Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Tragedy Of Al Andalus - Part II

On second thought, the article in the New Yorker which I mentioned before, deserves a more indepth review. It's been a while since reading such a full article on Spain's relation to islam and the background it gives to the current terrorist threat.

Although I do not agree in full with Lawrence Wright, most particularly in his analysis of events right after the attacks up until the elections held March 14, I do agree with the second part of his analysis, that there was more to the bombings itself, other than the routing of Spain's forces from Iraq.

To defend this theory, he brings us two arguments. The first is stuck at the end of the article, and the author does not and cannot elaborate further, because it comes out of the ongoing investigation into the bombings:

In October, 2000, several of the suspects met in Istanbul with Amer Azizi, who had taken the nom de guerre Othman Al Andalusi—Othman of Al Andalus. Azizi later gave the conspirators permission to act in the name of Al Qaeda, although it is unclear whether he authorized money or other assistance—or, indeed, whether Al Qaeda had much support to offer. In June, Italian police released a surveillance tape of one of the alleged planners of the train bombings, an Egyptian housepainter named Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, who said that the operation “took me two and a half years.” Ahmed had served as an explosives expert in the Egyptian Army. It appears that some kind of attack would have happened even if Spain had not joined the Coalition—or if the invasion of Iraq had never occurred.
An attack which seemed to be in very early planning stages, that of giving permission to a plan, at the beginning of 2001, nine months before the 9/11 attacks, obviously cannot be tied to Spain's presence in Iraq.

In his second argument to prove that Al Qaeda had its sights on Spain for other reasons than Iraq, Wright first introduces to us the famous document titled 'Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers', which can be read as a road map on Al Qaeda's strategy with regards to driving a wedge between the US and its allies, and identifies Spain as the best target, because of the high impopularity among Spaniards of their presence in Iraq and the upcoming elections. The whole paper (in Arabic) can be downloaded as a pdf here. It was discovered on a Jihadi website by a Norwegian researcher.
The document, which is forty-two pages long and appears to be the work of several anonymous authors, begins with the proposition that although Coalition forces in Iraq, led by America, could not be defeated by a guerrilla insurgency, individual partners of the Coalition could be persuaded to depart, leaving America more vulnerable and discouraged as casualties increased and the expenses became insupportable. Three countries—Britain, Spain, and Poland—formed the European backbone of the Coalition.


Spain, however, presented a striking opportunity. The war was almost universally unpopular. Aznar had plunged his country into Iraq without seeking a consensus, unlike other Coalition leaders. “If the disparity between the government and the people were at the same percentage rate in Britain, then the Blair government would fall,” the author of this section observes.


The Internet document suggested that a new intelligence was at work, a rationality not seen in Al Qaeda documents before. The Mujahideen Services Center, whatever that was, appeared to operate as a kind of Islamist think tank. “The person who put together those chapters had a clear strategic vision, realistic and well thought out,” Amirah says. He told Hegghammer, “This is political science applied to jihad.”
Sofar, everything seemed to point towards an object-oriented approach. Spain is in Iraq, Spain gets bombed, Spain pulls out of Iraq. Then a second attempt to bomb a train is made:
On April 2nd, two weeks after the election, a security guard for the ave, Spain’s high-speed train line, discovered a blue plastic bag beside the tracks forty miles south of Madrid. Inside the bag were twenty-six pounds of Goma-2. Four hundred and fifty feet of cable had been draped across the security fence and attached, incorrectly, to the detonator. Had the bomb gone off when the ave passed by—at a hundred and eighty m.p.h., carrying twelve hundred passengers—the results could have been far more catastrophic than those of March 11th. Spanish citizens asked themselves: If the bombings of March 11th had accomplished the goals set by Al Qaeda, what was the point of April 2nd?
I can safely say that even though people were terrified in those days, nothing that I recall of gave reason to make this connection to possible other motives. Kept in place by the Socialist government-elect, or at least not challenged on their part, the story was still very much that this was payback for having troops in Iraq.

