Irish Republican News · November 24, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

By Danny Morrison

At the time of writing, three days after bombs on four commuter trains in Madrid killed 200 people, a number of suspects have been arrested and are being questioned. This followed the discovery of a stolen van with detonators (and a tape of verses of the Koran in Arabic); crucial forensic evidence being adduced from an unexploded bomb; a claim from al Qaeda to an Arab language newspaper in London; and, on Sunday, a claim of responsibility from al Qaeda in a video message.

However, that's not how things appeared initially when the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, that country's media and probably the majority of people, blamed the Basque separatist group ETA. Aznar, on the eve of a general election, had a vested interest in ETA involvement rather than al Qaeda retaliating for Aznar's involving Spain, against the wishes of public opinion, with the US in the war against Iraq.

Aznar's grounds for blaming ETA were that Madrid has been a regular target for the group; though civilians who have been killed by ETA bombs were more often killed in explosions that followed botched warnings rather than no warnings. ETA suspects had also been arrested in recent months near or around railway stations in the Spanish capital.

There was also speculation that ETA is now under a less-restrained or inexperienced leadership (as a result of ongoing attrition) that ordered the bombings but then balked at accepting responsibility. However, all that turned out to be academic - though not without lessons for ETA.

Thursday's massacre was clearly wilful, not a result of a mistake, and obviously was intended to deliver some message through the infliction of mass murder.

Had ETA been responsible it would have caused inestimable damage to the cause of Basque independence. For years its armed struggle has looked increasingly futile, lurching from an ineffectual, desultory `military' campaign to an incomprehensible decision to shoot local Basque councillors from the Socialist Party and centre-right Peoples Party. Certainly, the Spanish government's response to ETA's ceasefire several years ago (partly inspired by our own peace process) was niggardly but the decision to return to armed struggle was a wrong one.

In my opinion, the condition of the Basque people does not justify armed struggle - just as the political bridgeheads and conditions established here in the North make a return to armed struggle an untenable proposition. Unfortunately, the British government trades on this fact in its roughshod dealings with Sinn Féin and in its piecemeal attitude towards implementing the Belfast Agreement.

Furthermore, the leadership of unionism simply pockets the compromises of republicans and will seize any opportunity to demonise Sinn Féin. David Trimble headed off to Washington to lambaste Sinn Féin because of its alleged `connections' to ETA, `the Madrid bombers', even though it was not ETA but the recently banned separatist political party, Batasuna, that had foreign delegate status at Sinn Féin's ard fheis. Like Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar Trimble will now have to rewrite his script.

Unlike the Palestinians the Basque people have not been living in refugee camps since 1948 or had their land occupied, their leadership demonised and systematically isolated, their olive groves wantonly destroyed and their water stolen by colonists supported by the US. They are not a people who have no local or regional rights or access to the international community.

It is possible to understand - whilst opposing it - the phenomena of the Palestinian suicide bomber, who emerges from conditions of statelessness, poverty, desperation and hopelessness. To be a suicide bomber one has to love one's own people desperately - but one also has to hold in contempt other peoples.

The West through its negligence and partisanship cannot escape a great measure of political and moral responsibility for driving young Palestinians to attacks on Israeli civilians. But nor should progressive people, out of a sense of solidarity, be mooted in their opposition to the sectarian and racist nature of such suicide bombings. Nor should we be duped by those Islamic militants who exploit the Palestinian cause - and the resistance in Iraq - for their own wider purposes. The fervour of the Islamic fundamentalists of al Qaeda is alien to me: their campaign - from the attacks in the USA to the Bali bombing - is cruel but not mindless. ``We believe so much in our cause'', their bombers say, ``that we want to die (and take as many `infidels' with us as we can)'': a paradigm that in simple terms contrasts to the mentality of most of us who want to survive conflict.

The unholy war of Islamic fundamentalists against the West has only succeeded in strengthening the hand of warmongers like George Bush who use their attacks to justify curbs on human rights and freedom and as a cover to increase US dominance around the world. One only had to listen to Tony Blair at the weekend to understand how he uses the inhumanity of al Qaeda to justify his involvement in Iraq and the West's response to international terrorism, rather than accepting that the policies of the West helped create, then fuel, that very terrorism.

Try to speak about the relationship between US foreign policy, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the cause of violence in the Middle East, and much elsewhere, and you risk being categorised outright as an apologist for terrorism or as anti-Semitic. And at a personal political level you don't want, either, to be associated or tainted with, or to appear to be encouraging or excusing, al Qaeda.

The rise of Islamic terrorism is a challenge not just to Western governments but also to the left, which is in solidarity with the oppressed people on whose behalf al Qaeda claims to be acting. This terrorism can be countered, in part, by the West having a less exploitive attitude to the Third World and its peoples, and by justice being done to the Palestinian nation. Such a response might appear as a dangerous vindication of al Qaeda's strategy of indiscriminate murder - but every injustice removed gives alienated and oppressed people something to live rather than die for.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News