And so when it comes down to it, we fall into a pattern. Pretty much first out of the gate, someone thinking themselves uniquely sarcastic, incredibly witty will tweet some variant of “of course this is nothing to do with Islam” or “so much for the so called ‘religion of peace’”. As inevitable as night following day, someone will make this observation and sit back and bask. Clever you.
And inevitably, someone else will tweet a variant about never calling it terrorism if the attacker is white. I don’t want to suggest some equality in views here – the first I find infinitely viler than the second. But both are fallacious and both are point scoring and both you think, could you not wait five minutes?
If we have loved ones in the area, even vaguely, we reach out. If not, we remember the times we had been there, or close. We think of how it could have been us, or those close to us.
Someone then shares pictures. Perhaps over graphic pictures. Perhaps it’s out of a genuine feeling of a need to inform. As likely it’s for retweets. Possibly it’s for rubbernecking. Glee.
The – decent, honourable – chorus starts up not to share the images. We say it’s for the victims but as I’ve said before, it’s as much to do with us. Our queasiness faced with horror. Our rightful queasiness.
Rumour swirls. We proffer tributes, banalities, defiance. We know as we do so, we understand as we do how, well, how empty they can feel. Prayers to a god we vaguely believe in, solidarity offered to people we’ll never meet, love sent to people we don’t know, a shaken fist at someone probably already dead. We stand with you. Our prayers to you. You will not defeat us.
And despite that, however self-conscious we feel as we do so, we offer them anyway. It’s both form and the decent thing to do.
Someone breaks the mood with something distasteful, repugnant. Perhaps they try to make political capital. Perhaps they attempt to advance an agenda. Or perhaps they just make an attempt at a joke, badly timed and badly worded; or sick and disgraceful.
We turn on them – I’m not saying it’s a relief but I can’t deny there’s an element of catharsis in that moment.
The vultures gather around the event, they fit it into their narratives. We move through it, hazed, horrified yet numb, angry and sad.
Once, when young, I asked my mother about the elaborate rituals around funerals. Dead, I said, is dead. Why the fuss. When I’m dead, throw me in the ground. I don’t want people sitting around eating ham rolls in a cold house, murmuring platitudes about me. Leave it.
That’s not why we do it, she replied. The rituals are not for the dead. They are for the living. To allow them to process. To allow them to begin to move on.
And so, I guess, I see the reaction on social media. These are rituals we go through. Our coping mechanism to horror.
I at once find it supremely depressing that we’ve had to develop these rituals, and at the same time affirming – most of us aren’t the mad, bad, evil bastards who can commit such crimes. Most of us need the mechanisms. There’s something cheering in that, somehow.