The trial for the men accused of attacking the Bataclan theater and other sites in Paris in November 2015, leaving 130 people dead, is only the thirteenth trial in French history in which records can be made of the proceedings. Author Madeleine Schwartz shares her notes from attending the trial, in which there are some 2,000 plaintiffs, and wonders if the French legal system is capable of passing judgment on an act of terrorism:

Although the court feels separate from the world, the trial is being shaped by currents in domestic politics which have been accentuated and accelerated by the attacks. Since 13 November 2015, France has been in a semi-permanent state of emergency. Much of the anti-terrorism legislation put in place after the attacks is still in place. In the lead-up to the presidential election, far-right politicians debate whether to prevent minors from wearing a headscarf, whether to ban all immigration to France, the supposed dangers of Islam – issues that are then given serious consideration on the radio or in the newspapers.

This alters the kinds of conversation that occur inside the courtroom. Technical questions – to what extent were the attacks planned? What role did the accessories to the crimes believe they had? – often give way to vague questions about religion and integration. One judge asks a witness if the terrorists in the Bataclan spoke good French, without an accent.