That the horrors which transpired tonight in the city of Paris are a hateful affront to Western civilization must be felt by all who love it. The manifestation of a death-worshipping, nihilistic ideology was laid bare before the world and more than 160 lives were left in its wake. As words of support come forth from leaders across the world and the Hollande government manages this crisis, the world waits in anticipation of what comes next. Sadly, after thirteen years of war in the Middle East spent fighting more for others’ freedom and democracy than for our own safety and way of life, we are brought to ask: does the West have what it takes to answer this call? In our hour of tragedy, will we find beneath this sadness a vengeful anger able to motivate us to destroy this cancer on humanity?
It saddens me to write that in light of the last decade and the refusal of our leaders to name our enemy as Islamic totalitarianism, when I learned of these attacks, my first thought was “At least the French will not ignore this and contort themselves to evade the truth at any cost.” My first instinct was to doubt that those who lead the United States possessed the clarity and integrity to answer such an attack with adequate resolve had it happened on our own soil. The contrast was made all the more stark when French President Francois Hollande took to the microphone and declared, “We are going to wage a war. It will be pitiless”— words unimaginable on the lips of our American president, who has made an art of showing sadness without fire.
How did we arrive here? By what ripe self-delusions did the West, and America in particular, allow such a dark force to emerge across a large swath of the world and to penetrate the West’s defenses? And how might we be restored?
For all of the commentaries to come detailing the various intelligence, military, and diplomatic responses that France, the United States, and the EU should pursue, nothing will substitute for our recognition of the enemy and a moral resolve to see its ideology defeated totally and permanently. When historians of the future look back on the beginning of the third millennium, they will find the curious spectacle of two civilizations in bitter conflict: one weak but tireless, underwritten by an ideology that demands submission at any cost and beholden to an image of regression back to a primitive way of life; the other strong, built on a heroic legacy of human achievement, but unequal to its inheritance. In the name of openness and uncritical thought, it is willing to endure a thousand abuses to prove itself caring and sympathetic to its most hateful opponent.
As over 160 people lie dead, while caution and reserve must have their place, we must also remember that there was a time not long ago when such an assault on another country was considered an act of open war. Today, under the sanitizing label of “terror,” such acts are characterized as civilian phenomena by non-state-actors who confound all conventional responses. We must remember that the United States entered World War I with far less justification than France—and, for that matter, perhaps Germany, as their citizens were present en force at the soccer stadium where bombs erupted— has now in the wake of these atrocities. To eliminate this growing threat, the West must cease to attach special consideration for these organizations and hold accountable those governments who harbor them, just as we did the Afghan government in 2001.
It cannot be said at this moment whether this attack directly merits action against Syria or Iraq or one particular country. Intelligence in the coming days and months will likely sort that out. But the standard for action should be made clear: whatever state harbors ISIS or any other organization responsible for direct attacks against the civilian population of France or any other Western country should be held directly accountable and made to either hand the culprits over or be treated as an enemy combatant. If, as in the case of Iraq, they lack the capacity to manage such global threats emerging from within their borders, considerations for their national sovereignty must be made subordinate to the West’s ability to seek out and destroy the perpetrators. The sovereignty of nations depends upon their efficacy and cooperation in preventing those within their borders from making war on the rest of the world. If they cannot tend their own house or if they refuse, those nations assailed by their people must do all that they can to protect their own populations.
On a final note, as Americans spend the next year deciding who we will choose as the next president of the United States, who best to fill the most powerful office in the world, let us consider who we trust to respond adequately in times such as these— who offers the skills, the knowledge, and, above all, the character to answer calls such as these. Let us ask these questions in the coming days and weeks with a fresh wound and a healthy anger. I will not try to persuade you of whom to choose. The challenge is each of ours to answer. But be it resolved that the challenge of peace— not peace of the moment, but as Neville Chamberlain once proclaimed and could not achieve, peace in our time— is a challenge before the Western world that can only be achieved through strength of both persons and nations.
Whether we are to preserve its rewards for future generations will depend upon our commitment to strong leadership. Whether we are to earn that legacy to which we are heir will be decided by our commitment to this struggle. And the survival of a glorious culture will depend upon whether, through the wars waged on faraway battlegrounds and in classrooms here at home, we can rediscover the values that once made us great and might again… if we can keep them.
Our most heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Paris. May the struggles we share bring us closer as allies and friends.