Analysis: On 10th Anniversary of Madrid Al Qaeda 3-11 Bombing, Analysts Apply Lessons to Fight Terror in Israel
by Joshua Levitt
Ten years ago, on March 11, 2004, at 7:37 AM, three bombs hidden in backpacks exploded on two commuter trains, one waiting at the platform at Madrid’s Atocha station, and the other a quarter mile down the track. Within the next three minutes, seven more bombs would explode on commuter trains arriving at El Pozo and Santa Eugenia, two stations further down the line. Three more bombs were later detonated by police.
“The dead were lying on the ground,” a thick-set Spaniard said into a mobile phone in front of the Atocha station. His eyes were glazed. It was as if he were trying to remember a nightmare. “I saw a girl with a hole in her kidney that you could have put your finger in. Five dead on the escalator. People without arms were asking for help. A woman asked me to call her husband. She was yelling the number, but I couldn’t understand. I had to get out.”
Fernando, working at the press kiosk outside Atocha, said that it wasn’t the noise of the explosions that alerted him to the attack. “It was the people crying on the street and a sudden screeching of ambulance sirens.”
About 400 wounded were taken to the Hospital 12 de Octubre, which is the closest to the train station. The Interior Ministry had set up an information center for families in the hospital auditorium. They were told to wait for news.
“They’re already calling it Madrid’s March, 11, like September, 11 in New York,” said Marcelo, an Ecuadorian, who lives nearby. “My wife went to work and I had heard it on the radio and just felt that I should go the hospital and live this tragedy.”
The horror of that morning was published, just as it is above, on the front page of the Financial Times, when I was the newspaper’s Madrid correspondent. In my case, that horror marked the end of covering rarefied boardroom battles and eloquent defenses of shareholders rights into, for the first time since reading Lech Lecha at my Bar Mitzvah, identifying as a Jew, caught in some unexplained religious war, where Muslims were killing Christians on their way to work on a Thursday morning, in a Catholic, officially, though mostly pagan, in practice, staid European capital. If the first aim of terror is to get attention, the Atocha bombing captured mine.
A decade on, as Spain remembers the 191 dead and Spanish media report on how the 1,857 injured overcame lost limbs, disfigurement and first-degree burns to rebuild their lives, terrorism analysts are revisiting the Madrid case for what’s been learned about jihad since then, how those lessons are being applied today, especially in Israel, which is permanently on the front lines, and the narrative of jihad that continues to attract young men to kill in the name of Allah.
In the annals of terrorism studies, Madrid is remembered for five milestones. It was the first major modern Islamist attack on European soil, followed a year later by the 7/7 attack on buses in London. In both those cases, the perpetrators were not foreigners, as in the 9/11 attack on the U.S., but, for the first time, residents, local young men, long-time immigrants or the sons of immigrants, who had become radicalized, formed small cells, and, in the Madrid case, mentored by more experienced leaders, who had spent time in terror training facilities in Chechnya and Afghanistan and helped plan the attack.
Madrid was also the first attack where the everyday cellphone played such a huge role. Indeed, the backpacks on the trains were filled with explosives (bartered with an unemployed miner from the coal mines in Asturias, in the north, for bricks of Moroccan hashish) triggered to detonate by the phones. But also, on the political side, in the same way that Twitter and Facebook were used by dissidents in Iran’s bloody 2009 election and in the Egyptian Tahrir Sqaure revolution of 2010, the cellphone, and the now ubiquitous text carried the message of protest. Over the course of an afternoon, a chain-letter text message mobilized the majority of Madrid’s 10 million inhabitants to stage an impromptu rally the next night in the middle of the city that went unreported, until it was actually happening, by mainstream broadcast media, which was still in the control of the government that ultimately was voted out of office in elections that had already been scheduled for that Sunday, three days after the bombing.
The outcome of those elections is the most unique fact about the Madrid Atocha bombing, why it’s remembered as an anomaly, the exception that proves the rule:
“The Madrid case shows sometimes in history, groups do manage to achieve their demands,” Professor Max Abrahms, a terrorism scholar at Northeastern University, told The Algemeiner in an interview. “The ‘strategic model,’ as it’s called, is that terrorists commit their acts of violence for strategic reasons, to pressure governments into making concessions for their cause.”
