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Trembling Before Terror

Spain's Socialist premier must continue his predecessor's fight against terrorism

By David M. Kaden

In polls from the six months leading up to Spain’s national election—including those taken as late as last week—Mariano Rajoy looked certain to coast to victory. The handpicked successor of outgoing Prime Minister José María Aznar, Rajoy ran on a strong antiterrorism platform; but after the recent bombings in Madrid, fear and suspicion gripped the country and Spaniards swept Socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero into victory. If we didn’t know it before, this weekend’s election in Spain provided a valuable, if horrifying, lesson: Terrorism works. Just ask Rajoy.

Public outcry against Rajoy and his Popular Party compatriots seems to have been incited by Socialist officials who accused the government of lying about the progress of the investigation of the bombings. They insinuated that it was a maneuver to deflect criticism of its support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. And based on the thousands of protestors who turned up for last week’s election, the accusation certainly struck a chord with the populace.

What is most terrifying about last week’s election is that it is a casebook lesson in why terrorism works: In their fear and anger, Spanish voters acquiesced to the terrorists’ demands. Afraid that Spanish support for the war in Iraq fueled the bombing, voters pulled their support of a man who has a history of aggressive, anti-terrorism efforts designed to make Spain safer, only to elect a man who promised to withdraw from Iraq. Immediately following the election, Zapatero announced that Spain’s 1,300 troops would be withdrawn from Iraq unless the occupation was endorsed by the United Nations.

If terrorists believe that they can influence national elections through hatred and fear, they will stop at nothing to do so. As long as there are candidates around the world willing to yield to terrorists’ pressure, there will be plenty of opportunities. The bombings in Spain were nothing short of a catastrophe, but they must be answered with a steadfast rejection of the use of violence as an assault on freedom. To do anything else, only serves the objections of terrorism. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened this weekend.

The United States’ efforts in the war on terrorism depend on the assistance and support of our allies, like Spain. This dependence not only calls for military support, but for intelligence collection and a show of solidarity. In order to reaffirm his commitment to a battle that threatens his country so gravely, as we learned last week, Zapatero should make bold steps in the early weeks of his administration to continue the anti-terrorism efforts of his predecessor outside of his decision not to support the war in Iraq—a decision clearly supported by the Spanish people.

It has now become trite to claim that the war against terrorism will be a protracted international effort against those who seek to undermine our way of life through fear. If we are to be successful in this effort, it will not be because the military has rooted out terrorists from hiding; rather, it will be because terrorism is no longer seen as a viable solution for those who might seek to employ it has a weapon. Standing up against it is the only way to do that. Sadly, that did not happen this weekend, but let it be a lesson for the future.

David M. Kaden ’06, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Dunster House.

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