Randy Forbes: A personal reflection on Paris

randy forbesFriday night brought back vivid memories of 9/11. I closed my eyes and saw the T.V. screen flashing with images now seared into our national memory. I remembered the horror and shock of struggling to grasp the reality of what was happening before our eyes.

When news broke of terrorist attacks in Paris, an echo of that same adrenaline snapped in our veins. Our throats tightened as we watched the headlines churning out of France, confronted with the horror of yet another act of brutal terror, begging the question, Where next? Will it be here?

When clocks read 10:00PM in France on Friday, approximately 100 people lay dead. Others lay in pools of blood –strangers’ and their own — frozen with fear, envisioning the faces of loved ones they might never see again, as they waited for the circling gunmen to depart. Streets were in chaos. Strangers held one another, crying. Cell phones were passed around as people frantically tried to contact family members, forcing shaky fingers to send that text and ask the feared questions, “Where are you? Are you ok?”

Waking up the next morning, the count had risen to more than 300 wounded and over 120 who lost their lives in Paris that night. Include the victims in recent terrorist attacks in Ankara, Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya, and elsewhere, and that count skyrockets. In the aftermath, our televisions and Facebook newsfeeds are flooded with stories of strangers turned heroes. We read about the man who put his body between a 22-year-old girl, whom he had never seen before, and the gunmen at the Bataclan theater. Our ears echo with the sound of hundreds of voices singing the French national anthem as they filed out of the stadium where smoke was still settling from the explosion of two suicide bombers. Our hearts stiffen against the walls of our chest in anger that these innocent lives were taken. We watched as the world came together, but also wonder, with pricks of fear, what will happen next – and where. Flags are lowered. Monuments and other buildings across the globe are lit up in red, white, and blue. We grip loved ones a little closer. We worry about the future for our children and grandchildren. We pray.

Friday’s horrific acts of terror serve as a searing reminder not only of the evil that is in the world, but also that the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism is not a distant danger. As a Member of Congress serving on both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, I have received the classified briefings. I have warned of the growing threat posed by the Islamic State. My highest priority is providing for the common defense, strengthening our national security, and protecting America.

Those were not random acts of terror in the streets of Paris. They were the latest developments in the Islamic State’s concerted assault on Western civilization, and on the principles of democracy and freedom. We must stare evil directly in the eyes. Pretending this is anything other than globally ambitious Islamist extremism will do nothing to prevent further atrocities or protect the U.S. and our allies.

Rather, we must be equipping our military, intelligence services, and law enforcement with the resources necessary to protect national security. We must secure our borders, and make sure terrorists and those who would do us harm are prevented from entering this country. We must make the safety of U.S. citizens our number one priority. We must confront the fact that trying to contain this threat is not enough — only a concerted strategy to dismantle and utterly destroy ISIS will ensure our national security.

America stands with France. We must stand ready.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.