When I first heard something had happened in France, my brain filtered the information out. I focused on the keywords. Stade de France, football game… “yeah, the usual recipe for disaster,” I sighed, already picturing some kind of fights between two rival teams.
I had assumed wrong.
Minutes later, when Paris was mentioned again, I turned up the volume of the radio in the car. Bombing at the Stade de France. Shootings downtown Paris. It sounded serious.
“Shit, I hope Léo and Adèle are okay”. My younger bother and sister both live in Paris. My mum’s sister as well, but she had emailed me earlier on her way back from work and she lives in the suburb so I wasn’t too worried for her. I tried to call my parents but it was already late in France and I couldn’t get through. Sometime Skype and the family’s antique phone connect fine, sometime they don’t.
I waited for more news. We turned CNN on.
That day of January 7 when I learned about the Charlie attacks, we were in Buenos Aires. With the time difference, by the time I checked my email, the entire story had already hit the newswires. Even if it took me a while to process it, the event had a beginning and a—tragic—ending. This time, it was different. The events were unfolding as I was performing the usual evening duties. Rinse lunch bag, death toll rising. Do a load of laundry, more dead people on TV. Put in the dryer, over a 100 dead. Make dinner, bodies in the street.
My aunt called me. At first, I thought she was whispering. Presumably, at almost 3 a.m. French time, the house was quiet. But I heard my cousin behind her and I realized she wasn’t whispering—she was simply shaken and it showed. “It’s a massacre,” she said. “It’s just… it’s just…” We struggled to find the right words. My laptop was streaming news from the BBC, she had the TV or the radio on as well.
I asked who was playing at the Bataclan. Not that it made a huge difference, but I guess my brain was trying to find some logic, a narrative thread. For instance, if it was a political event, a “concert for the freedom of wild tigers” let’s say, maybe wild tigers hunters had targeted that place specifically because they found the music offensive. Yeah, shitty analogy, even shittier rational. I was just trying to make sense of things.
“A metal band,” my cousin said.
Oh. It could have been a Céline Dion concert or a circus performance. The point was to kill people, not make a statement about the performance.
Random attacks by random people. That was hard to process. It makes all of us feel awfully vulnerable.
As I’m drafting this, it’s almost 1 a.m. in Canada. Seven in the morning in France. It suddenly occurs to me how unsettlingly easy it is to kill people if you want to. Just grab a weapon and shoot. That’s it. As simple as that.
French are not violent. Scenes of civil protest, even civil unrest in some cases, happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a car set on fire in the middle of the street or average citizens fighting with law enforcement. But shootings are not part of French culture.
The only thing that prevents us from being evil is our humanity. It’s not that we don’t kill people because we can’t. Materially and logistically, the act of killing is easy. We have procedures in place to punish such acts after they occur, but despite what we are trying to convince ourselves of, we cannot prevent them.
Only our mind, our humanity, our empathy, our moral compass and our beliefs prevent us from being evil. We, humans, don’t kill people because it’s wrong. If we really feel we have to fight, if we feel threatened or if we want to make a point, we have other weapons to do so—words, laws, theories.
At this stage, everything is still very confused. Emotions are raw, people are shocked.
“My” people are okay. Many people I don’t know are not.
I just have a few convictions I will try to stand by.
I refused to use Islam and immigrants as scapegoats. This rhetoric is going nowhere. Blanket statements are going nowhere either.
I think closing borders is absolutely useless.
I believe massive retaliation will accomplish nothing on the long term.
I think weapons won’t work against people who have sick ideas.
Let’s all regain the humanity we have lost. Let’s talk. Sounds useless and stupid? Yeah, well, war and weapons haven’t accomplished much so far, have they?