Madrid: Shaken To The Core

Article published on March 17, 2004
community published
Article published on March 17, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Madrid is grieving, still in the dark about the identity of its attacker. It will not be enough just to punish the guilty parties. Europe must learn from its mistakes so that this never happens again.

Europe is in mourning. After the string of attacks in Madrid last Thursday, which claimed the lives of some two hundred people and affected thousands of families, the Spanish capital is still in a state of shock. Who? Why? What was the object? These unanswered questions are on everyone’s minds.

Despite fruitless attempts to carry on with daily life, on Thursday at 07:40 – when the first explosion went off inside a stationary train in Atocha railway station – time stood still…once again. You could see the incredulity, helplessness, grief and bewilderment on the faces of each and every European, unflinching in the face of the deadly and unannounced bombs that left a gaping hole in Iberian people’s hearts and killed students, immigrants and workers, targets of an indiscriminate, gruesome and cruel act of terrorism.

Silence in Atocha

Two days later Atocha still wasn’t back to normal. Meanwhile, people were beginning to exchange theories about who was behind the attacks.

Early on the finger of collective guilt was pointed at ETA, due to its instinctive evil, ridiculousness and absurd position of making “democratic” gains through the use of arms. But this idea gradually evaporated as time went by. The scale of the attacks, their organisation, the number of terrorists that were needed to carry out the fiendish plan indicated that the “trains of death” were not the work of the armed Basque group. And then, like a ghost, the al Qaeda theories began to do the rounds.

Europe pays the price for Iraq

Given that Spain, along with other European countries – England, Italy, Poland – had backed the war on Iraq, it should come as no surprise that Bin Laden or an organisation close to al Qaeda had perpetrated these attacks. The judge Baltasar Garzon had predicted it a year ago when he warned Aznar in an open letter that “the only thing this unjust war is going to generate is an increase in fundamentalist terrorism in the medium and long term… its rise in other areas, including Spain, is as obvious as it is terrible and you don’t want to or can’t see that”. In spite of these and so many other warnings, let alone the opposition of the Spanish people as a whole and of much of the EU, Aznar decided to go along with Bush – which led to the massacre of thousands of Iraqis.

The closer things are to home, the harder they hit. That was the case in Bologna in the 1980s, in Lockerbie in 1988, in New York in 2001, and now in Spain, in March 2004. The whole of Europe came together to face up to the tragedies in these cities. But when the deaths are far away and the US bombs sweep away the homes of humble and innocent people in Afghanistan or Iraq, everything is reduced to the tag “collateral damage” and governments prefer to protect themselves than renounce these Western outrages.

Europe must stop splitting the world in two and learn from its own grief so that at least it is not indifferent when others are being murdered due to the whims of a political power that has its bunker in this part of the world.