On a typical Friday evening in Paris last week, an otherwise peaceful evening was shattered with gunfire and explosions at numerous locations. Innocent people, mostly young, were enjoying the start of a weekend: at an international soccer match; a rock concert; and at several restaurants and night clubs. These are normal, joyous activities in any western metropolitan city. Amongst this joy and celebration, the peace and many lives were destroyed by at least eight coordinated attackers in six locations. They had planned their mayhem expertly and were armed to the teeth. In the carnage that followed, at least 129 died and hundreds more were wounded; casualties exceed five hundred from at least 19 different nations including the US. Most of the attackers blew themselves up wrapped in their suicide vest of explosives and shrapnel, taking more victims with them. The famous “City of Lights” had been transformed into a city of death. So, 72 hours into the investigation, what do we know about the attackers? Apparently, they were all young militant Islamic jihadi nihilists based on police identification and manifestos.
The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for sending these young men on their deadly one-way mission and there is no reason to doubt their claim. Just two weeks ago, they planted a bomb aboard a Russian airliner carrying tourists from Egypt back to Petrograd and destroyed more than two hundred (again) innocents. In the past, it was virtually impossible to put together this large a conspiracy without sending out warning signals to intelligence sources. Has ISIS put together a new communications system that is more secure? Investigation will reveal this and we will learn. France and all Europe are reeling from the disaster. Faced with a flood of refugees from Syria and other Mid East nations, the beleaguered nations of Europe are closing their borders in response to a dangerous and out-of-control situation. I don’t blame them. A lot of the photos of the refugees show that they are predominantly young men who represent the high threat demographic. France, Belgium and Britain already have thousands of radicalized young Muslims within their borders; why admit more? Historically, the United States has a long and close relationship with France. We probably would not have won the American Revolution to launch our nation without France’s assistance. American democracy was the ideal that France aspired to, symbolized by their gift of the Statue of Liberty in thanks. Red, white and blue are the colors of both nations’ flags.
A lot of American blood was shed to liberate France twice in the last century. Suffice it to say we have a lot in common. You might think that America would jump to France’s aid, but in public, the president is reticent. While things like intelligence may be occurring behind the scene, the public face of American foreign policy is ‘no change.’ And Obama is not alone in this attitude. Barely 24 hours after the attack, Democrats held a presidential debate in Des Moines. None of the three candidates would identify the attackers as Muslim even when pressed on the semantics by the moderator. That may seem like a small point, but failing to identify your enemy is a critical breakdown in leadership. The Obama Administration has said that America will admit “tens of thousands” of Syrian refugees, but has not said how those people will be vetted to screen-out terrorists who would wish us harm. Meanwhile, 16 (and counting) governors including Gov. Rick Scott have told the president ‘don’t send them to us.’ If the president plans on doing so, it will take leadership on his part which thus far he has declined. France may be more vulnerable to this style of terrorism than some other nations because of her colonial past.
In the 19th Century, the old order of Europe embraced colonialism and occupied nations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, so a relationship between those peoples was begun. Those relationships persist to this day. France’s occupation and exploitation of Algeria for a century has led to many African Muslims immigrating northward. Other European nations such as Belgium, Britain and The Netherlands face similar problems. France did nothing to provoke this attack; neither did the United States provoke the attack on 9/11 fourteen years ago. We are part of a clash of civilizations. The nihilists who follow ISIS (and also al-Qaeda) want to return to a 7th Century caliphate. They believe that either you submit or die – pretty simple formula. Everyone without exception is with them or an enemy. The world must recognize this threat as real and come together to stamp it out. Without this unanimity, we are bound to witness the events of last Friday night again … and repeatedly. ISIS has issued a warning – Washington and Rome are at the top of their hit list. Are we ready? Will we be prepared to counter the threat?