“What I’ve found is that it’s not only ineffective, politically, it’s almost always politically counterproductive. Terrorists actually lower their chances of receiving their demands by blowing up civilian targets.”
In Abrahms’s exhaustive study, the dependent variable is whether the perpetrators achieve their demands — if they were able to transform terror, or the threat of it, into pressuring the government to make the concessions they seek.
“Often times the exact opposite happened,” Abrahms said. “Instead of making concessions, they provoke the normal response, which is that political leaders go on the offensive, electorates move to the political right, governments are empowered and they try to crush the terrorists, and often times the local population from which they hail. That’s the norm.”
Indeed, the fifth reason why Madrid is an interesting case, is that all that did happen in Spain, too. But not with Islamist terrorists, in the aftermath of 3/11, but, beforehand, in Madrid’s generation-long fight against terror from Basque separatists, ETA, fighting the capitol to establish their own country in northern Spain.
It was telling that in 1997, when ETA kidnapped a Basque city councilman, Miguel Angel Blanco, and threatened to kill him, which they did, an estimated 6 million people, surpassed only by the protest after the Atocha bombing, though, with days to organize, rather than hours, stood together in central Madrid to protest ETA’s violence.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a former tax inspector who led the conservative Popular Party in government for two, four-year terms, reformed the Spanish economy by privatizing state monopolies and bringing Spain’s notorious grey market onto the books. When it came to ETA, he held a hard line, deploying police forces to eliminate its top capos and slowly destroying its ability to inflict harm by decimating its leadership.
Just as Abrahms’s model would predict, most Spaniards reacted to ETA violence by supporting Aznar’s “zero tolerance” policy, which by the end of his term had, by varying intelligence estimates, brought the number of free, active and violent ETA members down to under a hundred, split across the Spanish and French borders. Those in Basque country who still wanted independence from Spain were forced to advocate for their claims within the mainstream national parties or in the Basque national party, but not through the political arm of ETA, which Aznar also worked to ban from elections.
But Aznar’s acumen and leadership also brought Spain into international focus, when he led parliament to back UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush in toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Ultimately, it was performing on that grand stage that brought the jihadists to Madrid.
In a series of events that weren’t pieced together until later, a top Spanish intelligence official had been assassinated in Iraq and a battalion of Spanish troops were attacked. It was only in the week following the bombing that Spanish intelligence services picked up an online report on the Global Islamic Media that spelled out the terrorists’s “strategic” plan.
In a very thorough analysis, the masterminds of the plot identified Spain as the weakest of the three big allies in Iraq, and felt that several targeted attacks, including the assassination of their intelligence officer, one of their most experienced men, which also helped confuse matters at headquarters, and the attack on the troops, might be enough to push the Spaniards to reconsider their involvement in the war. When the Spanish pushed onward unabated, the masterminds went further.
The Global Islamic Media report identified that while Aznar’s party seemed to be ahead in the polls, Spanish democracy tended to ride out one side before returning to the other. In this case, eight years of the Popular Party had followed 13 years of the Socialist Workers Party, and that could easily swing back. The leader of the opposition, Jose Luis Zapatero, because of his political beliefs and also to starkly differentiate his party from the Popular Party, made it clear that, if the Socialist Party were elected, Spain would leave Iraq.
With all that laid out in front of them, and immortalized in this document, the terror cabal identified the election as a lever that, if pressed correctly, could help achieve their aims: to destabilize “the coalition of the willing” and force a big army to abandon Iraq.
“If their demand was for the Spanish troops to get out of Iraq, to get out of Afghanistan, yes, it was achieved,” Abrahms said. “But hundreds [of terrorists] have struck before elections, and the only result has been for the electorate to dig in. So what we see is that the Madrid case is also anomalous because after the terrorists struck, Spain turned left with a new government.”
In the defense of Spain, the complexity of the situation meant that rather than giving into a terrorist demand, which is how conservative media in the U.S. painted the election result, the Spanish people voted to change the country’s political tack.
Aznar, who wasn’t running for office again, had chosen his close lieutenant as the candidate, but their party was identified as what got Spain into the “coalition of the willing,” which had brought terror to their door, so best to kick out of the whole lot of them, and try a new direction.
