Jewish World Review March 16, 2004/ 23 Adar, 5763
The Spanish dishonored their dead
"When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, naturally they will like the strong horse." So said Osama bin Laden in his final video appearance two-and-a-half years ago. But even the late Osama might have been surprised to see the Spanish people, invited to choose between a strong horse and a weak horse, opt to make their general election an exercise in mass self-gelding.
To be sure, there are all kinds of John Kerry-esque footnoted nuances to Sunday's stark numbers. One sympathizes with those electors reported to be angry at the government's pathetic insistence, in the face of the emerging evidence, that Thursday's attack was the work of Eta, when it was obviously the jihad boys. One's sympathy, however, disappears with their decision to vote for a party committed to disengaging from the war against the jihadi. As Margaret Thatcher would have said: "This is no time to go wobbly, Manuel." But they did. And no one will remember the footnotes, the qualifications, the background - just the final score: terrorists toppled a European government.
What was it all those party leaders used to drone robotically after IRA atrocities? We must never let the bullet and the bomb win out over the ballot and the bollocks. Something like that. In Spain, the bombers hijacked the ballot, and very decisively. The Socialist Workers' Party wouldn't have won, except for the terrorism.
At the end of last week, American friends kept saying to me: "3/11 is Europe's 9/11. They get it now." I expressed skepticism. And I very much doubt whether March 11 will be a day that will live in infamy. Rather, March 14 seems likely to be the date bequeathed to posterity, in the way we remember those grim markers on the road to conflagration through the 1930s, the tactical surrenders that made disaster inevitable. All those umbrellas in the rain at Friday's marches proved to be pretty pictures for the cameras, nothing more. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the slain. In the three days between the slaughter and the vote, it was widely reported that the atrocity had been designed to influence the election. In allowing it to do so, the Spanish knowingly made Sunday a victory for appeasement and dishonored their own dead.
And, if it works in Spain, why not in Australia, Britain, Italy, Poland? In his 1996 "Declaration of War Against the Americans", Bin Laden cited Washington's feebleness in the face of the 1992 Aden hotel bombings and the Black Hawk Down business in Somalia in 1993: "You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew," he wrote. "The extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear." To the jihadis' way of thinking, on Thursday, the Spaniards were disgraced by Allah; on Sunday, they withdrew. The extent of their impotence and weaknesses is very clear.
Or, as Simon Jenkins put it in a hilariously mistimed cover story for last Thursday's London Spectator arguing that this terrorism business is a lot of twaddle got up by Blair and Bush: "Bombs kill and panic the panicky. But they do not undermine civilized society unless that society wants to be undermined." And there's no chance of that happening, right?
Jenkins's argument, such as it is, is that a bomb here, a bomb there, nothing to get your knickers in a twist about: that's one thing we Europeans understand. But what he refuses to address is the shifting facts on the ground.
Europe's home-grown terrorism problems take place among notably static populations, such as Ulster and the Basque country. One could make generally safe extrapolations about the likelihood of holding Northern Ireland to what HMG used to call an "acceptable level of violence".
But in the same three decades as Ulster's "Troubles", the hitherto moderate Muslim populations of south Asia were radicalized by a politicized form of Islam; previously broadly unIslamic societies such as Nigeria became Islamified; and large Muslim populations settled in parts of Europe that had little or no experience of mass immigration.
You can argue about what these trends mean, but surely not that they mean absolutely nothing, as Sir Simon and the Complaceniks assure us: nothing to see here, chaps; switch back to the Test and bring me another buttered crumpet; when Osama vows to avenge the "tragedy of Andalucia", it's just a bit of overheated campaign rhetoric, like Kerry calling Bush a "liar", that's all.
For the non-complacent, the question is fast becoming whether "civilized society" in much of Europe is already too "undermined". Last Friday, for a brief moment, it looked as if a few brave editorialists on the Continent finally grasped that global terrorism is a real threat to Europe, and not just a Bush racket. But even then they weren't proposing that the Continent should rise up and prosecute the war, only that they be less snippy in their carping from the sidelines as America gets on with it. Spain was Washington's principal Continental ally, and what does that boil down to in practice? 1,300 troops. That's fewer than what the New Hampshire National Guard is contributing.
The other day, the editor of Le Monde, writing in the Wall Street Journal, dismissed as utterly false the widespread belief among all Americans except John Kerry's campaign staff that France is a worthless ally: "Let us remember here," he wrote, "the involvement of French and German soldiers, among other European nationalities, in the operations launched in Afghanistan to pursue the Taliban, track down bin Laden and attempt to free the Afghans."
Oh, put a baguette in it, will you? The Continentals didn't "launch" anything in Afghanistan. They showed up when the war was over - after the Taliban had been toppled and the Afghans liberated. And a few hundred Nato troops in post-combat mopping-up operations barely registers in the scale against the gazillions of Americans defending the Continent so that EU governments can blow their defense budgets on welfare programs that make the citizens ever more enervated and dependent.
The only fighting that there is going to be in Europe in the foreseeable future is civil war, and when that happens American infantrymen will want to be somewhere safer. Like Iraq. There are strong horses and weak horses, but right now western Europe is looking like a dead horse.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
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© 2004, Mark Steyn