July 15. How nice it would be to see neither facile whataboutism (‘What about Baghdad?!’, ‘What about Istanbul?!’) nor the futile sentimentalism of temporary tricolour profile photos and #jesuisnice hashtags. These displays are not the harmless sideshow of helpless bystanders; they are part of the causal mesh that keeps these attacks happening. There is by now a fully routinised social-media cycle that gives us first a raw explosion of sentiment, then scoldings about what we’re failing to be sentimental about; then a lull, a vacuum-like feeling that we could really use another spectacle to focus our sentiments on. This is the same feeling that makes us so ebullient when celebrities die, since their deaths give us an occasion to display how much we loved them, or maybe to tell of the time we met them and how much they helped shape our own work. We are not (yet) actively killing celebrities, but there are plenty of young men with nothing to lose who are happy to kill children watching fireworks on a beach promenade, or revellers at concert halls or nightclubs, to give us something to do with our sentiments for the next few days. The time-lag is getting shorter and shorter, and the Internet is getting hungrier. If the ‘What about x?!’ formula as it is usually employed picks out, in its inarticulate way, a real geopolitical bias, there is another bias, a chronological one, that the Internet in its perpetual present fails to detect: we might as well, already, be crying out, ‘What about Orlando?!’, ‘What about Paris last November, or last January?!’ Very soon, Nice will seem like it happened a long time ago too. It is a dishonour to the victims to repeat the ritual motions of public outrage and indignation and sanctimony about double-standards that together serve to pack the event up, tie it off, and despatch it into the irrelevant past. This is a political crisis and it needs analysis and political solutions. In particular, it needs us to fight against the rise of ethnonationalist politicians in Europe and America who are, whether they know it or not, collaborating with the attackers to bring civil society down in flames.
UPDATE, one day later: The Internet is now crying 'Istanbul!' though for reasons that could not have been anticipated yesterday when it was crying 'What about Istanbul?!' Nice has already retreated into the past, it is already unfashionable to offer a public display of sentiment about it. Today's cry of 'Istanbul!' will not be heard however as an answer to yesterday's 'What about Istanbul?!' No one ever really expects an answer to that question. The real question is always, 'What's next? Where can we lurch to next to show off our sentiments, like funeral cryers in plague time, delighted that business is so good?'