Spain In The Shadow Of Bin Laden

(and the upcoming elections)

by Norman Berdichevsky (March 2008)

On the day that General Franco’s Nationalist forces entered Madrid ending the Spanish Civil War, Pope Pius XII sent him a telegram of congratulations which read “Lifting up our hearts to the Lord we rejoice with your Excellency in the victory so greatly desired of Catholic Spain”. Throughout the war, the Nationalist side portrayed their cause as the defense of the fundamentals of Christian civilization against atheistic Bolshevism yet very much like Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Mussolini and Hitler, Franco saw a tactical advantage in a military and political alliance with Muslims whom he could entice or cajole as “natural allies.”

From the time of the expulsion of the last Moors, the term “Moros” has been used in Spain and applied indiscriminately to everything connected to the Arabs and Islam. Due to Spain’s colonial involvement in Morocco, a large overseas “Army of Africa” was created in which Moslem conscripts played a large part. In the 1930’s, it was commanded by General Francisco Franco and its troops took part in the suppression of a revolt by anarchist miners in the northern province of Asturias in 1934 and then in the uprising to overthrow the Republic, that culminated in the Civil War (1936-1939).

In spite of General Franco’s frequent use of the theme of rescuing Spain’s Christian heritage from communism and barbarism, the use of Moslem troops that he brought with him from Morocco, earned a reputation of brutality among the great mass of the Spanish people. They were hated and feared by ordinary Spaniards wherever they fought.

The last Moors resident in Spain were known as Moriscos. They had “officially” converted to Catholicism, but from the time of the fall of Granada in 1492 until their final expulsion in 1608-09, many acted as a fifth column, provided aid and information to the raiding parties of Muslim pirates that frequented the Spanish coast (the same “Barbary Pirates” that provoked the Barbary Wars from 1798-1820 with the United States) and were involved in several revolts throughout Andalucía. Until the defeat of the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) in which Cervantes was wounded, the Turks had made significant inroads throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe and were threatening to spread Islam by Holy War (Jihad) that would have included the reconquest of Spain. 

A certain intellectual interest in Arab and Moslem affairs was stimulated in the last days of the monarchy due to Spain's renewed involvement in Morocco and came to be known under the label of “Africanismo Español”. It was further promoted by various Spanish governments, regardless of their ideological orientation and in spite of the fact that no Moslem community existed within the boundaries of Spain proper. In 1932, the government established The School of Arab Studies in Madrid and Granada. General Franco took this policy a step further in 1938, by establishing two schools in Tetuan (Morocco), naming one after himself. By the early 1950’s, Moslem presence in Spain was still limited to a handful of foreign diplomats and Civil War veterans of the Army of Africa as well as a special elite corps that formed Franco’s personal guard.

It may seem strange that a Moslem presence on Spanish territory received Franco's blessing and was promoted by him. This is all the more remarkable when, due to the Nationalist victory in the Civil War, the rights and privileges of the Catholic Church had been fully restored and there existed no legal framework for full and open public worship by any other religion in the country (not even Protestants).

This was undoubtedly due to the personal gratitude felt by Franco to his loyal Moslem troops, who played such an important role in his victory. He set aside a special area for fallen Moslem soldiers of the Civil war in the Seville cemetery. The Franco regime from the early 1950s maintained a policy of friendship towards the Arab states as part of the need to find friends and allies for Spain and escape the diplomatic isolation imposed on the country by the victorious allies at the end of WWII. In the continued colonial administration of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco, the authorities demonstrated a positive attitude towards all expression of Moslem religious identity and facilitated the pilgrimage to Mecca.

It may also be said that a favorable attitude was manifested at the same time towards the Spanish speaking Moroccan Jews. Their Spanish (Sephardi) heritage was acknowledged as a valuable part of historic Spanish culture. However, General Franco had been angered by Israel’s refusal to accept Spain’s offer of diplomatic relations in 1949-50, a step Franco had hoped would extend some sympathy to his rule among both liberal and Jewish circles in the U.S. at a time when Spain stood isolated in Europe and tainted by its neutral but decidedly pro-Axis policies in the period 1939-43.  

Spain expanded its contacts with the Middle East and increased its Arab orientation and steadfastly refused to recognize the State of Israel. A considerable amount of educational literature was produced dealing with the heritage of Al Andalús (medieval Moslem civilization in Spain) and distributed in the Arab world.  In 1954, the Instituto Hispano Árabe de Cultura was established with the support of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs underlining Franco’s growing interest in promoting Arab-Spanish contacts, associations, commercial and political relations. Various intercultural programs were established as well as reciprocal visits made by Spanish and Arab intellectuals.

