Ok: it’s just gone half past six, and demonstrations all over Spain are getting ready to go. Meantime I will leave you with the following thoughts:
I think it must be difficult for anyone outside Spain to understand just how complicated this situation here is. As everyone by now knows, the Spanish police are following two leads: one that of Eta, and the other that of Al Qaeda. On the one hand the difference between the two – since in either case the question is one of terrorism – is minimal, on the other it couldn’t be greater.
In assessing the impact and consequences of the attack, perhaps the first of the major questions which strikes you is the quantity of immigrants – both documented and undocumented – who were involved. Just looking for five minutes at the TV images of the relatives filing past the cameras in the hospitals and mortuaries makes this abundantly clear. There are in fact victims from 11 countries, many of these countries surely being in Latin America. In fact so important is this question that Jos? Maria Aznar spent a significant part of his public appearance this morning underlining that any person among the victims who was found to be ‘undocumented’ would automatically be ‘regularised’. In addition any immigrants who have died in the attack and who had not been naturalised are automatically to be conceded the status of Spanish citizens, for themselves (posthumously) and for their families. What this decision highlights is the quantity of recently arrived immigrants that there are now here in Spain, and confronting some of the all too evident implications of this reality will undoubtedly now be one of the first priorities of the incoming government.
This brings me to my first ‘correction’: yesterday morning I said.. “and the victims are a total cross-section of Spanish society: from executives to recently arrived illegal immigrants”….. in fact this is wrong. There are relatively few executives, the majority of the victims it is now obvious come from poor families.
A second question relates to the means of communication. Firstly one detail: it is in situations like this, probably for the immediacy of the images it can provide, and the direct contact it facilitates between events and audience, that television really has no competitors. As I write I am listening to Spanish TV to see what additional details may emerge. Googling is no alternative. It is hard to distinguish the truly novel, and the truly interesting, from amongst the enormous quantity of written material available.
The other point about the means of communication in Spain is that they are not homogeneous. Depending on which part of Spain you live-in your appreciation of events is different. One example: despite listening to as many news broadcasts as I can, the first mention on national state TV (TVE1) of the existence of the e-mail to the Arab newspaper in London that I heard was when the Minister of Labour denounced it in an interview around 10:00 this morning. Subsequently it has been mentioned with apparent normality. Catalan regional TV had been giving details of the letter, and analysing its significance since 10:00 last night. As one journalist on the TV behind me has just commented: we seem to be living in two countries.
This difference also applies to the theory of who is responsible: one part of Spain seems to believe the opposite of what the other part believes, almost as a point of principal.
This is an old idea and was expressed by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado in the following way:
Espa?olito que vienes al mundo,
te guarde Dios,
una de las dos espa?as
ha de helarte el coraz?n
Which means, roughly translated:
coming into the world,
May God watch over you,
for one of the two Spains
has to freeze your heart..
Those who saw the Almodovar film Live Flesh (Carne Tremula) and the young child coming into the world, born to a prostitute on a municipal bus, may understand better this evocation.
It was as if Spain was condemned to relive this division over, and over, and over again.
Now even assuming the case that this tragedy has been the work of Al Qaeda (which I don’t fully accept at this moment in time), this division continues to reproduce itself in the fact that one part of Spain wants to believe this to be true, while the other doesn’t.
Personally I am for the moment hanging on to the Eta connection, partly in the absence of more conclusive proof, and partly since contemplating the other eventuality seems something so enormous, that I am reluctant to embrace it simply for the magnitude of the consequences. Maybe many Spaniards are like me: simply in awe of the possibility.
However there are reasons for believing that Eta may have had a hand in what happened. Firstly for a reason which leadsKevin Drum to discount their involvement:
you’d think that even fanatical Basque terrorists would realize that four days before an election is not a good time to do something like this.
No Kevin: I fear this is not how Eta works. Many like me jumped to the conclusion that it was Eta, simply because of the timing. Everyone was anticipating some act of defiance or other from them before Sunday, this was the only way you could read their truce in one part of Spain: as an explicit menace to the other part.
Then there were the explosives:
Yet in the chaotic aftermath of the bombings, antiterrorism officials cautioned that other evidence seemed to implicate ETA.
One Spanish official who spoke on the condition he not be named said the dynamite-like explosive used in the attacks, Titadine, had been used before by ETA, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom.
Most recently, the official said, the police found the same explosive in a vehicle they intercepted last month as it was driven to Madrid by ETA militants. The police also found bomb-laden backpacks like those used in yesterday’s attacks when they foiled a bombing at a Madrid train station on Christmas Eve, an event they linked to ETA.
Yesterday’s bombings also came after months of intelligence reporting that ETA was planning a major attack, several Spanish officials said. The timing of the violence ? with national elections scheduled for Sunday ? seemed to suggest ETA’s hand as well, they said.
New York Times
John Chappell at Iberian Notes floats another idea:
Here’s the paranoid conspiracy theory that is cropping up in my mind. ETA plants the bombs, and this was clearly an ETA-style job, but tries to make it look like Al Qaeda, or at least bring up the suspicion as best they can–and note that the first person to link the alleged “Arab resistance” group and the massacre in Madrid was none other than ETA mouthpiece Arnaldo Otegui. Their strategy: Piss off the people against Aznar and the PP, their sworn enemies, for getting us in the sights of Al Qaeda. That’s a terribly narrow and selfish attitude to have–“Aznar and Bush got these people killed” for daring to use force to stop terrorism. Enough people might have that very attitude, though, that there’s a backlash at the polls on Sunday against the PP and they lose the election. That’s something ETA would very much like to see.
The ‘conspiracy idea’ certainly shouldn’t be completely discarded, although what we need to be able to take it seriously is evidence. The logic though doesn’t convince me at all. If Eta has attempted to influence the course of the Spanish elections, then I am more or less convinced that this would be to try and ensure a return of the PP. They would do this of course, not because they are sympathisers, but because they want confrontation, and what they don’t want is a government in Madrid who would be more sympathetic to the demands of the moderate nationalists, who would then be able to attract many of their ‘soft supporters’. This is precisely what the socialist leader Rodriguez Sabatero seemed to be offering, and this is why, IMHO, they would do nothing which might help him get elected.
I agree with John that one should be absolutely distrustful of any statement made by someone like Otegui, and my reading would be that he intervened so rapidly because he did have some kind of information (even if second hand information) and this could point to the existence of a splinter in Eta which might, or might not, be hand-in-hand with Al Qaeda.
In the end I don’t really buy this version of the conspiracy theory, since one of the objectives of a terrorist organisation would seem precisely to be having the responsibility attributed to them. The denial of Otegui may be serious, in the sense that they fear the backlash in the Basque Country, and this may reinforce the splinter hypothesis, since if what you were looking for was a massive destruction of human life it is not clear why you would shy away from the consequences of your actions. But here there are a lot of ‘mays’ and ‘seems’, and enormous assumptions to the effect that what may lack all logic in fact obeys some rules of coherence: so perhaps it is simply better I speculate less, and await the arrival of more confirmed facts.