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Saturday, March 13, 2004

WHAT TO SAY ABOUT THE MADRID BLASTS? I don't really have anything much to add to what has been said so far, I will simply give some reading tips. First of all it is a good time to refresh our intellectual defences and thus re-read Michael Walzer's essay on the ideological apologia of terrorism.

A further link I would recommend would be Lee Harris on al Quaeda's fantasy ideology. Although it is not clear who is behind the attack this would an important read if it really is aQ, and even if not, it is quite feasible that the ideological roots of the strikes are similar.
In the vein of the article this attack could signal a troubling development because it would represent a move by aQ to another strategic level. So far aQ's confirmed and lone attacks have had big psychological and symbolic meaning, while being of a very limited number.

Surely this is confusing when there have been countless terrorist attacks since 9/11 for which aQ has apparently claimed responsibility. What made those attacks different though was that they weren't aQ-only actions, but normally had shared claimants. To understand this I would recommend reading this:

Now, Dolnik says that Western officials have helped to blow al-Qaeda out of proportion in other ways, too - by 'the automatic attribution of credit to the group for disparate attacks; by making unintelligent and unqualified statements about the group's very basic "weapons of mass destruction" programme; by treating al-Qaeda as a super-organisation; by creating the impression that al-Qaeda can do just about anything'. As a result, al-Qaeda has been turned into something it is not. In the mid-1990s intelligence officials saw bin Laden as 'one name among thousands'; within a few years they had transformed him into a global threat who heads a ruthless, structured organisation that is capable of doing anything, anytime, anywhere.
This invention, or certainly exaggeration, of al-Qaeda is not only inaccurate; it also has a potentially destabilising effect, encouraging regional groups to act in the name of al-Qaeda in the knowledge that such actions will have a massive impact on our al-Qaeda-obsessed world. The talking up of al-Qaeda has created a kind of brand name, which can be invoked by small, isolated groups wishing to strike a blow beyond their means.

Although the article hints at a conspiracy and needs some closer scrutiny and analysis, there is actually something to it: if you were a small local terrorist grouping the impact of your attacks are magnified immensely if you pretend to be aQ and aQ's image is helped by creating the impression that it can and does strike everywhere and all the time. From this come two conclusions.
Firstly, it was ETA and/or some smaller Islamofascist cell that simply latched onto aQ's brand name to increase the terror created. It could of course signal an escalation of ETA's terror, possibly by a splinter cell, much like with splinter groups of the IRA.
Secondly we could be seeing aQ expanding its war into continental Europe. In many ways Spain would be the perfect target. The loss of Spain to Christians by Islamic rulers in the 15th century was repeatedly quoted by bin Laden as one of his casi belli and it signalled the military decline of Islamic civilization vis a vis Europe, the West.
In the War on Terror Spain has a position that also makes it attractive as the prime target. While the British government has been far more hawkish and strongly supportive of the US, this course of policy is more or less supported by the majority of the British public and a terrorist attack would in all likelihood strengthen British resolve. On the other hand attacking one of the dovish countries such as France would be an own-goal of spectacular proportions. But Spain has a perfect in-between position: while its government is supportive of the WoT, its population is rather more ambivalent, especially as regards the transformation of Iraq. So, attacking Spain sends a clear signal to the European waverers: contemplate joining the American-British-Israeli-Australian "axis of evil" and you will be attacked. The UK's choice is made-up, France's choice is made up, and attacking these countries would be counterproductive for aQ. On the other hand attacking a country in the middle is perfect really, because it will scare potential hawks from joining the fight full-heartedly and drives an even greater wedge between hawks and doves.

This would is essential for aQ, because without a divided West they might as well give up now. The only thing that gives aQ enough success to maintain its fantasy of global dominance is the fact that the West is disunited and hence can be defeated one by one, rather than all at once. Ultimately the only solution seems to be that the whole West stands united to fight aQ and its affiliates wholeheartedly.

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