Most American analysts concur that the Spanish electorate's response to the train station bombings on March 11 amounted to a major setback in the global war on terror. It saw the violence resulting from the presence of 1,300 Spanish troops deployed in Iraq and voted to pull them out.
I agree that this is a setback, but I am inclined to see it as relatively minor. Here's why:
Spain's role in Iraq is basically symbolic. Its 1,300 troops are certainly welcome but no one can claim that they have a decisive role, or even a major one, in controlling Iraq.
In contrast, Spain does have a key role in the war on terror. (Unlike the U.S. government, by the way, I see the war on terror – which I prefer to call the war on militant Islam – as distinct from the war to dislodge Saddam Hussein.) The killing of 200 people in Madrid awoke not only Spaniards to the reality of the Islamist threat but also many others in Europe. As such, following my "education by murder" paradigm, the blasts are likely to lead to significantly better European security measures to prevent Islamist violence.
In all, I predict that the minor loss of Spanish troops in Iraq will be more than made up for by the heightened urgency of Spanish and Europe defenses versus militant Islam. Those two hundred lives, I hope and believe, will not have been lost for nothing.
Comment: For the un-pretty face of appeasement, here is one picture:
(March 18, 2004)
April 7, 2004 update: Confirmation of that heightened urgency comes in a survey New York Times account today, "Europe Trying to Act First Against Terrorist Networks." The new spirit is summed up by a French counterterrorism motto, "Every time we discover a cell, we eliminate it as a pre-emptive measure." Then there is this anecdote:
Swedish and Danish newspapers suggested this week that Sweden's intelligence services were so determined to expel a Moroccan-born Swede suspected of having Qaeda ties that they lured him to Denmark, where he would have less legal protection against extradition. According to those reports, they then tipped the Danish security service to arrest him so he could be turned over to Moroccan authorities.
So far, the changes are impressive. But let's see how long the will to pre-empt endures.
April 11, 2004 update: In a dramatic move, UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has stated he intends to make merely associating with a suspected terrorist a crime and hopes to jail sympathizers with extremist Islamic groups. The Observer quotes a source close to the secretaryexplaining the purpose: "We are targeting support networks, the things that enable terrorism to be perpetrated by other people. It is intended to deter people from hanging around the fringes of undesirables." These plans, the paper notes, are modeled on the French offence of "associating with a wrongdoer," which permits holding a suspect for up to 92 hours without charge.
April 17, 2004 update: Today's Daily Telegraph of London contains a news item, "Imam who praised bombers deported," about a preacher in Brest, on the coast of Brittany, named Yahia Cherif. Cherif admonished his followers to "rejoice in the Madrid bombings" and offer support for Jamal Zougam, the prime suspect in those bombings. Found guilty of "proselytism in favour of radical Islam" and "active relations with a national or international Islamic movement linked to organisations promoting terrorist acts," he was deported to Algeria.
This is impressive enough, but what really catches my attention is that Cherif made these remarks in a sermon on March 19 – and less than a month later, he is gone from France. I call that getting serious.
April 18, 2004 update: A deeper sign of Madrid's impact comes from the Netherlands, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The Madrid bombings will mean a green light for the Dutch government extradition [of foreigners] policies," predicts a Sudanese immigrant with an asylum claim pending. "The Dutch have become less tolerant," observes John Kanton, an immigrant from Suriname. "The Madrid bombings have the Dutch thinking, 'Hey, what's going on? What's happening to our way of life?'"
April 20, 2004 update: The new mood extends beyond terrorism, if today's developments in France are an indication. Chirane Abdelkader Bouziane, imam of a mosque in the Lyon suburb of Venissieux, made comments to Lyon Mag about the treatment of women that caught the government's attention today (translations by Reuters):
* He favors beating a wife "under certain conditions, notably if the woman cheats on her husband," although blows to the face and upper body should be avoided. "Hit low, that is, on the bottom," he explained on LCI television.
* Does he favor stoning of adulterers? "Yes."
* A woman does not have the right to work alongside men because "she could be tempted by adultery."
He not only favors polygamy but has sixteen children by his two wives.
The Minister of the Interior ordered Bouziane expelled from France tomorrow, April 21, and news reports indicate he'll be on a plane out at 8:30 in the morning.
April 21, 2004 update: How different the situation in the United Kingdom. Courtesy of the Times (London), we learn new details in the case of Abu Hamza al-Masri, 46, the Al-Qaeda enthusiast and former imam of Finsbury Park mosque, whose UK citizenship the Home Secretary has decided to revoke. Of course, Abu Hamza (as he is familiarly known) sought public funds for his appeal. That request was initially turned down.
The Times now reveals that a three-member legal panel, the Special Immigration Appeal Commission, overturned the initial decision, declaring Abu Hamza entitled to taxpayers' money for his legal representation. The cost for the expected three-week case, which begins April 26, could run into tens of thousands of pounds. A government spokeswoman explained the panel's reasoning: "We cannot differentiate between applicants for legal aid on the grounds that a decision to grant funding may be unpopular in a particular case."
