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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

To Stand in Unity

Paris, 11/13
© 2015 TASS

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only
except quoted and cited passages.

It was around 7:30 pm on the US east coast when the first reports came in. "Several incidents of gunfire and explosions reported in Paris, France." In a world where reports of violent, bloody terror attacks have become depressingly common, those initial reports raised a good many eyebrows. But it wasn't long before we knew that what was happening in the City of Light was, in fact, a professionally planned and executed attack against the people of Paris. As the details became known, we became glued to television and media sites on the Internet, breathless as new details came in. The death toll started at 13, then 18, 28, and the number kept rising until the count of the victims at the Bataclan Arts Center became known. In all, 130 innocent Parisians, all out for a night on the town, were murdered by gunmen of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Levant), otherwise known as ISIS/ISIL.

In most cases, such news is reported as an aftermath. In this case, however, when the news was breaking around the world, the attacks were still on-going in what turned out to be seven different locations.

I was in Paris just this past June. It was a delightful stay, highlighted by the French people who could not have been friendlier or more helpful to a confused Yankee tourist. The police presence was obvious, and was joined by soldiers of the French Army who walked the streets and subways of Paris with automatic weapons, not slung over their shoulders, but carried across their chests, loaded and ready for immediate use; their heads on a swivel, their eyes watchful.

© 2015 by Ralph F. Couey

That ISIS is capable of such violence is old news. Since the group's genesis in 1999, it has grown steadily in numbers and capability. In the last year or so, the group, now an army, has steadily marched through Iraq, leaving a trail of tortured and beheaded civilians -- including women and children -- in their wake. ISIS now has an armed presence in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Pakistan, Nigeria and the North Caucasus. It also has members positioned in Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, the Indian Sub-Continent, and Turkey. Most disturbing for the United States, ISIS, through a professionally-run social media campaign, has attracted an unsettling number of adherents here.

Having experienced our own Gotterdammerung of horror on 9/11, Americans were quick to express sympathy and solidarity with France. Many remembered the headline in a Paris newspaper on September 12th that read, "Today, We Are All Americans." Within an hour, tributes of flowers and teddy bears began to pile up outside the French Embassy in Washington DC. Representations of France's tricolor flag appeared on everything from buildings to Facebook posts. Many cheered the stark words of French President Francois Hollande in his statements, proclaiming the France was "at war," and promised to strike back at ISIS "without mercy." He also called the attacks "An act of war that was prepared, organized, planned from abroad with internal help." He declared that "A determined France, a united France, a France that joins together, and a France that will not allow itself to be staggered even if today, there is infinite emotion faced with this disaster, this tragedy, which is an abomination, because it is barbarism."

Strong words. Words which ring with conviction. Exactly the kind of thing you would expect from the leader of a country that has suffered ideologically-driven mass murder. The character of President Obama's statement will be hotly debated in other places, but from my observation, it lacked any real sense of conviction and was delivered in a mumbling kind of address that could only have come from someone who was dragged kicking and screaming to that podium. Or, someone who, just a few hours earlier, had declared ISIS "contained."

The response of US law enforcement, security, and intelligence organizations was by all accounts immediate, intense, and focused on the possibility of similar attacks taking place in America, exactly what ISIS statements later promised would happen. As one statement read, "American blood tastes the best."

It has been 10 days since 11/13. In Paris, hundreds of raids continue, as France hunkers down under a declared State of Emergency. The investigations have led to Belgium where the capital city of Brussels, also the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, has been locked down. Here in the United States, people approach the busy Christmas shopping season with a vigilance not felt since the days after 9/11. Everyone knows or at least senses that crowded shopping malls, and even the lines of shoppers outside places like Best Buy and WalMart in the pre-dawn hours of Black Friday will make nigh-irresistible targets. I suspect that due to this inferred threat, online shopping will set records this year, to the delight of the porch pirates who steal packages from our front doors.

Unforgotten in the tragedy of 11/13 has been the outpouring of support and empathy from Americans. We are no strangers to mass killings, not only by terrorists, but the random shootings done by the mentally ill who for whatever reason fell over the edge of rationality into the pit of violence. I join with these voices. I want the French people to know that America supports them, and grieves with them. Were I given the opportunity to speak to the people of France, I would say this:

"To the people of France:

"We, the people of America stand with you in this dark time when the ugly and hateful hand of terrorism has reached deep into your hearts. But we know your strength; we know your resolve; we know that despite the attempt by ISIS to lower their shroud of darkness over your beloved Paris, the City of Light will not be darkened. We know that Paris will continue live by its nickname.

"Americans remember how you stood with us during our revolution. We remember how we fought side-by-side in the World Wars. We remember the bond of affection and respect that has always existed between our two peoples, manifested by your gift, the presence of Lady Liberty standing resolutely in the harbor of our greatest city.

"We also remember how you stood with us on 9/11, when that same city lay under the dust and smoke of our own day of horror and loss. How your newspapers proclaimed that "We are all Americans." Today, we are all of France. Today, we suffer with you, grieve with you, and weep with you.

"But know in your hearts that today France and America are one, united in a solemn vow to end the threat of terrorism.

"Today, shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm, We the People of the United States stand together with you, with conviction, courage, and unity. We will never leave your side.

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