A Videotape and A Recantation

At one o’clock in the morning Spanish time Angel Acebes appeared on TV here to inform Spanish citizens that the authorities were in possesion of a video showing a man who purports to represent Al Qaeda. In the words of the New York Times:

The man in the video, who was speaking Arabic with a Moroccan accent and wearing Arab garb, identified himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, evidently a nom de guerre, and claimed to be the military spokesman for Al Qaeda in Europe.

Since nothing here is ever clear, and it is impossible to know at this stage with any reasonable degree of certainty either who this man is, or who he really represents, caution would seem to be warranted.

What is clear, however, is that the whole course of events has turned from Thursday (and remember this is still only Sunday). It now appears reasonable to assume that this is the work of an Islamic fundamentalist group, probably one with links to Al Qaeda. Even if it seems strange to use this expression in the context of a terrorist organisation, a presumption of innocence in this atrocity must now hang over ETA and all its splinters until such time as evidence to the contrary appears on the table.

This being the case you all deserve an apology from me. I read it wrong. Whether this was a reasonable reading given the events and the background or not I leave to you.

I would also like to indicate that commentors Factory and Talos have both had their initial instincts confirmed. Does this suggest that being closer to the events is not always an advantage?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of what we all thought two things seem clear. Firstly the dimension of the problem just changed: this is no longer a ‘local’ Spanish affair, but is now something which concerns the whole of Europe and our relations with the Unites States. Secondly the problem of Eta is still there. Maybe Eta is ‘innocent’ this time: but how long will it be before we are burying the next victim of an Eta inspired assasination or bombing?

I therefore ask you to truly have sympathy for the Spanish citizens today. Especially for the most humble and least sophistocated of them. Their world has just been shattered in a way which must seem to many of them irreperable. Many have have found themselves in recent years hovering between fear and indignation in the face of Eta terror. They now find themselves parachuted without warning into the front line of a battle with the most important terrorist menace on the planet. They have just lost 200 innocent fellow citizens. Think of them this day, and let your hearts go out to them.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo' is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

12 thoughts on “A Videotape and A Recantation

  1. If I may, my own analysis as a MENA region specialist is that it strikes me as unlikely this is a directly al-Qaeda associated group. It is rather more likely – and perhaps this is splitting hairs but operationally it is important – to be a North African derived jihadi group. The moniker of the tape maker implies someone who’s been through the Afghan experience (more Algerians than Moroccans, I shall take the ident of Moroccan accent to be a generic North African accent) and the bloody mindedness rather fits with the Algerian Salafi-Jihadi groups.

  2. Well my insticts didn’t really tell me anything, it’s just that the very first two pieces of evidence were not telling a clear story.
    It now seems, to me, to be more likely a local group that was helped by AQ to do an attack, as happened in the Bali bombings, not AQ itself. If this is the case, then it’s generally a good thing, since they are prolly not as sophisticated as AQ, and will be more easily brought to justice, than AQ would be.

  3. I don’t think who did it is as important as the implications of it. I take it as a serious warning that terrorism acts can happen anywhere across Europe. Moreover, I think that a choice has to be made between acting on the ancient credos of racial superiority and the benevolence, liberal views of understanding cultural differences.

  4. It might look strange, heartless even, to write this at this very moment but I have a problem with the attention to the Madrid-bombings compared to the attacks in Karbala on Ashoura.
    I’ll elaborate on this subject later: I realise that I am very implicit with this statement but most readers here understand my point already I suppose.

  5. My god, you don’t owe anyone an apology. Thanks for staying on top of this, your site is now bookmarked on my laptop.

  6. Because I think the Madrd bombing are of imporance not just to Spain but also not just to Europe I elaborated my pov at Bonoboland.
    (And on my own site of course)

    “The Ashoura-massacre and Madrid-bombs: again OBL urges us the need for global cooperation”

  7. Frans,

    You are absolutely right is suggesting that we have largely ignored the scale of casualties at Karbala. Why I believe al-Qaeda achieves its sympathetic resonance in Islamic countries is because of a widespread feeling that the “west” has a verging on complete lack of regard for Islamic sentiments and casualties in Islamic countries.

