Mad is the European who thinks himself immune to terror for having opposed Saddam's overthrow.
BY ANDRE GLUCKSMANN
Sunday, March 21, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST
PARIS--Read carefully the statement that claimed responsibility for the Madrid massacres. Al Qaeda puts everyone, from the Crusaders to the Jews, all countries who sent troops not just to Iraq but to Afghanistan as well, in their gun sights. In other words, all of Europe--Berlin and Paris, no less than Rome, London or Warsaw. France merits special condemnation for its ban on the Islamic veil in public schools.
Mad is the European who thinks himself immune for having opposed Saddam Hussein's overthrow. No accommodation provides insurance against attack. No public building, no train platform, no sidewalk is spared by the Islamist butchers. "Death train," "death's black smoke," "the wind of death," the bleak metaphors fly over the borders in the name of al Qaeda. The bombs in Madrid, they say, are the "answers to the crimes you have committed worldwide . . . in Iraq and in Afghanistan."
In manipulating the Spanish election, terrorism proclaims its gospel and applies it in practice. The perfect timing of March 11 is the monstrous example. Little does it matter that the 201 dead and the 1,500 wounded were working-class people, most likely opposed to an intervention in Iraq--as were some 90% of the Spanish. The "human material" has no value for the terrorists who prove the strength of their convictions and the power of their weapons with the murder of the disarmed, whoever they may be and whatever they may think, whether believers or not. It was an encore, as everyone said: On this March 11, 2004, Europe lived its own September 11, the horror of Manhattan all over again.
Except this time the assassins can proclaim they have won. It took them three days to sway popular opinion. The Popular Party of Jose María Aznar, the expected winner, got trounced. "Punished!" they said. But by whom? What's the point of political campaigns, meetings, reports, programs and debates if within a few hours, the bombing of packed train cars can reverse the result? This final landslide, which no polls had predicted, is entirely due to the Atocha station catastrophe and the terror it spread. How could the terrorists not assume that they are the decision-makers, and that terrorism is now stronger than democracy? If the Socialists brought to govern Spain keep their pledge (made before the massacre) to withdraw from Iraq, they will confirm the killers' innermost conviction: Crime pays--and the greater the horror, the more efficiently.
"But of course not," object the wishful thinkers, Mr. Aznar lost because his alliance with George W. Bush was unpopular. Nonsense! The alliance was just as unpopular three days before the elections, but the Popular Party was still favored then, and his opponents did not hope to win back many "antiwar votes." Without the bombs, without the bloodbath, the shouts of "Aznar assassin" would have sounded ludicrous. But Madrid's ground zero panicked the minds and awoke the demagogues, ready to invert responsibility. Were there not already weak minds--Lenin's "useful idiots"--who eagerly claimed that Mr. Bush and the CIA had planned the fall of the Twin Towers?
With hundreds of dead, more than a thousand wounded and the threat of another imminent terrorist attack, Mr. Aznar did not see, know and understand everything within 24 hours. Should a head of government be blamed for not being God? Should he be imagined plotting a Machiavellian scheme to cheat his people without cheating himself, as some kind of extra-lucid devil pulling the strings of a conspiracy as huge as it would be absurd? Stop this delirium.
One rule, one and only one firm rule must impose itself on Europe after this tragedy. In the event of another electoral hijacking, voting must be immediately postponed. The governed and the governing must both be given the time to recover their right minds. They must be able to assess and address the horror, its antecedents and its consequences; cool down before undertaking an informed vote. Let a people abruptly thrown in the abysses of hell maintain the suspense for a fortnight or two, so that it can exercise its sovereign power with sovereignty!
Right at the moment, fearing to confront the true culprit, a virtual culprit was caught in Spain. Mr. Aznar replaced Osama bin Laden. A magic trick--an exercise in exorcism. With no grip on the true mastermind, some voters find imaginary guilt and decide to symbolically kill through the ballots their own head of government. Illusionists arise to face the blackmailers, a consoling witchcraft dreams of itself as a worldwide antiterrorist operation. In front of the candles lighted for the victims, banners cursed the demons: In small case the Basque terrorists "ETA," then "bin Laden," in bigger letters "Bush," while the huge letters spelled "Aznar." The world is upside down.
"Not in the least," object the sincere or the false naïfs: The conservative government destroyed itself by hiding the truth and pointing to ETA instead of al Qaeda. What a miserable alibi. As soon as the news broke, every single Spaniard--backed by 20 years of bloody memories--including the Socialist winner Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and even a majority of Basques, were inclined to follow the ETA trail. Within 48 hours, the police, the intelligence services, the press and the ministers rectified their initial assumptions. As they were going to the ballot, the voters had heard of everything that was known, and Spanish democracy and its institutions had worked.
But some of the protesters were still waving around the lie of a "state lie;" and numerous voters, perfectly well informed, changed their minds and chose to bow down without regrets to the blackmail of their fellow citizens' assassins. A minute of silence, followed by a night of rejoicing for the electoral winners. What a short memory. Al Qaeda--oh sorry! "the Arab resistance," to use the words of the spokesman of Batasouna/ETA--has waged its elections campaign with corpses, and the ballot box has granted its diktat. Whether we like it or not: "Welcome to the world of megaterrorism!"
Time has come for decisions. Either Europe unifies to resist the engineers of the apocalypse, following Tony Blair. Or it poses as an opponent of the United States, following the pseudo-"camp of peace" led by Jacques Chirac, Vladimir Putin and the hesitating Gerhard Schroeder. The "viva la muerte" chanted by the Islamist legions vindicates Tony Blair. But the terror they spread, petrifying European citizens, threatens to lead to resignation after resignation.
Rome, Paris, Athens, Warsaw, Berlin . . .? Don't ask who's next! "Never ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." Hemingway the anti-Francoist was quoting John Donne, an 18th century poet. Bin Laden's mercenaries take their inspiration from the Spanish fascist Millán Astray: "You want life, we want death." Will Mr. Zapatero find the voice of Miguel de Unamuno, the independent thinker of Salamanca who denounced the fascist general's "cry of necrophilia," and stand up to today's nihilist killers? It is never too late to prevent a disaster.
Mr. Glucksmann is the author, most recently, of "Ouest Contre Ouest" (West Against West), published in Paris last year by Plon.