. This is not political action. I don’t even know if we should call it “terrorism”. Nowadays, it’s a convenient label, but ten years ago, we would have blamed such tragedy on video games, and before that, on rock music or drugs.
To me, ISIS feels like an obscure cult, a serial killers club with weak wannabe members. It has little to do with Islam and Muslims.
I hope French people see it this way too. For each and every attack, we have to reiterate that Muslims, in general, are not to blame. I’m getting scared now, I’m afraid that French will be more open to simplistic messages like the ones delivered by far right-wing political movements.
The state of emergency was declared in the wake of the November 2015 attacks. I was scared of these three little words—what does it mean, exactly, to live under this state of emergency?
I’m happy to report that in Nantes, it’s business as usual. People don’t seem to be scared and hedonistic French are still enjoying drinks at terraces of bars and coffee shops. French are still drinking, smoking, laughing, shopping in busy markets, taking public transportation, chatting to each other, gathering to enjoy street art performances. I don’t find them stressed out or jumpy. I haven’t heard any hate speech, haven’t seen anyone being targeted. Of course, my perspective is limited, I’m not a minority. Besides, everybody is more relaxed during summer holidays.
Yet, I hope it stays this way.