The Spanish election

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Two weeks after terrorists' bombs killed more than 200 people and injured 1,500 more in a Madrid train station, Spain has a new government and has pledged to withdraw its troops from Iraq unless the United Nations takes control.

The pledge was one Socialist candidate Jose Luis Rodriguqez Zapatero made during the campaign to unseat the conservative government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Zapatero's victory raises the question of whether terrorists succeeded in changing the Spanish government.

As more and more suspects are arrested, responsibility seems to be pointing toward the Islamic terrorist organization al-Qaida. If true, Spain appears to be a new front in the war on terror.

But Muslims and Spain have a long, bloody history. Spain was Muslim from early in the 8th century until the early 1000s. The Moors established cultural centers in Cordoba and Seville. At the end of the first millennium, the Moors brought a flowering of art and learning to Europe not seen again until the Renaissance.

As Christian kingdoms began re-establishing control over Spain, this period of enlightenment gave way to the bloody Spanish Inquisition, a period in which anyone who did not practice the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church were driven out of the country, burned at the stake or imprisoned. Jews and Muslims took the brunt. Eventually the Inquisition was turned on Protestants.

Some view the new government's intention to remove Spanish troops from Iraq by summer as appeasement of terrorists. But the overwhelming majority of Spaniards opposed the war from the first and still do. They don't think endorsement of the handling of Iraq is a sine qua non to defeating terrorism.

Terrorists might have swung the election to Zapatero. His election also could be a referendum on the current Spanish government's policies.

After the bombings, an estimated one-fourth of the Spanish population marched to show their resolve to stand up to the "cowards" and "assassins.". They exercised the right of people in a democracy to demonstrate and on election day to choose.

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