The first law permitting open and unrestricted non-Catholic public worship and real religious liberty in modern Spain was promulgated in July 1967. This measure was due in part to the increasing anachronistic position of the Catholic Church in the country. The Spanish church found itself more and more out of step with the liberal tendencies of the Vatican II council and an increasing desire of the government to be regarded more positively in Europe with the hope of eventually joining both the European Union and NATO.

Growth of the Muslim Community

A national Moslem association was established in 1971 with its headquarters in Madrid. The Abu Bakar mosque, the first in the country in almost 500 years, was completed in the same year with considerable Saudi aid. It was designed by a Syrian who had become a nationalized Spanish citizen and the chairman of the new association. It was not long however before the first tensions arose between the new Islamic presence and the host society.

Several rival associations were established following an expanded law on religious freedom in 1980. These organizations had an agenda of mixed religious, national and political character and were concentrated in Granada, Cordoba and Seville, in the Spanish region of Andalucía. Due to the prolonged period of Moslem rule in Andalucía, the new Moslem associations strove to portray Islam as an integral part of regional identity, in spite of the absence there of any organized Moslem community for centuries.

A movement began of conversions of disaffected Spanish Catholics to Islam, a trend that provided a ready made community able to welcome any defections from the majority culture. More than a few Spaniards with previous grievances against the Catholic Church in personal matters, such as marriage and divorce identified with Islam.

It did not take long for the first incident to arise involving a challenge by Moslem society to the Spanish authorities. This occurred when members of a new Moslem association in Córdoba attempted to enter a building jointly used as a church and a mosque to pray, without asking permission. Similar incidents continued to disturb relations between local authorities and the Muslim minority. In 1981, a magnificent new mosque was constructed in the resort town of Marbella with the help of Saudi capital. Growing immigration (both legal and illegal) and the flow of cheap labor from Morocco led to the establishment of a new organization representing the interests of Moroccan workers.

Not until 1986, under the Socialist leader Felipe Gonzalez did Spain recognize the state of Israel, becoming the last West European nation to do so in the face of a campaign of intimidation by the Arab states. A vicious and  blind act of terrorism by the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) at the Madrid restaurant "El Descanso",  was carried out on April 12, 1985 to to “warn” the government of the consequences recognition would bring. The Arab states and radical nationalists movements were convinced that they had the power to permanently enforce diplomatic blackmail upon Spain. The attack resulted in the deaths of 18 patrons (all Spaniards) and the wounding of 82 (including 11 Americans). Gonzalez had met with American Jewish leaders and was anxious to pave the way for more favorable influence with the U.S. and greater accepatance of Spain within the European Community and NATO.

The cornerstone of the largest Mosque and Moslem center in Europe was laid in the presence of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia and the Saudi prince Salman in September 1992. It is often referred to as the M30, after the ring highway around Madrid. It too was funded by Saudi money. Today, Islam has become the second largest religious community in the country with more than 700,000 adherents eclipsing the number of Protestants (mostly evangelicals). It is, however, in serious conflict with the host society on a range of issues, including women’s rights, religious schools, licensing of ritually approved markets, butcher shops and most serious of all, ties to extremism and terrorism.

In Andalucía, moderate Moslems belonging to the association known as FEERI (Federacíon Española de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas) containing a considerable number of converts to Islam, is largely identified with the Spanish Socialist party and is critical of continued reliance on Saudi subsidies. Problems continue to grow due to the increase in illegal immigration and the presence of extremists, including agents who have acted on behalf of Al Qaeda. The other organization, the UCIDE (Uníon de Comunidades Islámicas de España), strives to maintain the face of strict orthodoxy.

The Prelude to the Madrid Massacre

The growing presence of illegal immigrants that has contributed to an explosive growth in Spain’s Moslem population has generated considerable resentment. There is a widespread suspicion that many of the thefts and numerous break-ins that plague large parts of Spain are due primarily to immigrants from Morocco. The issue here is a mixture of Spanish contempt and occasionally racism against the new arrivals and the growth of more and more strident calls by Islamic fundamentalists NOT to integrate, assimilate or “jeopardize” their Islamic identity.

Many Moroccan men are involved in seasonal agricultural labor and are in the country without wives and children. The Socialists have capitalized on some of the Moroccan resentment towards their low status. Many local authorities, especially those with a socialist majority, have promoted a campaign to appear as friends of the new immigrants and failed to properly enforce rules and ordinances dealing with sanitary measures in butcher shops and slaughter houses and the rules of employment in small open air markets in which many Moroccans are employed.