Marc Sageman, autor of 'Understanding Terror Networks', is given a paragraph to explain how a new generation of Al Qaeda-linked groups seem more politically motivated or at least understanding of how their actions can influence politics. I don't agree with much of Sageman's theories, he thinks too much that our military options have run out, instead suggesting that we tend more to terrorism's root causes and wage a war of ideas instead. The latter is definitely needed too, but not on an even-handed 'root causes' base, and still parallel to military action.

Wright rightly identifies the botched April 2nd attempt to attack again as proof of a bigger picture:
Had the Madrid cell rested on its accomplishment after March 11th, Al Qaeda would properly be seen as an organization now being guided by political strategists—as an entity closer in spirit to ETA, with clear tactical objectives. April 2nd throws doubt on that perspective. There was little to be gained politically from striking an opponent who was complying with the stated demand: the government had agreed to withdraw troops from Iraq. If the point was merely humiliation or revenge, then April 2nd makes more sense; the terrorists wanted more blood, even if a second attack backfired politically. (The Socialists could hardly continue to follow the terrorist agenda with a thousand new corpses along the tracks.) April 2nd is comprehensible only if the real goal of the bombers was not Iraq but Spain, where the Islamic empire began its retreat five hundred years ago.
Wright then returns to the events of the next day, when a police SWAT team stormed the building in which the terror cell was holed up. He interviews the imam of the M30 mosque, Moneir Mahmout Aly el-Messery, who incidentally claims no relationship with Wahhabism because he's Egyptian, to describe the terrorist's characters. Yes, most of them prayed in this Saudi-funded and Muslim World League-operated, largest mosque of Europe.

Out of the rubble of the group's self imolation, taking a big chunk out of the building (amazingly, though prior to the storming a gun battle went on in the streets, police were able to evacuate the entire building and inmediate surroundings, which caused only on SWAT officer to die along with the seven terrorists), police found a videotaped message by the cell's leader, which they were able to restore. On it, the ring leader Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet threatens Spain to leave Iraq within a week, referring to themselves as 'the brigade situated in Al Andalus', or face their jihad until 'martyrdom in the land of Tariq ibn Ziyad'.
Al Andalus is the Arabic name for the portion of Spain that fell to Muslim armies after the invasion by the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711. It includes not only the southern region of Andalusia, but most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the next eight hundred years, Al Andalus remained in Islamic hands. “You know of the Spanish crusade against Muslims, and that not much time has passed since the expulsion from Al Andalus and the tribunals of the Inquisition,” Fakhet says on the tape. He is referring to 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella completed the reconquest of Spain, forcing Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave the Iberian Peninsula. “Blood for blood!” he shouts. “Destruction for destruction!”
A theme previously brought up by Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri themselves, one month after the 9/11 on Al Jazeera, and later, in January of this year.
Less than a month after 9/11, Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, had appeared on Al Jazeera. “We will not accept that the tragedy of Al Andalus will be repeated in Palestine,” Zawahiri said, drawing an analogy between the expulsion of the Moors from Iberia and the present-day plight of the Palestinians. The use of the archaic name Al Andalus left most Spaniards nonplussed. “We took it as a folkloric thing,” Ramón Pérez-Maura, an editor at ABC, told me. “We probably actually laughed.” This January, bin Laden issued a “Message to the Muslim People,” which was broadcast on Al Jazeera. He lamented the decline of the Islamic world: “It is enough to know that the economy of all Arab countries is weaker than the economy of one country that had once been part of our world when we used to truly adhere to Islam. That country is the lost Al Andalus.”
Moneir Mahmout seems to agree at least in part with that vision:
Imams sometimes invoke the glory of Al Andalus in Friday prayers as a reminder of the price that Muslims paid for turning away from the true faith. When I asked Moneir el-Messery, of the M-30 mosque, if the Madrid bombers could have been motivated by the desire to recapture Al Andalus, he looked up sharply and said, “I can speak of the feeling of all Muslims. It was a part of history. We were here for eight centuries. You can’t forget it, ever.”
Mahmout needs to be questioned along this line far more often, and it's a shame a reporter at large for The New Yorker is the one to do it. In the Spanish press he is treated with kid gloves.

