Terrorism and the Spanish Elections

My wife has spent most of her adult life studying, living in, and writing about Spain. This weekend she wrote a letter to the editor of our newspaper, in response to yet another article containing the oft-repeated fallacy that the Spanish people “surrendered to the terrorists” with the elections in March. I thought her letter was worth sharing:

On Friday this paper ran an AP story asserting that the “political success” Al Qaeda enjoyed in Spain following the Madrid train bombings could lead to a similar attempt to influence the US election. The implication that Spaniards caved to Al Qaeda’s demands following the worst terrorist attacks in their history is incorrect and insulting to the Spanish people.

Spain’s former Prime Minister, José María Aznar, made an overwhelmingly unpopular decision by sending Spanish troops to Iraq. Not coincidentally, the opposition candidate ran on an anti-war platform, vowing to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq if elected. As a result, polls showed a very close race in the days leading up to the terrorist attacks. Furthermore, in the days following the bombings, the prime minister attempted to deceive the Spanish public by placing blame for the attacks on ETA, the Basque separatist group, and by trying to suppress information regarding the bombings’ true authors. The prime minister’s attempt to mislead Spanish voters on the eve of the national elections smacked of craven political manipulation, and voters responded by ousting his party.

Some, including Donald Rumsfeld, have accused the Spanish people of cowardice in the face of terror. This accusation is unfair and untrue; Spaniards know what it means to live with terrorism. Since 1959, more than 800 people have died in terrorist attacks by ETA. Spaniards have responded to terrorism bravely, by speaking out and organizing spontaneous demonstrations, sometimes at great personal risk, following ETA strikes.

Spaniards take democracy very seriously. It’s a freedom they’ve only come to enjoy recently – the memory of Franco’s forty-year dictatorship still informs discussions, both public and private, about democracy and its incumbent responsibilities.

The attacks in Spain did not decide the outcome of the election; Aznar’s policies did.

The truth about the events in Spain does not fit with the worldview of many people on the right, so they (with the acquiescence of the US media) have been busily trying to promote their incorrect version of events instead. Don’t let them.