I've been meaning to write a new post for a full week now, but kept putting it off because I was unsure of what I wanted to say. Blogging reminds me in some ways of epistolary travel writing, the 18th- and 19th-century practice of writing letters from abroad that were intended for eventual publication. There is an audience that you know, the people to whom your writing is immediately addressed, but there is also an audience that you anticipate but cannot imagine that you are more subtly trying to reach.
I wanted to write a post about the attacks in Paris because people are talking about them in Russia. The day after the attacks I was talking to my friend Oksana, and she said that she was scared there might be attacks in St. Petersburg. She told me to be careful taking the metro. I heard on Wednesday that earlier this week there were bomb scares in a couple of metro stations, but it turned out there were no bombs. I read that there have also been bomb scares in Moscow, along with demonstrations of support and the creation of a memorial near the French consulate. Moscovites are remembering terrorist attacks on the Dubrovka, and in St. Petersburg people are talking about the October 31st plane crash, which was recently confirmed to be the result of a terrorist attack.
One of my students asked me why American celebrities were posting messages of support for Paris on Instagram, but weren't talking at all about the Russian plane crash in Egypt. I told her that the Russian government had been initially reticent to officially label the crash a terrorist attack, and that had affected the way it was reported in the news. I don't know what to think about the plane crash. I don't know what to make of the flip in official Russian position regarding the plane crash, from first denying that it was the result of a terrorist attack to now asserting that it was a terrorist attack and claiming that act of terror as an impetus for renewed cooperation with the French.
One of my good friends is in Paris currently, but it actually didn't occur to me to ask if everything was okay for him until I sat down for reasons unrelated to the news to write a reply to an email he'd written to me weeks prior. I actually got half way through writing a reply that didn't mention the attacks until I finally made the connection that he was in Paris and so he was in the midst of the news that I had been reading about on my computer. He's fine - I want to say, "of course", because how statistically likely is it that my one American friend would die in a terrorist attack in Paris? But I suppose I ought not be flippant. You never know what could happen.
My friend said that he spent the evening like almost everyone else in Paris, watching the news on TV. He said that he started getting messages on Facebook from people he barely knew or hadn't spoken to in years asking if he was okay, and that rather than feeling like a genuine outpouring of support, it seemed to him like these people just wanted to have some connection to what was going on, and he was the only person they currently knew in Paris. His comment reminded me of getting letters in third grade from a class of Canadian students who were sending messages of support to New Yorkers after 9/11. Like my friend who's in Paris, who wasn't directly affected by the attacks, I wasn't directly affected by 9/11. Through sheer luck, both my parents were comfortably at home in Queens when the towers fell, far away from ground zero. Like my friend in Paris, what I remember of 9/11 is watching the news on TV and lots of adults crying. I remember having to write back to those Canadian students who sent letters of support to my class and not knowing what to say. "Thank you, but actually nothing bad happened to me on that day so I don't need your condolences," would probably not have been appropriate.
I find it hard to be personally afraid of terrorism, because it's so statistically unlikely that after living through 9/11, I would find myself in a city where another major terrorist attack occurred, let alone that after living through 9/11 I would die in a terrorist attack. Terrorist nihilism seems so unthreatening in the face of pure math.
If you're interested in the title of this post, click here.