Do we face an interminable assault of Islamist terror, of massive changes in our Western way of life brought on by no sense of safety anyplace? Will the sense instead be that jihadists are persistently after us and could someday indulge in the murderous elimination of whole cities?
What we have in these questions are not exaggerations, but real possibilities, and what we need is real awareness, real leadership, real resolve. That's the message of what happened in Paris, not because it was the first or worst terror attack in the West, but because we were once again reminded of what we had better not forget. For instance:
We in the West are in this together, if far from exclusively. Radical Muslims have scorching hatred for anything Western and a religious conviction that a caliphate should rule all. Our nationalistic differences are nothing next to a cultural unity seen in a small but telling way when the terrorists killed 129 in Paris.
The Islamic State is a determined, technologically able menace that has victims every direction you look. It needs to be eradicated, but that would not be the end of the story any more than the diminution of al-Qaida was. The threat consists of fanatical, apocalyptic, self-sacrificing jihadists who can get new leaders when some are killed or form new organizations when some are crushed.
The radicals, whether stabbing Israelis or kidnapping girls in Nigeria, come from all kinds of groups and there's plenty of money for some of them. Thanks to an inane deal with the United States and other countries, for instance, terrorist-funding Iran is set to receive billions in unfrozen assets on top of getting a virtual go-ahead to develop nukes in the future.
A nuclear bomb could in fact be smuggled into the United States some day, and a nearer threat is the use of biochemical weapons that could kill tens of thousands. A new book said we are unprepared to cope with a possible cyber attack that could turn off U.S. electricity while creating deadly chaos. Then there are the smaller attacks that could turn everyday living into everyday hiding.
Such events will be more likely if jihadists come to dwell among us by posing as refugees from Middle East conflict. We need compassion, yes, but that could be achieved through more support and guidance for refugee communities in the Middle East.
What all of this means is that we in the West and others on the same side must stick together. We must do so militarily for the sake of overwhelming military power, and we need to work together on such strategic issues as intelligence gathering.
We need leadership. We can hope for Obama to get less weak-kneed as he works with NATO in astute but tough moves that probably should include destroying the Islamic State in Syria. Because of the way the Islamic State uses civilian shields, there are issues here, but it needs to go and seems far from likely to do so because of setbacks in Iraq. We must also do far more to prepare for the aftereffects of attacks.
We additionally need and should get anti-radical help from Muslims, and it's happening. After all, of the literally thousands of terrorist attacks that have killed people around the world since 9/11, many have taken place in Muslim countries with Muslim as well as Christian and other victims. The vast majority of Muslims are anything but supporters of terrorism, and that includes clerics and top officials of Arab states who made strong statements of abhorrence after the latest killings in France. In America, more Muslim citizens are speaking out.
It's never easy to forestall fanaticism, but those with the best chance in this case are Muslims wanting peace.