Wright finishes his impressive article with a plea against appeasing the enemy, and warns against the precedent that is already taking shape in Europe and elsewhere, most notably the Philippines.
The fact that bin Laden was addressing nations as an equal showed a new confidence in Al Qaeda’s ability to manipulate the political future. Exploiting this power will depend, in part, on convincing the West that Al Qaeda and bin Laden remain in control of the worldwide Islamist jihad. As long as Al Qaeda is seen as being an irrational, unyielding death cult, the only response is to destroy it. But if Al Qaeda—amorphous as that entity has become—has evolved into something like a virtual Islamist state that is trying to find a permanent place for itself in the actual world, then the prospect of future negotiations is not out of the question, however unlikely or repellent that may sound to Americans. After all, the Spanish government has brokered truces with ETA, which has killed four times as many people in Spain as Al Qaeda has, and the accelerated withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq following the train bombings has already set a precedent for accommodation, which was quickly followed by the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Last year, Germany paid a six-million-dollar ransom to Algerian terrorists, and the Philippines recently pulled its fifty troops out of Iraq in order to save a hostage from being beheaded.
But let's not forget the Arab nations themselves who are showing some truly despicable cards in paying off terrorists inside Iraq holding hostages, or pulling out the companies they work for. In doing so, they are following not only in the Arab tradition of paying Dane-geld, but they are also paving the way of making this road acceptable to other nations, who might like the Philippines decide to pull out, and thus leaving Iraq more vulnerable, and more close to their own ambitions with (parts of) their neighbor. Quite smart, when you think about it. Even though this comes at the cost to them of strenghtening Al Qaeda and their allies, they assume that they can be left to the Americans elsewhere, after they have fulfilled their own ambitions with Iraq.

Some last thoughts to leave you with, that developed in my mind while writing this post. I inmediately admit, it's pretty much 'out there', but I wanted to entertain it still, as I believe it a possibility.

Imagine Al Qaeda, in their efforts to push Spain back into the realm of Dar al-Islam, would bring up the dreaded words 'Right of Return'? We have Spain, who is starting to come to terms after a long time, that Islam at least once, was part of Spain and Spain's culture. Part of that process would be acknowledging the results of the Reconquista, the expulsion of all Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492, and the following Inquisition that lasted up until the 1890s, and wasn't repealed officially until the end of the sixties. Could islamists make a case for reparations? For a right of return? Would Spain's cultural relativist elites pick up on it, to be followed by intellectuals and the rest of the liberal pack? Quite imaginably so, especially since to a lot of Spaniards, this is all theoretical fantasy, in which their would be no harm indulging a bit while showing off your multi-cultural colors. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda (inspired) attacks on Spain itself would add to the 'urgency' of a 'solution', and provide the Apocalyptic backdrop of which Wright speaks. And government after government would need to take a stance opposite their (EU) position towards a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Of course, it would never happen, but the thought of some five million (guessing) descendants of Al Andalus' Muslim inhabitants 'coming home', would inmediately polarize muslims living in Spain and the Spaniards themselves. And it would at the same time draw out the governments of Morocco, Algeria and Tunesia in their opposition to the brain drain their economies would suffer, exposing them once more as infidels in the eyes of the Salafists. On top of which, the linkeage to (and re-creation of) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might just make it spill over into Europe reversing itself and side with Israel, being confronted with Al Qaeda attacks in Spain. Which would set France in flames.

And finally, it would be a great recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, for all those Jihadis 'packing up their bags, in search of a new land' as Al Zarqawi wrote out of Iraq to Bin Laden.