Less than three years ago, most Americans were blessedly blind and ignorant to the affairs of the world of terrorism. Most could have cared less about the happenings in far away places they still cannot find on a map; places like Afghanistan or Kabul that were about as relevant to everyday life as Antarctica. But the events of a single day changed that. September 11, 2001, forced American eyes to look at the world of militant Islamist terrorism. March 11, 2004, has now done the same to the people of Spain, but their reactions, as well as those of many European nations, leave questions about the security and the courage that continent will exemplify in the near future.
Initial accusations of responsibility for the Madrid bombings were directed at the Basque separatists of ETA. Yet now it seems that those responsible for the nearly 200 Spanish deaths are of the same background as those who killed thousands of Americans in the attacks on New York and Washington. Just as before 9/11 Americans never understood the phenomenon of a suicide bomber the way that Israelis did; Spaniards never comprehended the viciousness al Qaeda was capable of the way that Americans have come to understand it.
Spain’s only serious brushes with terrorism have come at the hands of ETA. Since the late 1960s the group has killed more than 800 people in their fight for an independent Basque state. Notably, most ETA targets have been government officials and policemen, although their single most deadly act was a bombing that killed 21 civilians in a Barcelona mall. Now, in a single day, al Qaeda killed more than 200 innocent civilians. In a single day, al Qaeda managed to do more than a quarter of what the ETA has done in almost 30 years.
The strikes last week in Madrid are an obvious sign that borders are of little relevance in the War on Terror and that all are fair game in the eyes of al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden stated that Spain was a potential target because of its involvement with the war in Iraq; he has lived up to his word.
In the aftermath of the bombings, Spain’s newly elected prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, has shown what can be expected of his administration and has threatened to withdraw from Iraq. Instead of showing solidarity with those willing to slaughter innocent men, women and children, Rodriguez has given into the demands of a madman and has given bin Laden exactly what he wished to gain from the attacks. Zapatero contemplates the path of a coward and is considering running away from his friends in order to do what he thinks would save his own skin. Yet if he looked to his northern border, he would see where the coward’s path he may soon choose to follow will lead.
The nation of France has been the topic of many discussions due to its refusal to support the American invasion of Iraq, and one would think that its spineless actions would have saved it from becoming a target of Islamist terrorism. Yet only six days after the attacks on Madrid a group calling itself The Servants of Allah the Mighty and the Wise issued a threat to “plunge France into terror and remorse” and make blood run to its borders. It went on to state that “Europe is a new war zone for the Jihad.” France’s refusal to side with America did not in fact save it from becoming the target of Islamist terrorism; Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero would do well to note this before abandoning a key ally in the War on Terror.
What will it take for nations across the world to realize that the coward’s path of inaction will bring them little more than a false sense of security? Does every country have to have its own personal 9/11 before it opens its eyes to the horrors of terrorism? France’s refusal to enter Iraq did not save it; neither will Spain’s withdrawal from Iraq.
The war against terrorism is far from over. Most likely, the world has only seen the tip of the iceberg that will one day threaten to sink the relatively peaceful state of affairs it currently enjoys. Ships today have enough life rafts because the Titanic did not; why does the international community keep waiting for the iceberg to hit before it begins to protect itself? The sooner nations realize that they must be ready to look past their own borders to alliances with those who share a fear of terrorism, the sooner they will stand a chance against those who would wish to hurt them.
-The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.