But the Treasury has an ace up its collective sleeve: it can attempt to veto payments to Abu Hamza on the grounds that this breaches U.N. sanctions, given that Abu Hamza has since April 2002 been on the U.N. Security Council's list of Al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters.
The stark difference between the French and British reactions to wayward imams points to emerging differences in the war on terror that bear close attention.
April 21, 2004 update: A Dutch court has ordered the government to pay 45,000 in damages to Mullah Krekar for having been falsely arrested in September 2002, jailed until January 2003, and treated during that time (in his lawyer's description) "scandalously." Krekar happens to head Ansar al-Islam, a group described by Jonathan Schanzer as "a brutal band of al-Qa'ida guerrillas based in a Kurdish area of northern Iraq near the Iranian border," so it does not take too much imagination to know what the Dutch taxpayers' money will end up supporting.
April 22, 2004 update: Chirane Abdelkader Bouziane was indeed deported yesterday. Today, a Reuters dispatch paraphrases Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin urging the prefects in France "to expel any foreign preacher who advocated violence, hate, racism or abuses of human rights."
April 23, 2004 update: Not so fast, Mr. Minister, says an administrative court in Lyon. The court suspended the Bouziane expulsion order, expressing "serious doubts about the legality of this decision," and paving the way for Bouziane to return. In reply, a lawyer for the Interior Ministry, Georges Holleaux, submitted new evidence for the expulsion, showing that the imam had "called for jihad in France at the time of war in Iraq."
April 23, 2004 update: Continuing the French-British contrast, the Press Association reports that a 35-year-old Algerian terrorist suspect, thought to have "actively assisted" terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, was released yesterday from the Belmarsh high-security prison in south-east London. Why? Because something called the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC) accepted the argument that the continued detention of this prisoner (for legal reasons, known only as "G") was prolonging and worsening his mental condition.
Home Secretary David Blunkett, appalled by SIAC's decision, archly responded: "Allowing someone like this out on bail is an extraordinary decision which … sends a very different signal to the one we have been sending. I have not called it bonkers, but no doubt other people will."
Interestingly, last October, the SIAC rejected G's appeal to be released from detention, saying: "We have no doubt that he has been involved in the production of false documentation, has facilitated young Muslims to travel to Afghanistan to train for jihad and has actively assisted terrorists who have links to al-Qaeda."
April 24, 2004 update: Yesterday's Press Association news item (quoted above) contained this throw-away line; G had been "offered a place at a specially created unit for Muslim inmates … but had refused." A specially created unit for Muslim inmates? And he refused? I had not known British prisons are built specifically for adherents of one faith; nor had I realized UK prisoners can pick and choose where to spend time. Today'sTimes elaborates, and things are as bad as that. The unit is a £100,000 "state-of-the-art" prison facility at Woodhill prison which offers select Muslim inmates self-catering, specially prepared food, more activities and free time, as well as a prayer room. The unit has remained empty for months because prisoners refuse to move there, even though the Home Office offered them "a day trip" to inspect it. When the prisoners refused this opportunity, their lawyers and human rights groups were instead given a guided tour of the unit. "They seemed to approve of what we had done, but then all of a sudden the detainees changed their minds and said they would not move there." Government officials suggest that the prisoners prefer the harsher living conditions in Belmarsh (alongside Category "A" convicted criminals) so as to make a political point.
April 25, 2004 update: Today's PC news from Great Britain: The Observer reports that Muslim women will be exempted from having to show their faces on newly-issued identity cards. Instead of a photograph, they would only have to give fingerprint and iris-recognition data. A Home Office source close to the minister (ungrammatically) explained: 'We have had constructive discussions with the Muslim community and want to assure them we are sensitive to their points of view." The Muslim Council of Britain, which made representations to the Home Office on this issue, replied to this concession: "We are not against ID cards as such, but we want to ensure that they are used properly."
April 26, 2004 update: Back we go to the Abu Hamza al-Masri case (see April 21, above), where the Special Immigrations Appeals Commission (SIAC), we learn, now has given him another nine months to avoid deportation. During that time, of course, he continues to preach outside his old Finsbury Park Mosque. This extension was voted despite the Interior Ministry providing evidence that Abu Hamza had "provided support and advice to terrorist groups" including the Groupe Islamique Armée of Algeria, the Islamic Army of Aden of Yemen, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Harakat-ul-Ansar of Kashmir, and "of course" Al-Qaeda. Hamza also "encouraged and supported the promotion of individuals in physical aspects of jihad fighting overseas and engaging in terrorist acts." The ministry elaborated that Hamza used Finsbury Park Mosque as a "centre of extremism and a safe haven for Islamic extremists, enabling them to develop the support and contacts necessary to further violent aims." Oh, and Hamza "promoted anti-western sentiment and violence through his teachings."
July 3, 2005 update: For an appreciation of French counterterrorism efforts and revelation of the "Alliance Base," see today's Washington Post story, "Help From France Key In Covert Operations."