Polls carried out by the Spanish Center of Sociological Investigation reports that more than half the population consider North African immigrants linked with the increase in crime, drug use, abuse of women and smuggling. Well known downtown areas, such as Lavapiés and Tetuán in Madrid, Ravál (the infamous Chinatown) in Barcelona and the center of Palma de Mallorca are today recognized as Moroccan ghettos. The growth of religious extremism and coercion in the Moslem community has grown more apparent in the last decade. Ten years ago this was much less noticeable among both men and women. Older Moroccans have complained to the police of the pressure to appear more fundamentalist and readopt Arab dress, especially for women, a process referred to by the new Spanish verb as “reislamizar.” The appearance of this trend has been linked to pressure exerted by hard line tendencies as a result of the continued growth of Saudi influenced Wahabbi sect mosques. The 19 Moroccans detained in the atrocities of the March 11th 2004 bombing were all legal residents of Spain with contacts to extremist organizations.

The Bombings, Responsibility and Aftermath

Spanish intelligence long believed that the country was being used by Islamic militants as a logistical base and staging area. Several arrests were made of suspects implicated in the September 11th attack in New York and Washington. The March 11, 2004 bomb attacks cost the lives of almost 200 people and wounded more than 1,750, influenced the election results and led to a change of governments. During the peak of the Madrid rush hour in the morning ten explosions occurred aboard four commuter trains (cercanías). All the affected trains were traveling on the same line in the direction between Alcalá de Henares and the Atocha station in central Madrid. There is no doubt that the explosions were set to cause the greatest number of fatalities just before the election and swing the outcome against the government. In this, they succeeded in causing the worst case of mayhem in Western Europe from a single terrorist act and emotionally swayed Spanish voters to oust the pro-American government of José Maria Aznar.

It was the work of Islamic fundamentalists in sympathy, if not directly linked, with Al Qaeda. It surprised the government. Prior to the attack at the Madrid train station, Spanish intelligence had not been able to uncover evidence indicating that there were foreign agents among the Moslem community in Spain, ready, willing and able to lend a hand in committing such an atrocious crime on Spanish soil. At first, the authorities were convinced it had been the work of ETA, the Basque separatist organization. Investigators had mistakenly concluded that the explosives used were the type traditionally used by ETA. More than a year earlier however, a bomb attack had been carried out in Casablanca, Morocco directed towards Spaniards and Moroccan Jews at the Spanish cultural institution Casa de España resulting in 30 deaths. The perpetrators were clearly motivated by extremist islamic objectives.  

A few days after the train bombings, police identified an apartment in a suburb of Madrid, as the base of operations for the individuals suspected of being the material authors of the attacks. Suspects who had been identified by means of an abandoned cell phone were cornered in an apartment by a police raid on the evening of Saturday April 3rd. When the police started to assault the premises, the terrorists committed suicide by setting off explosives, killing themselves and one of the police officers. Subsequent investigations traced the acquisition of 200 kg of explosives from a retired miner who still had access to blasting equipment. 

The Strong Undercurrent of Anti-Americanism on the Spanish Left

The overwhelming majority of the Spanish press had been critical of the pro-American stance of Aznár’s government. Spanish journalists have traditionally been hostile to the United States since the Spanish-American War (1898) and the electorate was convinced that if only Spain would abandon its course with respect to the war in Iraq, it could count on continued good economic relations with the Arab world contributing to Spanish prosperity, ensuring a supply of cheap oil and protection from terrorism. The same opportunistic arguments of appeasement had long prevailed during the long period of non-recognition of Israel.

The Spanish government under Aznar had taken a risk by supporting American policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, it had been unable to divorce itself from considerable dependence on Arab economic investment (primarily Saudi) in downtown Madrid and many coastal resort towns. The Spanish people had never been called upon to mobilize against a terrorist threat from this direction. Enough Spaniards were convinced at the last moment to switch their votes in give the socialists an unexpected victory. The facts since then however, indicate beyond any shadow of a doubt, that those arrested and their ringleader had planned the bombings before any Spanish participation in the coalition forces serving in Iraq.

Failure of the Socialists to Buy Peace from either the Islamic or Basque Extremists

The Basque terrorist separatist organization ETA, although disclaiming any responsibility for this atrocious act, implied in a threat to the newly elected Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero in December 2006 that the March 11, 2004  attacks were an “example of what could happen” unless the government considered their demands and case for independence.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief deputy, and "second in command" of Al-Qaeda, who regularly appears on videos sent to the international media through al-Jazeera referred to Spain as recently as September 20, 2007. His address was directed to ..."Our Muslim nation in the Maghreb zone of deployment for battle and jihad!" and reminded the Muslims of North Africa that ..."The return of Andalus [today's Spain] to Muslim hands is a duty for the Islamic nation in general and for you in particular."

