Gregory Stephen's Weblog
Sunday, March 14, 2004
WE HOPE YOU GOT THE MESSAGE
(A Warning to the Nations: Terrorism is a Two-Way Street)
by Gregory Stephens
The rush to assign guilt for the Madrid bombings shows how easily any news connected to the "war on terror" can be politicized. But the people of Spain have given us an inspiring example of how to throw out leaders who try to twist the truth for political gain.
Watching Spanish CNN coverage of the Madrid bombings March 11, it seemed doubtful that this was the work of ETA, the Basque separatist group. There was the scale of the carnage, and that date again, the 11th, 6 months from September 11. And the location, Madrid, spoke of President Jose Maria Aznar's unflinching support for the American invasion of Iraq, against the will of the Spanish people.
Yet the ruling conservative Popular Party (PP), with elections scheduled for March 14, immediately blamed ETA (an acronym for “Basque Fatherland and Liberty”). It was in the interest of the Aznar government to finger ETA. If ETA was seen as responsible, this would help Aznar’s successor Mariano Rajoy, as the PP had adapted the hardest anti-ETA line. If Islamic militants were involved, then the socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero would benefit. This scenario would indicate blowback for Aznar’s support of the invasion of Iraq, against the opinion of 90% of Spanish citizens.
Within hours of the bombing, opposition parties in Spain accused Aznar's government of withholding information for political reasons. According to a report in El Pais, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio wrote this memo to PP officials: "You should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks, thus helping to dissipate any type of doubt that certain interested parties may want to promote.”
But police began leaking information about why ETA responsibility was doubtful. There was the abandoned nearby van with detonators, and tapes of the Koran. There was testimony about and a videotape of three Arabic youths running onto the train with backpacks. There was a denial of responsibility by ETA, which previously had given prior notice to the press for its public bombings. And the Spanish press reprinted an email claiming responsibility from a group called Brigade of Abu Hafs al Masri.
By March 13, a day before elections, Spanish investigators were "99% certain" of "la pista islámica." But government officials were still fingering ETA. Yet in a remarkable series series of developments, a day after 11 million Spaniards took to the streets to express their grief and anger, thousands of protesters surrounded PP headquarters the evening of March 13. They demanded that the Aznar government tell them the truth. Rajoy went on TV, incredibly, to call these demonstrations “illegal” and “anti-democratic."
But the outrage of Spanish people may have forced the government’s hand. That evening, interior minister Angel Acebes, who had stubbornly insisted on ETA’s probable guilt, held a press conference to announce the arrest of three Moroccans and two Spaniards of Indian descent. They “could be connected to Muslim extremist groups,” Acebes admitted. Acebes was then forced to backtrack yet again in the pre-dawn hours, when he announced the receipt of a video from an Arabic man with a Moroccan accent, claiming al-Qaeda responsiblity for the bombings, and declaring pointedly: “This is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies."
Now that the elections are over and the truth is coming out, readers may want to look at the letter from Brigade of Abu Hafs al Masri, which was sent to the London-based Arabic-language Al Quds al Arabi. PP leaders tried to cast doubt on its authenticity. Yet the editor of Al Quds noted its similarity to a letter published March 2, denying responsibility for attacks in Baghdad and Karbala that killed more than 200 Shiites. "We strike the American crusaders and their allies," that letter insisted. The email also echoes a tape released by Osama bin-Laden in October 2003 that mentions Spain as a target. And it is similar to the videotape left in a trash can for Spanish intelligence officers in the pre-dawn hours of March 14.
There have been only fleeting references so far in English-language forums to the Abu Hafs letter. So I have translated some key passages from the letter, as it appeared in La Voz de Galicia 3-12-04 under the title:
"El grupo terrorista Abu Hafs al Masri se atribuye el atentado"
* * *
When we struck the Italian troups in Nasiriya we sent a warning to the agents of America: withdraw from the alliance against Islam. But you didn't understand the message. Now we put the dots over the i's. We hope you understood the message.
