Fighting Words

To Die in Madrid

The nutty logic that says Spain provoked Islamist terrorism.

I can  remember when I was a bit of an ETA fan myself. It was in 1973 *, when a group of Basque militants assassinated Adm. Carrero Blanco. The admiral was a stone-faced secret police chief, personally groomed to be the successor to the decrepit Francisco Franco. His car blew up, killing only him and his chauffeur with a carefully planted charge, and not only was the world well rid of another fascist, but, more important, the whole scheme of extending Franco’s rule was vaporized in the same instant. The dictator had to turn instead to Crown Prince Juan Carlos, who turned out to be the best Bourbon in history and who swiftly dismantled Franco’s entire system. If this action was “terrorism,” it had something to be said for it. Everyone I knew in Spain made a little holiday in their hearts when the gruesome admiral went sky-high.

The Basque country, with its historic capital in Guernica, had been one of the main battlegrounds against Hitler and Mussolini in their first joint aggression in Spain, and many European families adopted Basque orphans and raised money for the resistance. It is tedious to relate the story of ETA’s degeneration into a gangster organization that itself proclaims a fascist ideology of Basque racial uniqueness, and anyway one doesn’t need to bother, since nobody any longer argues that there is a “root cause” of ETA’s atrocities. In the face of this kind of subhuman nihilism, people know without having to be told that the only response is a quiet, steady hatred and contempt, and a cold determination to outlast the perpetrators while remorselessly tracking them down.

However, it seems that some Spaniards, and some non-Spanish commentators, would change on a dime if last week’s mass murder in Madrid could be attributed to the Bin-Ladenists. In that case not only would there be a root cause—the deployment of 1,300 Spanish soldiers in the reconstruction of Iraq—but there would also be a culpable person, namely Spain’s retiring prime minister. By this logic, terrorism would also have a cure—the withdrawal of those Spanish soldiers from a country where al-Qaida emphatically does not desire them to be.

Try not to laugh or cry, but some spokesmen of the Spanish left have publicly proposed exactly this syllogism. I wonder if I am insulting the readers of Slate if I point out its logical and moral deficiencies:

Many Spaniards were among those killed recently in Morocco, where a jihadist bomb attack on an ancient Moorish synagogue took place in broad daylight. The attack was on Morocco itself, which was neutral in the recent Iraq war. It seems a bit late to demand that the Moroccan government change sides and support Saddam Hussein in that conflict, and I suspect that the Spanish Communist and socialist leadership would feel a little sheepish in making this suggestion. Nor is it obvious to me that the local Moroccan jihadists would stop bombing if this concession were made. Still, such a concession would be consistent with the above syllogism, as presumably would be a demand that Morocco cease to tempt fate by allowing synagogues on its soil in the first place.

The Turkish government, too, should be condemned for allowing its Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to visit the shattered synagogue in Istanbul after the latest mass murder (thus becoming, incidentally, the first Turkish prime minister ever to do so). Erdogan is also the first prime minister ever to be elected on an Islamist ticket. Clearly, he was asking for trouble and has not yet understood al-Qaida’s conditions for being allowed to lead a quiet life. Not that he hadn’t tried—he prevented the U.S. Army from approaching Baghdad through what is now known as the Sunni Triangle. He just hasn’t tried hard enough.

It cannot be very long now before some slaughter occurs on the streets of London or Rome or Warsaw, as punishment for British and Italian and Polish membership of the anti-Saddam coalition. But perhaps there is still time to avoid the wrath to come. If British and Italian and Polish troops make haste to leave the Iraqis to their own “devices” (of the sort that exploded outside the mosques of Karbala and Najaf last month), their civilian cousins may still hope to escape the stern disapproval of the holy warriors. Don’t ask why the holy warriors blow up mosques by the way—it’s none of your goddam crusader-Jew business.

The other countries of NATO, which has now collectively adopted the responsibility for Afghanistan, should reconsider. As long as their forces remain on the soil of that country, they are liable to attract the sacred rage of the Muslim fighters. It will not be enough for Germany and France to have stayed out of Iraq. They cannot expect to escape judgment by such hypocritical means.

French schools should make all haste to permit not just the veil but the burqa, as well as to segregate swimming pools and playgrounds. Do they suppose that they deceive anybody when they temporize about God’s evident will? Bombings will follow this blasphemy, as the night succeeds the day. It is written.

I find I can’t quite decide what to recommend in the American case. I thought it was a good idea to remove troops from Saudi Arabia in any event (after all, we had removed the chief regional invader). But, even with the troops mainly departed, bombs continue to detonate in Saudi streets. We are, it seems, so far gone in sin and decadence that no repentance or penitence can be adequate. Perhaps, for the moment, it’s enough punishment, and enough shame, just to know that what occurred in Madrid last week is all our fault. Now, let that sink in. 

Correction, March 16, 2004: Adm. Luis Carrero Blanco was killed in 1973, not 1975 as this article originally stated. ( Return to the corrected item.)