All decent people sympathize with the people of Madrid, but New Yorkers can speak with knowledge. The two things to remember are: You will not get over it, and you will get over it. Whenever one reality seems to win, the other will come back.
It was appropriate that the jihadists struck during a rush hour-appropriate by way of contrast. Spaniards were going to work. The Islamist’s world is lubricated by oil revenue and peonage. In Spain, men and women commute together. The Islamist must not see the hair of a strange woman, lest he be distracted from his own wives or catamites. The terrorists also struck on the eve of an election-another point of contrast, since the Islamist’s ideal society would be governed by the immutable Voice of God, as channeled by Imam X and Mullah Y and Killer Z.
Death and destruction pose the question “Whither Europe?” so much more forcefully than gray arguments over the European Union constitution, or even lively arguments over Franco/Anglo/American jockeying in the Security Council. European newspapers pointed in two directions. The Guardian of London said that “[a]n international conference, to bridge the divide between Muslim and Christian communities,” would be a “first step. But there are many others. We need to take the fight against terror out of America’s hands …. Europe should seize the moment that America failed to grasp.” One wonders what a conference between murderers and victims would accomplish, or what the former-freed from America’s fumbling hands-would put on the table. Freedom of the press? British newspapers show different opinions and women’s breasts, both hateful to the pious. Shall we offer them up in exchange for fewer slaughters? Le Monde , the high temple of French left-wing intellectualism, somewhat surprisingly pointed in a different direction. ” … Europeans today discover not only their own vulnerability, but also that they are confronted with a new phenomenon, mass terrorism. Like the Americans [after 9/11], they may now be forced to admit that a new form of world war has been declared, not against Islam but against totalitarian and violent fundamentalism.” Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls pour toi .
Jose Maria Aznar, the retiring Spanish prime minister, supported the Iraq war-which, of course, was the main reason Spain was hit. The government insisted at the first that the bombers must have been Basques, which the opposition Socialists said was a ruse to fuzz the context of the mass murder, though Basque terror has indeed been a decades-long problem in Spain. Attacking both the government’s Iraq policies and its alleged evasions, the Socialists won the election. I would not criticize any nation still reeking of blood for heeding what it regards as its best interests. But anyone who thinks that Europe can be spared by shuffling a few ministries is dreaming. Only a smallish sea separates Europe from millions of poor, oppressed Muslims, from whose ranks hundreds of Islamists might be recruited. Not for the first time, I am glad that our main immigration problem, serious though it is, involves Mexico.
The carnage reminds us what the jihadists can do. Their capability is mixed. Their nation-base, Afghanistan, was swept away over two years ago, so they are reduced to the exertions of branch offices. The death toll in Madrid and in Bali, their most serious strikes since the fall of Kabul and the flight of Osama bin Laden, were almost identical, and an order of magnitude lower than 9/11. The Madrid bombings, however, showed a hateful degree of coordination. If a branch office got hold of some ricin or uranium, we could be in for a hot time.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t slight what we have done, and are still doing. Saddam and the Taliban have fallen. Two assassination attempts on Pervez Musharref have evidently convinced him, in a way that 9/11 didn’t, that this is war and that he is a target, and so he has done all that a leader of Pakistan can probably do in rebuking the national hero, Dr. Khan, and his A-bomb takeout delivery service. Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, scared witless, continues to sing like a canary. He recently confessed to having 22 tons of mustard gas lying around the tent. The contagion of restlessness is spreading to other despotisms and terror entrepots. Syria’s Kurds and its reformers (an even more beleaguered minority) have been staging demonstrations serious enough to cause the Syrian police to shoot them. Young Basher Assad, sprout of the late Hafez Assad, better look sharp, or his people may throw the baby out with the Baath water. The debacle of the Iranian election has shown even Western reporters that the “reformers” in that country’s government were puppets dangled by the fanatics in the hope of improving Iran’s trade prospects. Dissent, so duped and frustrated, now has no alternative but an explosion.
For hearing Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi voices, the best forum is the blogosphere. I have to praise Jonah Goldberg and Kathryn Lopez of National Review Online, even though they are my friends. They serve the function that The New York Review of Books did for Eastern European dissidents in the last days of the Soviet empire: letting them speak truth to indifference, with the result that the indifferent become concerned.
The United States cannot do everything. Even things we could do, we might not do for the sake of prudence. But too many lives are at stake. Our goal should be to transform one malignant regime-by pushing it over, if necessary-every two years.
The jihadists, fresh from the Spanish election, must have turned their thoughts to an October surprise just for us. One of the candidates, John Kerry, began his political life by proclaiming that an American exercise of power was evil. No one should write him off now on the basis of that alone. People change. George W. Bush did not expect to be a war President. How would we have known his capabilities in March 2000? If Mr. Kerry is a trimmer, perhaps he sometimes trims in the right direction. These, anyway, are the essential questions. Everything else-Social Security, stem cells, Mr. and Mr. Gay Man, deficits up the wazoo, illegals in every restaurant kitchen-looks a little quaint.