March 15, 2004 - Two major events rocked Spain this past week: the terrorist attack on March 11, in which 200 were killed and over a thousand injured, and the elections on March 14, in which the Socialists upset the Popular Party, which had been in power and was expected to win.
The two events are clearly related. The Popular Party (PP) was the object of intense popular anger right after the attack. There were charges of a cover-up, people accusing the government of trying to blame the attack on the Basque separatists (ETA) because that would have been politically less damaging. The expected outcome of the election was reversed, with the Socialists winning a clear victory. The outpouring of rage was so intense and the mobilization against the government on this issue so strong that those who claim the Socialists might have won anyway have little credibility.
Reading the Spanish papers, I receive the impression that the Spanish people expressed far more anger against their own government than against the terrorists who attacked them. They seemed to be telling Prime Minister José María Aznar: "Your support for the war in Iraq was supposed to make us safer. Now look what has happened."
So now Aznar will be replaced, and certainly the terrorists will interpret this as a victory. The new Prime Minister, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero, has been very outspoken against the war in Iraq and has promised to bring the Spanish troops home by June.
The logic of the Spanish people is not difficult to understand. But will this response to the attack make Spain safer?
The conclusion that it will is based on a number of assumptions:
All of these assumptions are questionable.
As to the first assumption: Why would Al Qaeda attack Spain?
The timing is hardly coincidental. The event took place on March 11, exactly two and one-half years (and 911 days!) after the September 11 attacks of 2001. Once again, Al Qaeda demonstrates its love of symbolism. It also happened right before the Spanish election. It seems very apparent that Al Qaeda's intention was to influence the outcome. And this one was tempting. It is well known that the people of Spain overwhelmingly opposed their government's support for the war in Iraq. The electorate was volatile. Al Qaeda knew that if it could bring this issue to the front of people's consciousness, it stood a good chance of affecting the result. In so doing, it would bring about change toward a leadership less friendly to the United States and to Bush's war on terror.
And so without doubt Al Qaeda believes that through an act of terror it succeeded in bringing down the Spanish government. This, more than simply punishing Spain for its support of the United States, may have been the primary motive for the attack.
According to Al Qaeda's reckoning, was support for the war in Iraq Spain's only offense? Hardly. Here is a transcript of the video found shortly after the attack, setting forth its rationale:
We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly 2.5 years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies.
This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.
You love life and we love death, which gives an example of what the Prophet Muhammad said. If you don't stop your injustices, more and more blood will flow and these attacks will seem very small compared to what can occur in what you call terrorism.
This is a statement by the military spokesman for al-Qaida in Europe, Abu Dujan al Afghani.
Note that the tape claims the attack was a response to action "in Iraq and Afghanistan." In other words, any support for the war against terrorism will be counted as justification for mass murder. The message is: If you dare stand up to us, we will kill you.
Is the proper response then not to stand up to them? To give them whatever they want?
With or without support for the U.S., Spain is on the terrorist hit list. Here is an excerpt from another tape, made by Osama bin Laden as the U.S. was beginning its intervention in Afghanistan:
Let the whole world know that we shall never accept that the tragedy of Andalucía would be repeated in Palestine. We cannot accept that Palestine will become Jewish.
The "tragedy of Andalucía" was the end of Moorish (Muslim) rule. Islamic extremists consider Spain to belong to them, as it was once ruled by Muslims, and any land ruled by Muslims cannot be given back to non-Muslims. By comparing Andalucía to Palestine, Islamic extremists are saying that as far as they are concerned, non-Muslim Spain might as well be Jewish!
So Spain was bound to be targeted. It was only a question of time.
As to the second assumption: Will giving in to the terrorists make them more peaceful?
It has never worked that way in the past. No one knows this better than Israel. During the Oslo years, when Israel withdrew from the major Palestinian population centers and gave them autonomy, the Palestinians used the opportunity to develop a complex infrastructure for terrorism and the violence increased. After Israeli Prime Minister Sharon announced his intention to withdraw from Gaza, the terrorists only became bolder. On March 14 suicide bombers from Gaza attacked the port of Ashdod, killing ten people. Their intention appeared to be to set off a chemical explosion, killing many more. The Palestinians say they only want an end to "occupation," but when Israel takes steps toward withdrawal the terrorism always gets worse.
Appeasement never stops tyranny, but Europe has historically always resorted to appeasement first, until the moment arrived when it was clear the only option left was to resist.
In a recent column Fareed Zakaria points out the faulty logic of trying to appease:
Some in Spain have argued that if indeed Al Qaeda proves to be the culprit, then Spaniards will blame Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. It was his support for America and the war in Iraq, they say, that invited the wrath of the fundamentalists. But other recent targets of Islamic militants have been Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, not one of which supported the war or sent troops into Iraq in the afterwar. Al Qaeda's declaration of jihad had, as its first demand, the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden does not seem to have noticed, but the troops are gone - yet the jihad continues. The reasons come and go, the violence endures.
Terrorists do not need a reason for violence. They only give reasons to their victims to manipulate them by creating false hope.
As to the third assumption: Was the attack on Madrid an isolated event?
The program of Al Qaeda is not simply Iraq. It is to return civilization to the days before World War I, when Muslims ruled an empire and the caliphate still stood. And more: it is to renew the historic struggle of Islam against the West, reclaiming the lost Muslim lands of Europe (read: Spain) and extending Muslim sovereignty. (Read about the Al Qaeda philosophy in the Al Qaeda training manual quoted elsewhere on this site.)
Therefore expect Islamic terrorism in Europe to increase, no matter what Europe does. The reaction of the Spanish people - certainly as the terrorists perceive it, which is what counts - has sent a message that terrorism works, that through acts of violence the Islamic extremists can achieve their political goals. This will make them stronger, not weaker, bolder, not sweeter. There may be a temporary illusion of having bought some time, but the day will come when even the Europeans will know they have to stand up and resist or lose their civilization.
We are seeing more and more that Islamic terrorism is not an Israeli problem, and it is not an American problem. It is showing itself to be a global problem. Spain and Israel should be allies. The anti-Spanish ETA and anti-Israel terrorist groups collaborate with each other. Both countries feel the rest of the world does not understand their struggle with terrorists. However, there has been much anti-Israel, and even anti-Jewish sentiment in Spain, owing partly to its much larger Muslim population, and partly to the European anti-Semitic tradition. Not just Spain but Europe will have to outgrow this, not simply as a favor to Jews, but for their own survival.
Transcript: Osama bin Laden, Response to Start of Military Action in Afghanistan. ABC News, October 10, 2001.
Transcript of Purported Al Qaeda Videotape. New York Times, March 14, 2004.
Zakaria, Fareed. "Cruelty Is All They Have Left." Newsweek, March 22, 2004.
Peace with Realism