This was a vote for surrender

CONSIDER this question carefully: has the Spanish election result made the world any safer? The answer must be an unequivocal no.

Many in this country, especially those who opposed the invasion of Iraq, will conclude differently. They will sympathise with the Spanish voters’ decision as a punishment on the outgoing Aznar administration for going against the majority, anti-war opinion in Spain. But to take such a stance is politically naive. First, withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, as the new government in Madrid now proposes, is to add to the instability in that country, not create the conditions for peace. Remnants of the fascist Baath Party, in alliance with foreign Islamic terrorists linked to al-Qaeda, are desperately trying to thwart the introduction of democracy in Iraq. They were the ones responsible for the recent terrible massacre of Shiite pilgrims and for the targeted assassination of prominent Iraqi women.

How can anyone reason that withdrawing troops and abandoning ordinary Iraqis to this fate is a sensible policy at this moment in time, regardless of what position one took on the overthrow of Saddam? To counsel leaving democratic Iraq - its women, the Kurdish minority, the Marsh Arabs at last returning to their ancient villages, the oppressed Shiites - to their fate is not discretion, it is moral cowardice. To be frank, it is the same moral cowardice and appeasement that led people to abandon Czechoslovakia to Hitler - the original "faraway country" quoted above.

Display of naked terror

But the Spanish vote is dangerous on a second count. As with Hitler, it will not appease al-Qaeda or the Islamist terror groups. For, like Hitler, these are not engaged in some rational political exercise with limited aims that is amenable to negotiation or bargaining. Above all, it is not an enemy that considers the cost of civilian deaths - quite the opposite. For what al-Qaeda has discovered in Madrid is that if you kill enough ordinary commuters and schoolchildren coming into town from a poor working-class district, and you do it just before a general election, you can determine the outcome of that election through a display of naked terror. In other words, you can change unfriendly governments, force a retreat from Iraq or anywhere else you fancy, and cow democracies into retreat.

For the first time in modern history, a democracy has put up its hands in front of terrorists and said: "We surrender." Can any thinking person - including the Spanish, when they come to their senses - imagine that having tasted such success, al-Qaeda will abandon its murderous tactics?

But there will still be siren voices in Britain who say: "Follow the Spanish example. If we split with the Americans, and quit Iraq, we, too, can escape the bombs." Even in the United States, with a presidential election in November, there is a possibility that George Bush might be rejected by an unsettled electorate, as was his father before him, leaving a liberal President Kerry to temporise in the name of peace. So let us remind ourselves of the exact nature of the enemy we face.

'Individual duty to kill'

On 23 February 1998, well before the Twin Towers and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, Osama bin Laden and the major leaders of his World Islamic Front issued the following call to jihad:

"The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Holy Mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah ... ‘fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah’."

The purpose of this jihad is to re-establish the ancient Muslim Caliphate, the equivalent of re-establishing the Holy Roman Empire, with church and state combined, and to impose bin Laden’s version of Islam in which women are excluded from civil society. There is no possibility of temporising with this pre-modern fantasy any more that it was possible to temporise with racist Nazism and its fixation with the Nordic Gods and Aryan Supermen.

Of course, bin Laden’s version of Islam is not representative. And while it takes a religious guise, Islamic fundamentalism has material roots in the uneven economic and political development of the Middle East which must be addressed. But just as Hitler manipulated legitimate German grievances under the Treaty of Versailles, so bin Laden manipulates Arab and Muslim grievances, real and imagined, for his own mad scheme, which is nothing less than the destruction of Western society and Western values, including democracy, feminism, secularism and personal liberty. It also, by the way, includes a similar hatred of Indian Hindu society, and the Shiite branch of Islam which bin Laden does not recognise.

The Palestinian excuse

Still, there will be those who think bin Laden and his followers can be made to wither on the vine if only we stop supporting Israel. But the Palestinian issue is another of bin Laden’s excuses brought out to justify his anti-Western crusade. Remember where bin Laden was from 1991 to 1996? In the Sudan, supporting a long-standing and cruel civil war against the native Christians in that country. What had those poor people to do with America or Israel?

And why did bin Laden’s close allies let off bombs in Mumbai in India in March 1993, only a month after their first attack on the New York World Trade Centre? India has resolutely opposed Israel and championed the cause of the Palestinians. But bin Laden hates Hindus as much as Zionists or Westerners in general. And for all bin Laden’s crocodile tears over Palestine, when did he call for self-determination for the Kurds being gassed by Saddam Hussein? And what has Israel got to do with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic terror network in south-east Asia, whose goal is to create an Islamic state encompassing southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines and throw out the long-standing Chinese minority in that area in a giant act of ethnic cleansing?

Bin Laden and his way of thinking will indeed be brought to book if there are reforms in the Middle East, but the centre of those reforms has to be the introduction of democracy by the Arab nations themselves. In the meantime, we aid that process by standing firm against the terrorists, whether they strike in Baghdad or Madrid. Hiding from that fight, as the Spanish voters did on Sunday, may be an understandable human reaction, but in harsh reality it is the kind of appeasement that could get us all killed. As the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, noted, it is akin to asking to be the last one eaten by the terrorist crocodile.

Many in Britain shed tears when they heard of the Madrid carnage. In a sense, we were all its victims and we share a collective grief. But we have to tell our friends in Spain that they made a tragic mistake in the voting booth. It only remains to see which city will be the first to pay.

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