The despicable bombings by the Muslim jihadists in Madrid on March 11 claimed 200 lives (and wounded another 1400); they also formed a prelude to the most important event in international politics since September 11, 2001. For, horrible though that cold-blooded murder of innocent people was, its significance was dwarfed by what happened in Spain a few days later. Timed to coincide with the Spanish national election, the terrorist attack by al Qaeda achieved its desired effect, which was only incidentally the slaughter of a couple hundred infidels. The deeper aim was to interfere in the course of the electoral process of a Western democratic country, and that —thanks to the cravenness of the Spanish electorate—the Muslim fundamentalists did decisively. On March 10, the center-right candidate José María Aznar was universally favored to win. Come March 15, the Socialist candidate José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero swept into office on a platform of anti-Americanism and hostility to George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and the war in Iraq.

The Spanish people were duly rewarded for their compliance. As Andrew Sullivan noted, one radical Muslim group announced that it would

cease operations in Spain to reward Spanish voters for striking a blow against “the axis of Crusader evil.” There’s a catch, of course. Here’s part of the statement: “Because of this [electoral] decision, the leadership has decided to stop all operations within the Spanish territories … until we know the intentions of the new government that has promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. And we repeat this to all the brigades present in European lands: stop all operations.” They’ve learned something, haven’t they?

Indeed, they learned the same thing that Hitler learned when he remilitarized the Rhineland, absorbed Austria, and gobbled up Czechoslovakia. Push and they will capitulate. Bottom line: the Spanish rejection of Aznar was not merely a shameful capitulation to terrorism. It was also a death warrant for—how many do you suppose? —hundreds? thousands? of other Europeans who will surely be targeted by al Qaeda in an effort to blackmail Western countries.

In a characteristically astute observation on the Spanish debacle, Mark Steyn noted that the slogan “Never again,” formulated after the Holocaust, has mutated into its opposite: “Neville again,” a reprise of Neville Chamberlain at Munich. What we see across Europe now is an orgy of capitulation. In a letter in the London Times, one Peter Goodchild wrote that “History shows that only two strategies have any real effect in dealing with terrorists: negotiation and extirpation.” Since Western democracies are “squeamish about the ruthless measures” needed to pursue the second option, they inevitably drift toward the first without really embracing it. Mr. Goodchild seemed to advocate a whole-hearted pursuit of negotiation. But negotiating with terrorists—at least with what Ralph Peters calls “apocalyptic terrorists” like al Qaeda—is tantamount to calling your funeral director and asking for an immediate pick up. Hussein Massawi, a former Hezbollah leader, put it with admirable clarity: “We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.” Worth bearing in mind, isn’t it?

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 8, on page 1
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