Needless to say, I have no more insight than anyone else into who perpetrated yesterday’s outrage in Madrid. The most recent analyses seem to be trending in the direction of al Qaeda, and some commentators are suggesting that al Qaeda may have teamed up with the Basque separatist group, ETA, to pull off the terrorist attack. Or it may have been the product of a hitherto-unknown organization.
Many people–mostly on the right–have criticized the Bush administration for couching the current war as a “war on terror.” Terrorism, some say, is only a tactic; the enemy needs to be identified more specifically as Islamofascism and combatted as such. I have generally been sympathetic to this criticism.
Yet such specificity can be carried too far. I have a friend in Alaska, a Democrat who very nearly was elected that state’s sole Congressman some years ago, who was hostile to the Iraq war. He said that he thought the U.S. should go after the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks with “laser-like precision,” and do nothing with regard to regimes and organizations not specifically linked to those attacks. This raises, of course, the issue of the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda; we now know, despite assurances from many “experts” that the secular Baathists could never team up with bin Laden’s religious fanatics, that there was extensive cooperation between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda.
More broadly, the Islamofascist terrorists have never found it necessary to organize themselves with “laser-like precision.” Their organizations are fluid groups that easily morph from one identity into another. The Islamofascists who tried unsuccessfully to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993 operated under a different name from those who succeeded in 2001, but their principles were the same. The same individuals will often crop up in different organizations at various times, and the cousins and nephews of members of one Islamofascist organization commonly appear as members of a nominally different organization, in another country, that shares the same Islamofascist principles. So there is very little point today in distinguishing among the many “offshoots” and “affiliates” of al Qaeda around the world.
But this principle should, perhaps, be applied more generally, especially as terrorist groups adopt one another’s methods and, perhaps, form working alliances. At the end of the day, how much does it matter whether the coordinated attacks in Spain were carried out by ETA, al Qaeda, the two in combination, or a new “organization” formed especially for the purpose? All such groups, and all such people, are enemies of civilization and must be crushed.
So, perhaps, the administration’s concept of a “war against terror” may not be so dumb after all. Free societies are threatened by all those who would use violence to install autocracy, of whatever stripe; and the enemies of freedom have much in common and will inevitably collaborate and mutually imitate. I am reminded that in the 1930’s fascism and communism were generally regarded as polar opposites–until Hitler and Stalin formed their alliance, at which time it suddenly appeared that they were virtually indistinguishable for practical purposes, like the Crips and the Bloods, rival gangs that formed an alliance of convenience.
Likewise, today, it may not be unreasonable to conclude that a terrorist is a terrorist; that all those who think it a fine idea to blow up random men, women and children on trains and buses and in malls and restaurants, have much in common, and their differences are insignificant from the point of view of the rest of us–that is, those who are in danger of being blown up.
Maybe we are, after all, engaged in a war against terror.
UPDATE: Tim Blair has an excellent post by two Spanish bloggers, which includes this observation:
Whoever did this, we are going to know soon. Maybe it will take only some hours; maybe it will take days, weeks or even more. The problem is that everybody seems to be in a hurry about it. Why? We don