PARIS — Before Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan, before the Bastille Day massacre in Nice and last month's fatal stabbing in Marseille by a man shouting "Allahu akbar," there was Toulouse.
Back in March 2012, a 23-year-old native of that southern French city went on a meticulously planned shooting spree that killed three French soldiers of North African descent, and a teacher and three young children at a Jewish elementary school. Police eventually killed the lone gunman after a 30-hour standoff at his Toulouse apartment.
For the past five weeks, a trial of the culprit's older brother and another alleged accomplice has plunged France back into what many now view as the opening episode in this country's recurring series of Islamic terrorism. The details are familiar: A troubled young Muslim man is radicalized close to home (his brother is accused of being among his indoctrinators) and eventually travels abroad (he went on multiple trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan) before returning to carry out a plot that was either orchestrated or simply inspired by a global terror network.
In the days and months after the attacks, videos and testimony emerged of the Toulouse killer. Among the most chilling details was footage recovered of him recording himself on a GoPro camera as he shot the kindergarten students at point-blank range. The killer's name became synonymous with Islamic terror in France — and a martyr and inspiration for other would-be jihadists. You will have to look elsewhere for that name.
We must also look at the way the wires can get crossed in covering these kinds of events.
Across the world, details are emerging each day of another horror movie sequel in New York. The killer too had his own meticulous plans and thirst for blood. And while ISIS has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's truck attack, we will never know the lone perpetrator's exact links to any outside organization. Again, for the purposes of this writing, there is space here for neither the alleged killer's face nor his name.
Clark McCauley, a psychology professor at Bryn Mawr College, has studied the psychological factors behind terrorism and mass violence, and suggests it should be approached as "normal psychology."
"The trajectory by which normal people become capable of doing terrible things is usually gradual," he wrote in a paper after 9/11 called The Psychology of Terrorism. "The cause that is worth killing for and even dying for is personal, a view of the world that makes sense of life and death and links the individual to some form of immortality."
In more glib terms, we might call it the "glory factor," whether martyrdom promised by your jihadist cell leader or a very warped pursuit of American celebrity that seems to inspire the kinds of mass shootings prevalent in the U.S. In either case, some perceived cause or burning hatred is somehow hot-wired inside the human mind to set out to murder strangers as a way to affirm your own existence.
For those in the news and information business, we must also look at the way the wires can get crossed in covering these kinds of events. French media have been addressing the question recently, with some outlets choosing not to publish photographs or the names of terrorists. "These reflections are indispensable," Le Monde editor Jérôme Fenoglio wrote last year. "We must adapt to the practices of an enemy that uses all the tools of our modernity against us if we want to break the strategy of hatred, to prevail without losing who we are."
Back here in Paris last month, before the Las Vegas shooting or the Toulouse trial had begun, American writer Don Delillo was being interviewed on French national radio. Having written fiction about both the Kennedy assassination and 9/11, the novelist described the broad strokes of how such public acts of violence have and will repeatedly come to pass: A would-be perpetrator is alone with his weapon, "... and then the day comes when he decides to walk out of his room, and to enter history."
It is up to all of us to write our history, and assign the names for posterity. Can we try, as best as possible, to forget those who sought glory? Thursday's trial in France ended with terrorism-related convictions and long sentences for both defendants, though neither was convicted of a direct role in the Toulouse attacks. We'll use it as a chance to remember seven names that matter: Imad Ibn-Ziaten, Abel Chennouf, Mohamed Farah Chamse-Dine Legouad, Jonathan Sandler, Miriam Monsonego, Aryeh Sandler, Gabriel Sandler. Their lives were cut short, respectively, at the age of 30, 24, 23, 30, 8, 6 and 3.
This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris we call home. Send ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.