The latest terrorist attacks in Paris by radical Islamists remind us that we live in deadly serious times.  There are people in this world on a mission to destroy our way of life.  Paris may be a particular flash point–with its large, unassimilated Islamic population, including many known radicals—but really these attacks could have happened anywhere in the Western world.  There are reports that these terrorists spoke about France’s involvement in Syria, but it would be foolish to accept that this is really the impetus for their attack.   

One’s immediate thoughts are for the families of those lost in this horrific attack. And it’s important that people around the world express their sympathies for those currently suffering. 

Yet these regular gestures of solidarity—the Facebook French flag profile pictures, the twitter hashtags, the candles—seem increasingly and frustratingly hollow.  It’s understandable and praiseworthy on one level: People feel helpless and want to do something.  These gestures do show that there are millions who are appalled by these events, which is important for our enemies to know. But sometimes it seems as though, too many people, including our political leaders, feel like these gestures are a sufficient response.  They aren’t.

Good people can disagree about what is the appropriate response. But I’d hope that, at least, we’d start by strengthening our resolve that such conversations are necessary and cannot be curtailed in the name of political correctness.  Which, sadly, brings to mind the recent events on too many college campuses with student protests and demands for the creation of “safe spaces” where upsetting conversations cannot take place.  It’s a tragedy, really, that today’s students are being encouraged to see uncomfortable conversations as “micro-aggressions” that they ought to be protected from. 

This needs to stop.  Of course we ought to urge people not to call each other names and to respect people as individuals and avoid sweeping judgments about groups.  Yet people, particularly young students who are supposed to being educated to lead the next generation, need to toughen up and be taught to understand that there are no “safe spaces” in the real world.  Not restaurants, not soccer stadiums, not cafes, concert halls nor schools,   People are going to make you uncomfortable, even say rude things to you—and potentially far, far worse.  Young students need to be prepared for this, learn how to cope and move on, and even fight back.   

You can see how the desire not to make anyone uncomfortable affects our current discussions about what happened in Paris.  We hear in the news about the world standing up against intolerance and our sage leaders lamenting the loss of life.  But most seem awfully reluctant to dig into what really happened and admit the nature of those who committed these atrocities. 

And some facts should be unmistakably clear:  These terrorists didn’t act because of a disagreement about foreign policy or because of some unfortunate misunderstanding.  There are people in this world who believe their purpose in life is to kill those who disagree with them.  They believe that’s what their god wants from them, even requires from them for them to receive rewards in the afterlife. We can all acknowledge that this is a minority of those who share their faith, but we ought to acknowledge this for what it is when we discuss our options for our response.

Can such conversations even happen in our colleges today?   I’m afraid too often the answer is no.  And that’s a tragedy, and a tragedy that will leave us less prepared to beat back against those who seek to destroy us.  Enough with the feel good hashtags.  We need honest conversations about this threat if we ever want to stop it.