[OUTLOOK]Terror claims a victory

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[OUTLOOK]Terror claims a victory

In Spain, terrorism has won its first election in the West. Just before those 200 Spaniards were murdered on their trains, the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Socialists were neck-and-neck. Three days later, and in spite of their lackluster candidate Zapatero, the Socialists had won by a landslide, amid a last-minute campaign that insinuated that the horrible bloodletting was payback for Spain’s close alliance with the United States in the “war on terror.”
This election delivered yet another first in the history of Western democracy. In all previous instances of terrorist attacks, in America, Italy or Israel, the populace instinctively rallied to the side of the government. Not this time, and the message will not go unnoticed in the worldwide network of Islamic terrorism. For one, in one fell swoop, Islamo-terror has knocked an important pillar out of the Western anti-terror alliance; that was a strategic victory of the first order. Second, it was a psychological triumph for the terrorists because a “small” investment of 200 dead turned an entire nation of 40 million toward appeasement. Already, the new prime minister has announced that he will pull Spain’s 1,300 troops out of Iraq.
Of course, this terrorism, like any terrorism, will not be appeased but encouraged. Count on more attacks to come throughout Europe. What worked in Madrid might work in Warsaw and Rome too, in the two other European pillars of the American alliance in the Iraq war.
Having made their electoral choice, Spaniards clearly calculated as follows: If we abandon the American alliance, if we pull our troops out of Iraq, we will minimize ourselves as a target. Whether this assumption will come true even for Spain is an open question. What if Spain continues to cooperate with the United States and the other Europeans in the police and intelligence battle against Al Qaeda and other groups like Ansar-al-Islam?
Having proven last Sunday what a soft target the country is, Spain has all but invited future strikes, perhaps to get terrorists out of Spanish jails. There is also Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa surrounded by Morocco. Thus, it would not be implausible to foresee a scenario in which the Islamicists tell Madrid: Either you leave, or we will bomb some more trains. Finally, those Spaniards who voted for appeasement have not read Al Qaeda’s literature, which refers to Spain as “al Andaluz”, in fond memory of the Arab reign that was forcibly terminated by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492.
But that is a purely Spanish matter. The electoral verdict in favor of the appeasement-minded Socialists, however, has consequences for all of Europe and the Middle East. Surely, Al Qaeda and the other parts of the Islamic terror network will be emboldened. In the past, terror struck only on the periphery ― in Tunisia, Bali or Kerbala, the Iraqi city holy to all Shiites. The attacks in Madrid were the first strike against the West since the immolation of New York’s twin towers two and a half years ago. And after this breathtaking success, the critical question is: Will the rest of Europe go down the Spanish route, or do these countries understand that they must either hang together or hang separately?
To fight Terror International, there has to be an Anti-terror International. Al Qaeda means “network” in Arabic, and against such an enemy you can only defend with a network of your own, with the largest possible community of nations. Every partner lost to this coalition is a victory for the terrorists.
Can you negotiate with terrorists? The answer is no. In a video that showed Al Qaeda’s “military spokesman for Europe,” the key phrase uttered was: “We love death; you love life.” This reminds you of the totalitarians ― Bolsheviks, Fascists, Nazis ― of the 20th century. They preached salvation in the name of race or class, but meted out annihilation by the tens of millions. The message of the Islamicists is the same. How can you negotiate with people who love death? How can you compromise with those who demand not this or that, but complete submission to a demented dream? Could anybody negotiate with those Japanese terrorists who sought to kill as many people as possible with their poison-gas attack on the Tokyo subway?
This impossibility is particularly hard to understand for the Western mind given to rational deals even with opponents, to give-and-take, to compromise for the sake of avoiding deadly strife. Europe has overcome the totalitarian temptation of the 20th century. Its secular faith is “Never again!” a resounding “no” to intolerance, exclusion and racism. Having vanquished this curse, it has trouble staring into the eyes of the new totalitarianism, an enemy that cannot be propitiated or pacified.
This enemy must be fought to a standstill, but not at the price of sacrificing the liberal democracies that are now expanding from Western to Eastern Europe. We cannot fight terror with terror, but we can fight it with good intelligence and police work, provided that we all work together. If we don’t, Winston Churchill will be proven right once more. He said: “An appeaser is somebody who feeds the crocodile, hoping that he will be the last one to be eaten.”

* The writer is the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and an associate at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.


by Josef Joffe

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