The terrorists lost
Date: Tuesday, March 16 @ 13:21:18 UTC
Topic: No War

By Gabriel Ash,

Spanish voters gave a decisive blow to the right-wing and undemocratic Aznar government, which put Spain behind George Bush's war despite the strong disapproval of the overwhelming majority of Spaniards. They also did something almost unheard of in these reactionary days. They brought their politicians to account for something these politicians have actually been responsible for. Wow!

Somehow, in U.S. radical right circles, this has become "a victory for terrorists." The logic goes like this: Al-Qaeda wants the West out of the Middle East. It wants to establish a tit-for-tat in blood for perceived Western attacks on Islam, a price tag, as it were, for Western policy choices. According to this logic, the price of participating in the war has now been exacted from Spain. By refusing to up the antes and rally behind Bush's allies, the Spanish voters have effectively capitulated.

But the fans of the U.S. empire are confused. They also claim that terrorists are "nihilists," that they cannot be deterred or reasoned with, that Spaniards are deluded if they think they can avoid being targets of terror through "appeasement." On the contrary, their argument goes, changing policy under pressure will only make Spain even more of a target.

The problem is that these two descriptions of Al-Qaeda's goals contradict each other. Either Al-Qaeda is engaged in realpolitik, trying to deter opponents and influence their decisions by usual (if particularly gruesome) carrot and stick methods that political realists cherish, or it is engaged in a nihilist war without end, a war that can only feed on itself until it reaches doomsday.

If the goals of the Madrid bombers were to defeat Aznar, one must ascribe to them a realpolitik agenda designed to separate the U.S. from Europe. The success of such an agenda depends on some level of restraint and accommodation with Europe, as well as with any country willing to be neutral. Obviously, in order to move countries not to rally behind George Bush, Al-Qaeda must be able to "reward" those who have opted out of the conflict. In that case, "appeasement," far from being pointless, is a perfectly sound policy.

If, on the other hand, the perpetrators are beyond appeasement, it follows that their goal wasn't to defeat Aznar at all. If the terrorists are engaged in a merciless "war of civilization," for what purpose would they care about the identity of Spain's rulers? Isn't it then more plausible that they expected the opposite effect of what they got? They may have expected Spaniards to react in the same way Americans did after September 11. They may have expected Spain to lash out in a wave of anger against Muslims.

To be sure, it seems Al-Qaeda (or rather the different cells now independently using the Al-Qaeda moniker) is itself not of one mind. The Madrid attack, especially given the timing, seems designed as a deterrent, but other actions support the impression that Al-Qaeda's goal is to bring about escalation and to incite government to anti-Muslim repression.

This is the classic gambit of clandestine resistance. Radical Islamic groups can grow and become a real force only thanks to Western violence against more apolitical Muslims, who are then radicalized by the experience and driven to join the militant groups.

So far this strategy has worked like a charm. The U.S. responded to September 11 the way Pharaoh responded to the Ten Plagues, by getting ever more righteous and abusive. Bush has made Iraq into Bin Laden's Islam's outreach slogan, recruitment center, and boot camp.

There is at least some evidence that the goal of the Madrid bombing wasn't -- or at least wasn't only -- to defeat Aznar's ruling party, but rather to elicit a similar backlash of repression against Muslims in Spain, especially among the poor illegal Moroccan migrants. Why was a central mosque chosen as the location for dropping the Al-Qaeda tape (and why did the anonymous caller describe the location by reference to the mosque)? There is also something suspicious about the ease with which Moroccans have been implicated. Perhaps the terrorists were really clumsy. But perhaps a tide of anger directed towards the Moroccan minority is what they were after.

Whichever their goal was, "the war of civilizations," that shibboleth of global terrorists from the Pentagon to Tora Bora, suffered a blow in Spain. To those radical Muslims driven to terrorism by the perception of being under endless attack from the West, who seek an end to Western domination of their society, the best antidote is indeed to put an end to that domination, to withdraw the soldiers, to end support for Israel, and to try, for a change, mutual respect. To those whose goal is to incite further violence in order to polarize their own societies and bring about a total war against "the West," the best antidote is to deprive them of their recruiting grounds, by refusing to play their game of escalation and victimization.

The reaction of the Spanish voters so far has been wise, almost supernaturally so. Both Richard Perle and Osama Bin Laden must be hissing and huffing.

Gabriel Ash was born in Romania and grew up in Israel. He is an unabashed "opssimist." He writes his columns because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword - and sometimes not. He lives in the United States.

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