TCS Daily

Terrorism's True Name

By Allan A. Guldberg - March 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Two days of speculation about who was responsible for last Thursday's Madrilenian horror apparently ended on Saturday night, when Spanish police reported the arrests of three Moroccans and two Indian Muslims as suspects. But the speculation was somewhat superficial and very political. This never really looked like an ETA attack. It was not their methods, and anyway the Basque group denied responsibility. In the twisted logic of terrorists, an attack has no point if nobody knows who did it. It appears that the real murderers were those whom everybody in the West feared and knew was behind it. Al-Qaeda, or something similar.

The fact that these attacks took place so close to the Spanish general elections -- and, in fact, hugely influenced their outcome -- is one obvious explanation for why they happened. But don't we risk losing too much explanatory power if we view this attack as a particular incident. How do we use similar logic to explain 9/11, or Bali? Or, for that matter, numerous incidents in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem?

Does it really make a difference that the socialist party won last night? And if it did, why did they not simply take out a newspaper ad? Does it really make a difference who did or who did not participate in the campaigns against Iraq or Afghanistan? No, probably not.

Which only begs the simple question written on a poster at Friday's mass demonstration. ?Quien? y ?Por que? Who? and Why?

The only plausible explanation is that we are in a situation in which every single Westerner, Christian or Jewish, is a legitimate target. Is guilty. Is condemned to death at birth. And that includes the seven-month-old toddler who was among the victims of Thursday's horror.

That this is the same logic that was behind the Holocaust is no coincidence. Because it is exactly same thing. Racism. And it should be called by that name. 9/11 and similar previous incidents were racist attacks. Bali was a racist attack. Numerous suicide bombs in Israel were racist attacks. And so was the Madrilenian horror. They should be referred to as such.

Some reactions to this phenomenon, especially in Europe, just will not do.

The first one was illustrated by the sight of Spanish peace activists waving placards that were blaming the Spanish government for the attacks. Or simply waving signs calling for "paz", peace. Where the last wish is obviously laudable, it is just not the issue. We can wish for peace as much as we want. We shall not have it. The racist logic behind these attacks does not leave any possibility for any accommodation. What exactly is it that al-Qaeda wants to achieve anyway?

The fact that Spain took part in the War on Terror might have had significance in choosing a site for the indiscriminate killings. But Spain was not what was under attack. It was yet another collectivist, racist attack against Westerners. No matter who or where they are.

The other reaction is to blame Israel. And to consider the creation of that country a mistake. This is also a false logic. The quarrel between the West and Islam, or rather the other way around, did not start with the creation of the Jewish state. Nor will it end with its disappearance, or withdrawal to the 1967 borders. On the contrary. Israel is a lightning rod more than anything else.

For a thousand years, when Islamic culture was vastly superior to a backward Europe, the West was regarded, in the sense that it was regarded at all, as a monolith. This is evidenced by a common term for Europeans that was in Islamic use. Firengi in Turkish, Afranj in Arabic, Franks in English. The radical Islamic Racists like al-Qaeda and Hamas still maintain this monolithic world view. So when you add violence and the wish for a strange kind of martyrdom to this, the results are all too plain.

Another response that obviously won't do is any kind of counter-racism, or cultural bigotry. In the West we are able to see people as individuals. And not just as targets, because of the way they were born. We should not view the Muslim world as a monolith, because it is not. It is possible to live both peacefully and cooperatively with moderate Muslim regimes. Modern Turkey is the obvious example. Just as they were an obvious setting for attacks last autumn.

Forget the left-wing, politically correct apologia. We must not try to explain these attacks away as responses to things we are doing. Because that is not the case. It is time we added the word racist to terrorist when speaking about these attacks. Because that is the only reason, even if it is an incomprehensible one, behind them.

The author is a Danish graduate student of Middle East Studies, at the University of Tel Aviv.


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