Over the years like most Americans, we Floridians have watched in horror as major cities in the U.S. and abroad have been rocked by acts of terror executed or inspired by radical Islamic organizations. The World Trade Center bombing of 1993, the September 11 attacks, London, Madrid, the Boston Marathon bombing, and more recently San Bernardino, Paris, and Brussels among others; we always felt the pain and stood in solidarity with the victims and their families, but from a distance. Though terrorism had grazed our state – some of the 9/11 terrorists lived here and just months ago an attack in Key West was foiled – we had never experienced it directly.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, the perpetrator of the massacre at Pulse nightclub (whose name I will purposely omit) changed that forever. Florida suffered its first wound from terrorism. It is deep and it is still bleeding. The toll: at least 49 dead and over 50 hospitalized with bullet wounds and other injuries.
The attack was also unique because as President Obama appositely described, “This was an act of terror and hate.” Previous attacks had broadly targeted innocent civilians in free societies. In this instance it is almost certain that killing LGBT Americans was the terrorist’s specific objective. The fact that this took place as people from Key West to the Pacific Northwest are celebrating LGBT Pride Month makes it sting even more.
For Floridians, an attack on Orlando is an attack on us all. Tallahassee is our state’s capital, and down here in South Florida we brag that Miami is its only major metropolis. But Orlando is the meeting place for all Floridians. It is at the geographic center of our state and features myriad attractions. It is a place of adventure and happy memories.
When our young daughters hear “Orlando,” they think of princesses and fairies.
Adolescents think of rollercoasters and water slides. “Orlando” makes me smile because it reminds me of the wonderful childhood my parents provided me.
Orlando is synonymous with family and friends. Anytime an organization in Florida wants to hold a meeting or convention, Orlando is usually the top choice. None of this will change, but from now on when we contemplate Orlando, we will be compelled to remember the innocent victims of June 12, 2016 – the worst terror attack in America since 9/11.
This dark day is a reminder that even if the Obama administration has decided to erase the phrases from its lexicon, we are still in the midst of the War on Terror and that much of this destruction is inspired if not executed by radical Islamic extremists like the members of Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah and the governments who sponsor them.
In both political parties, populist demagogues are calling for a new era of American isolationism. They promise that if we retreat from the world and just take care of ourselves, everything will be fine.
The situation in the Middle East and the carnage in Orlando belie their reckless utterances. Others offer the idea of tighter gun laws as another easy answer to these acts of terror on the homeland.
While a conversation about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals is warranted, we know that terrorists will employ any weapon to achieve their goals. For example, in Boston homemade bombs were used; in New York, D.C., and Pennsylvania, large passenger aircraft.
If we are to effectively blunt the terrorist threat we must go to the root of the matter, not treat the symptoms.
Our abrupt withdrawal from Iraq left a massive vacuum in the region that was quickly filled by ISIS fighters and radical Shiite militias.
Our refusal to enforce the red lines Bashir al Assad grotesquely violated put these bad actors and the rest of the world on notice that the United States really didn’t mean business. These are major factors that gave ISIS the space and the confidence to grow and to project power beyond its area of operation.
Threats like ISIS are not problems to be managed. They are lethal enemies that must be destroyed or reduced to the point of irrelevance. Only then will they cease to motivate and radicalize young men like the Orlando terrorist – an American-born citizen.
Many questions about what happened on and leading up to June 12 remain, but this much is certain: only an unwavering commitment to strong and sober American leadership in the world will guarantee our safety.
It is not what some people want to hear, but it is the only sure way to prevent the next Orlando.