Attempts by other Islamist extremists to assassinate the judge involved in the trial of suspects who were apprehended and charged with the bombings also proved that the Socialist victory in the election and the withdrawal of Spanish forces from the Allied effort in Iraq did not buy peace as they had assumed. Moreover their whole electoral strategy revolved around the slogan of “Let Us Return to Europe” – meaning a close association with the French and German governments then in power that opposed President Bush’s policy of intervention in Iraq and a confrontation with Al-Qaeda. The subsequent electoral victories of the pro-American candidates Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy in France have only caused additional embarrassment to the Zapatero government. 

The Spanish police and Spanish judiciary indicted a loose group of Moroccan, Syrian, and Algerian Muslims inspired by al-Qaeda and two Guardia Civil and Spanish police informants who planned the March 11 attacks. Twenty-nine suspects have been tried for their involvement in the train bombings. On  January 4, 2007 the newspaper El País reported that the Algerian Daoud Ouhnane, considered to be the mastermind of the bombings, has been searching for a way to reenter Spain. On August 2007, al-Qaeda issued a statement claiming to be "proud" of the Madrid 2004 bombings. The trial of the suspects accused of planning and complicity in the bombings began in February 2007. Many of the accused recanted previous declarations and 14 of the 29 went on a hunger strike.

On October 31, 2007, the verdicts were handed down - 21 were found guilty on a range of charges from forgery to murder. Two of the defendants were sentenced each to more than 40,000 years in prison, but Spanish law limits the actual time served to 40 years. The reaction by a majority of the Spanish public was outrage and consternation that the government had mismanaged the case, shown absurd leniency and only given a further green light to terrorism.  

Since his election in 2004, Zapatero recalled all the Spanish forces (1,300 troops who had proven themselves very effective) serving in Iraq, then during a visit to Tunisia, asked all of the countries with troops in Iraq to withdraw their soldiers thus imitating his decision. Zapatero broke with all protocol by openly calling for the election of Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 elections, has spoken out in very strong terms against President Bush and the concept of any "Clash of Civilizations" (proposed by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington in 1993) between Islam and Christianity. He has ignored all references by Islamic extremists that Spain (like, Israel, Chechniya, Greece) were all formerly part of Dar-al-Islam (territories that once submitted to the will of Allah and must be maintained or "recovered"), rescinded the sale of airplanes to Colombia for use in combatting guerilla terrorism, used his influence to try and moderate economic pressure on the Castro regime in Cuba and ignored human rights abuses there. He sponsored a referendum on the European Constitution in which only 40% of Spaniards voted in contrast to the Dutch and French rejection of the Constitution. Zapatero also manage to provoke a diplomatic crisis with Poland by supporting measures that would preserve a much stronger voice for Germany and France in the management of European union affairs and shut out any increased influence by the Poles inspite of their large population. At the end of March 2005, he travelled to Venezuela to sign a deal to sell Hugo Chavez's regime a warship and aircraft worth around $1000 million. Zapatero fully supports recent legislation to legalize both same-sex marriage and adoption of children by same sex couples.

Zapatero's sharp rejection of the Huntington thesis must certainly have played a role in his defensive attitude and the less than vigorous prosecution of the terrorists involved in the Madrid bombings. Following the suicide attacks against innocent civilians in Spain and the United States on 9/11, Bali (mostly Australians), London, India, several failed attempts to commit terrorist acts in France and Germany, Hizbollah's use of Gaza and Lebanon to spark missile attacks against Israel and the world-wide campaign of intimidation and massive violent demonstrations against Danish interests in the wake of the cartoon affair, ordinary Spanish civilians have seen that they too are no safer under a policy of continued appeasement of radical Islam. A few weeks ago, 14 men (12 Pakistani Muslims and two Indians) were charged in Barcelona with plotting to blow up metro and other transportation facilities across Europe. Socialist leader Felipe Gonzalez concluded more than 20 years ago that Spain had gained nothing by its appeasement of extremists in the Arab world and continued rejection of diplomatic relations with Israel. Perhaps the upcoming national Spanish elections on March 9th will tell if the voters have drawn any conclusions about the verdicts handed down at the trial and the policies of the Zapatero government.   

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