  8. “I think that a choice has to be made between acting on the ancient credos of racial superiority and the benevolence, liberal views of understanding cultural differences.”

    Of course we don’t want the former, that is why I think we consider the French headscarfe viewpoint so backward and damaging. OTOH the liberal views need to be tempered with appropriate security measures to make what happened last Thursday less likely to happen.

    “I believe al-Qaeda achieves its sympathetic resonance in Islamic countries is because of a widespread feeling that the “west” has a verging on complete lack of regard for Islamic sentiments and casualties in Islamic countries.”

    I think Bob and Frans have strong points here.

    “and perhaps this is splitting hairs ….”

    Not at all Collounsbury, this kind of insight is very useful, and certainly strikes a chord.

  9. Frans: “I have a problem with the attention to the Madrid-bombings compared to the attacks in Karbala on Ashoura.”

    On the other hand, if we are to be true multiculturalists, we should respect the fundamentalist Muslim view that while we love life, Muslims love death.

    Thus the Muslim death toll essentially becomes irrelevant, and the Madrid tragedy more important than the Karbala tragedy, since westerners put a greater value on life on earth.

    Fundamentalist Muslims have essentially chosen to lessen the value of their own lives: that’s the downside to their own ideology.

    Multiculturalists, however, should respect the choice they’ve made, and extend the courtesy by not equating the two tragedies.

  10. “if we are to be true multiculturalists, we should respect the fundamentalist Muslim view that while we love life, Muslims love death.”

    It seems to me unilluminating and presumptive to assume all Muslims uniformly subscribe to the values and priorities espoused by the likes of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

    A belief that life is but a brief interlude before access to paradise, purgatory or the other place was both a fundamental and prominent part of the Christian religion as practised by the established church(es) for centuries. The point has been made often enough that Islam has not made the transitions through the reformation and renaissance which took Europe several centuries. What happened to the Huguenots in France in the 16th and 17th centuries makes 9-11 seem a rather minor incident: http://www.lepg.org/wars.htm

    The Thirty Years Wars in Europe 1618-48 were finally brought to an end by the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 in which it was agreed by the signatories that the internal affairs of a recognised sovereign state were set aside as a legitimate justification for war.

    Blair wants to reject that principle now but there is no generally agreed alternative in place, and certainly not one which validates unilateral pre-emptive war without UN sanction.

  11. Of course we don’t want the former, that is why I think we consider the French headscarfe viewpoint so backward and damaging.

    I don’t think that it is so backward. (Damage was bound to happen whatever happened.) Inasmuch as the hijab was being forced on young French Muslim women, as part of a general cultural package associated with a reactionary variant of Islam which doesn’t see women as having any rights to personal autonomy, and inasmuch as these young women fell under the aegis of a school system charged with acting in loco parentis, the ban strikes me as probably the most elegant solution to the question of the exclusion of young banlieuesardes from wider society that could be struck.

    OTOH the liberal views need to be tempered with appropriate security measures to make what happened last Thursday less likely to happen.

    Quite agreed; the minimal standards, security and philosophical, of every democratic society, need to be reiterated, and not only in times of crisis.

  12. Typical double-standardism.

    “Inasmuch as the hijab was being forced on young French Muslim women, as part of a general cultural package associated with a reactionary variant of Islam…”

    So let’s force them NOT to wear it? That’s excellent logic. Furthermore, the opinion that Islam demands a reformation is quite crude and furthermore, quite ignorant of the nature of Islamic law, practice and reality. The Reformation in Europe was launched against a Church viewed as too dominating.

    There is no such institution in the Islamic world. In fact, what the Islamic world could benefit from is a cooperative institution of some sort, to bring believers together and give them both more purposefulness and security, which would greatly weaken extremist groups and their ideologies. The last time Islam went through anything like a Protestant Reformation, it was Wahhabism.