We do not become sad over the death of civilians. Is it legitimate that they kill our children, women, old people, and youths in Afganistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Kashmir, while it is a sin that we kill theirs?
Take your hands off us, free our prisoners and leave our land, and we will leave you in peace. The countries allied with the United States should force their governments to end this alliance with the war against terror, which means war against Islam. If you cease the war, we will cease ours.
This is a warning to the nations: do not come near to the civil or military installations of the American Crusaders or their allies.
* * *
The videotaped message is even more explicit: "If you don’t stop your injustices, even more blood will flow, and these attacks will seem small compared to what can happen with what you call terrorism.”
Hard truths to digest, these. But beneath the sound and the fury, once again, a voice whispers in my ear that this is another case of chickens coming home to roost.
There is no justification for such terror. But there is also no escaping a certain moral equivalence here: the number of civilians killed by "Islamic terrorists" is miniscule compared to the number of civilians killed by the Americans and their allies in the countries named above.
This "warning to the nations" could not be more simple and direct: "Take your hands off us, and we will leave you in peace." The Spanish people have gotten the message, much more clearly than North Americans: terrorism is not just something "they" do to "us," as innocent victims. It is also something our leaders do using our money, in our name.
It is the voice of artists who most often cut through the static. An older song from the Police runs through my head: "There is no political solution/to our troubled evolution."
And a timely anthem called "Bomb the World" by Michael Franti, from his album "Everyone Deserves Music":
"We can chase down all our enemies
And bring them to their knees
We can bomb the world to pieces
But we can't bomb it into peace."
We may not like the messenger, and we should rightly abhor the way the message was delivered. But it is probably only by coming drenched in blood that this uncomfortable truth could break through our tremendous self-absorption and sense of entitlement.
The truth remains: we the people most force our governments to end their alliance with THIS INTERPRETATION of the war on terror.
The roots of terror are intolerance, and structural inequality. Most of us in the West are implicated in these terrorist attacks, whether we want to admit it or not, through the consequences of our unsustainble lifestyle, or through our support (whether explicit or by default) of our own politics of intolerance.
Now is the time to look in the mirror and do some hard thinking about our privileged way of life, and our assumptions that we can and should export this lifestyle to the rest of humanity. At gunpoint if need be.
We have been asked to leave lands where we have no sovereignty. Now the i's have been dotted, and soon the t's will be crossed.
"How much blood have to be shed before we rebel?" (Ziggy Marley)
"Power to the peaceful."
POSTSCRIPT: ABB HAS A NEW MEANING
[March 15, 2004]
After the news came in that the Spanish people had indeed kicked their lying leaders out of office, I realized that the ABB movement is "double-voiced" now.
Not just Anybody But Bush, but also the order in which Babylon walls will crumble:
Aznar, Bush, Blair.
I have my doubts if the news will register with the true believers who suffer from a terminal case of American Myopia. But Zapatero certainly laid down the gauntlet the day after he was elected, confirming that he would indeed pull out 1300 Spanish troups from the "disastrous" occupation of Iraq:
Zapatero said Bush and his main ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, need to engage in "self-criticism". "You can't bomb a people just in case" they pose a perceived threat, Zapatero said in statements just five days before the first anniversary of the March 20 start of the war.
"You can't organize a war on the basis of lies," he said, alluding to Bush's and Blair's insistence the war was justified by their belief -- so far unfounded -- that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat.
"Wars such as that which has occurred in Iraq only allow hatred, violence and terror to proliferate," he said.
* * *
OUR PRESIDENT engage in self-criticism?!
Not when he's got people like Pat Robertson announcing that God has told him that Dubya will win in a cakewalk!
Andy Rooney got in a good one:
"My own question to Pat Robertson is this: The election looks as though it could be close, certainly not a blowout. If George W. Bush loses the election to a Democrat, will you become an atheist?"
As Bob Marley said,
"Come we a chant down Babylon one more time."