Toulouse. My husband's city. Three children, a father. I can't help but do the mental calculation when I hear: what ages? How many years difference with le Petit? With Mademoiselle? I admit with guilt that the horror resonates more when it is shadowed by the familiar.
And this isn't supposed to happen here.
Of course I hear when there's a random shooting in the US. It happens with chilling regularity. But here in Europe we have real gun control, I remember. Our schools don't have metal detectors at the door. If I lived in the US... if I had to worry about such things... and I click away, saddened, but only abstractly. While the act itself shocks, the causes are almost predictable. After all, I'm so far away.
I heard the news from Toulouse today from a colleague. Extreme right or extreme left? He wondered aloud. The shooting today was outside a Jewish school. The soldiers killed or wounded on Sunday were of North African and Caribbean origin. It's rare that the latent xenophobia in France manifests itself in violence. But the causes, I wonder, in some sense, aren't they predictable too?
You can't view a society through the deranged crimes that appear on the front page, but you can't ignore them, either. Is that why I don't read the news? Because I don't want to hear about the dark side?
The National Front party plasters the highway underpasses with indignant slogans about French identity and the press wonders aloud what percentage of the vote they'll receive in the presidential election. That kind of xenophobia is mundane, familiar, domesticated, and maybe all the more pernicious for its acceptability. Marine Le Pen shows up, smiling, on the nightly news. Maybe it's opportunistic or paranoid to connect that to the murders in Toulouse.
In both France and in the US, my family and friends, whether I talk to them weekly or follow from from afar, all seem to live their lives far away from the dark edges, far from the violence and the fear. Could this only be a mix or privilege and luck, one that could disappear? Or am I overreacting? Do the media just distort reality like the reflection in a rear view mirror, making the fear appear closer?
Like the rest of France, I'm going to watch and wait and mourn and keep asking questions.