The November terrorist attacks in Paris have led to some critical self-reflection here in the United States. In the aftermath of the slaughter that left at least 130 dead (the body count continues to rise) and some 100s more injured, Americans have linked arm-in-arm with our oldest ally—mourning the dead, pledging increased military support and redoubling our collective resistance to fear as a way of life.
But this “act of war,” as French President Francois Hollande called it, has implications beyond the obvious emotional ones: It forces us to admit to ourselves that the threats posed by radical Islamic extremists are not isolated to the Middle East as we’ve imagined. Far from being “contained,” the threat is at our door.
In light of what happened in Paris, there is no doubt that we need to re-evaluate our plan to combat radical Islam abroad, but we also need to dedicate ourselves to combating radicalization at home. We cannot ignore the significant truth that the Paris attacks were carried out in part by French-born terrorists as bent on jihad-driven violence as their foreign counterparts. We know, as this goes to press, that one of the attackers responsible for carrying out the onslaught of terror in France was a 29-year-old radicalized French national named Omar Ismail Mostefai. At least two of the other attackers were born in France but living in Belgium at the time of the attack. And according to French officials, more than 30 other suspected Islamic militants have been arrested and dozens of weapons seized in raids across the country.
It has become clear that preventing these attacks means controlling the flow of would-be terrorists into and out of the West. That is precisely why I introduced the International Conflicts of Concern Act, legislation that would temporarily restrict the travel of U.S. citizens to countries of conflict where they may be radicalized and then return to our homeland later to carry out violence in the name of ISIS or other terrorist organizations. I’ve also joined my congressional colleagues on a letter urging the president to halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees until an adequate vetting process has been established, and I’ve cosponsored the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, which would halt admission of refugees into the United States from Syria or Iraq until Congress has received unanimous certification from the Secretary of Homeland Security, the director of the FBI, and the director of National Intelligence that those refugees do not pose a threat. That legislation was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 289–137.
During the Paris attacks, as more than 100 hostages remained trapped inside the Bataclan concert hall and rumors circulated that terrorists were executing hostages one-by-one, President Barack Obama announced to the world that “those of us here in the United States know what it’s like” and that “we’ve gone through these kinds of episodes ourselves.” But the fact is that we don’t know what it’s like. We haven’t gone through these kinds of episodes ourselves. The brutal Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Americans and still haunt our collective consciousness were committed by foreign combatants, not Americans. Never have we been the target of a large-scale coordinated attack carried out by radicalized U.S. citizens waging jihad in the name of an external terrorist organization. That is the reality that France was forced to face on Nov. 13.
Last year, FBI Director James Comey acknowledged that the flow of Western fighters into Syria—and the prospect they will return home radicalized—represents one of his biggest day-to-day concerns. Thousands of Western fighters, including 100 from the United States, are reported to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist organizations. We can no longer afford to ignore the threat that recruitment represents or the strategic value that undercutting it offers.
What happened in Paris is an atrocity that bends our minds and breaks our hearts, but it is also a clarion call to strengthen the way we combat terrorism on our own soil. It is time to acknowledge that “containment” is not a strategy for success and to develop a comprehensive plan for undermining the evolving threat of terrorism. The International Conflicts of Concern Act takes significant first steps in that direction by preventing the recruitment and radicalization of U.S. citizens abroad and cutting off the flow of fighters to Syria and Iraq from the West.