It is not considered normal for a bunch of French cartoonists to be shot up in their own offices. Millions of us can relate much more easily to this sort of horror than yet another attack on yet another village in yet another African country. We can imagine it. We can fear it. We call these recognizable kinds of tragedy unthinkable, while what happened in Nigeria is not even worth thinking about.
But surely this is abnormal, even by Boko Haram standards: perhaps thousands dead, villages burned to the ground, little girls used as suicide bombers? The insidious thing about normal, though, is that it makes room for the abnormal. School shootings were once abnormal in the U.S. Now they’re almost banal. The same goes for atrocities of ever-escalating brazenness and horror in Islamic lands. The fact that it defies our comprehension is, simply, normal.
The result of this kind of thinking is something worse than apathy; it’s acceptance. Normal allowed us to accept slavery, homophobia, misogyny, racism in all its forms, illegal foreign invasions, unfettered corporate greed, environmental destruction. Normal is not equal and it is not fair. Normal is deadly.