“The ‘al-Qaida victory’ argument is quick, easy, and profoundly wrong Ã‚Â– for four reasons. The first and most obvious is the nature of the decisive switch that occurred in millions of Spanish minds between Thursday 11 March and Sunday 14 March. During this period, grief at ThursdayÃ‚Â’s horror was compounded by anger at their governmentÃ‚Â’s manipulation of information over the next two days Ã‚Â– an approach premised on blaming the Basque militant group ETA until polling day and reaping the rewards afterwards. […]
“The second reason to reject the instant interpretation of the election result relates to the fact that the Spanish public has never viewed the war on Iraq as a legitimate part of the ‘war on terror’ and thus cannot be accused of inconsistency (opposition to the Iraq war and the subsequent occupation has remained at around 90%). Indeed, it seems that the attacks prompted relatively few Spaniards actually to change their voting preference. Rather, they galvanised turnout (particularly among young people) to an impressive 77%, ended the campaignÃ‚Â’s soporific atmosphere, and transformed the saddest election Spain has ever known into a genuine, moving act of democratic affirmation.
“The third reason to reject the ‘al-Qaida victory’ theory refers to the honourable tradition that already exists in Washington of strategic withdrawal in the name of mollifying terrorists. Donald Rumsfeld himself, after all, presided over the final retreat of US troops from Saudi Arabia Ã‚Â– one of the main rallying calls of al-Qaida in the 1990s Ã‚Â– shortly after the end of ‘major combat operations’ in Iraq.
“Neither in Washington nor Madrid is there any intention of negotiating with terrorists, but strategic shifts to sap the Islamist cause are a valid part of the battle. In this light, there is no sense whatever that Spanish people are any less committed to opposing the threats posed by terrorism than are Americans.
“This, in turn, leads to a critical fourth reason Ã‚Â– the distraction Iraq represents from the real ‘war on terror’. By Saturday night, the first arrests in the bombing investigation had been made in LavapiÃ©s, a multicultural neighbourhood close to the centre of Madrid. Police have since established that the six prime suspects Ã‚Â– including mobile-phone retailer Jamil Zougam, who remains under arrest Ã‚Â– are all from the northern Moroccan cities of Tangiers and Tetouan. The dynamite came from Burgos, northern Spain; the detonators were also Spanish. This evidence suggests that the contribution of the Iraq war to fighting terror has been wholly negative: terror has emerged within the west or on its doorstep, Iraq has served only to distract attention and stimulate the sleeping cells. […]
“This is the true mandate that the Spanish people have given JosÃ© Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero Ã‚Â– to reorientate the fight against terror away from the ‘category mistake’ espoused by Bush, and towards treating al-Qaida not as a rogue state but as an ideological serial killer. In this, out of the catastrophe of Madrid they may lead Europe to the realisation that al-QaidaÃ‚Â’s real victory would be the assault on reason and liberty caused by the militarisation and securitisation of democratic politics.”