It also didn’t help that in the immediate aftermath of the bombing Aznar’s side was quick to point the finger at ETA, though it had never attempted such a large scale bombing on civilians. Within 12 hours of the bombing, a video tape had appeared (in a trash can in front of Madrid’s Saudi-financed mosque) with Islamists claiming responsibility, while police identified a vehicle used in the attack. The evidence pointing to an Al Qaeda operation was mounting, while Aznar’s cabinet were stuck defending their analysis that pointed to ETA, then, even a more far-fetched, combination joint-venture between ETA and Al Qaeda.
Ultimately, when Spaniards by the millions gathered to protest on Friday night, even worse than the attack on their soil, what they resented was attempts to hide the truth as the election approached. Saturday was termed the “day of reflection,” with political campaigning prohibited as it was the day before the vote, and by Sunday, what would have likely been a low-turnout poll in the Popular Party’s favor, turned into a record turnout by “undecided” voters for the left, with the Popular Party earning less votes than they had four years earlier in an easy race. Sunday night, in his victory speech, the first pronouncement Zapatero made was his plan to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.
The argument that terror scholars take from Madrid is that, this interesting anomaly aside, “strategically” terror doesn’t pay. But applying those same criteria to the national terrorism in today’s Middle East, with Israel, at its center, the brunt of much of it, reveals a whole set of surprising “anomalous” outcomes.
In researching this piece, I returned to Jeffrey Goldberg’s 2003 New Yorker article, ‘In The Party of God,’ where he reported on Hezbollah, a terrorist group that is now also a full-fledged political party, from their base in Lebanon, or more precisely, from “Fatahland,” as it was called in 1982:
“Fatah, which is part of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had been firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, where it had its main base, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, on the advice of his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, ordered Israel forces into Lebanon,” Goldberg wrote. “The stated purpose was to conquer what had come to be known as Fatahland, the strip of South Lebanon under Yasir Arafat’s control, and to evict the PLO’s forces.”
Indeed, 30 years later, the international community is begging the very same Fatah, now part of the Palestinian Authority, having graduated on from the PLO, to achieve its “strategic” aim of creating a homeland inside of Israel’s borders. While one could say that it’s also a success for the political process, as Fatah is no longer firing rockets at Israel, an Amnesty International report published two weeks ago went into great depth on a type of terrorism from Fatah territory that is belittled, because it falls outside the bombs and rockets category, but is equally dangerous for civilian targets.
The 85-page Amnesty report relied mainly on testimonies of the friends and families of young Arab men, such as 22-year-old Muhammad Asfur, whose friends acknowledged that he was throwing rocks at Israel Defense Forces soldiers, that he refused their calls to back down and then was undeterred by a round of vile-smelling teargas. The IDF responded by firing rubber bullets at Asfur from 100-feet away, hitting him in the head, causing the wound from which he died in the hospital later that day.
The IDF said that, in 2013, there were 5,000 incidents of rock throwing at Israelis, equivalent to 75 incidents per day, with half of those along main roads. As a result, 132 Israelis were injured last year, nearly double the count in 2012.
“Sadly, rock throwing and violent demonstrations present only part of the operational challenges posed to the IDF by Palestinian violence in Judea and Samaria,” the IDF said in a statement. “Indeed, in 2013 there were 66 further terror attacks which included shootings, the planting of IEDs, blunt weapon attacks and the abduction and murder of a soldier.”
The government responded by showing the human face at the other end of those rock throwing attacks. Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett visited a toddler named Adele Biton, who has been hospitalized in a “partially conscious state” for a year because of rocks thrown at her family’s moving car, driven by her mother with the young girl’s sisters.
“Yesterday I visited four-year-old Adele Biton, who was critically wounded a year ago in a terrorist attack when rocks were thrown at her near the town of Ariel,” Bennett said on Facebook. “Yes, rocks can kill people.”
Hamas, Fatah’s rival, now the politically elected force governing Gaza, also, surprisingly, got what it wanted, too. In Sharon’s last act as Israel’s prime minister, he withdrew from Gaza, famously leaving its greenhouses and infrastructure untouched, and watched how the locals destroyed them in their rage. Before the elections of 2006, I interviewed Arabs living in Bethlehem and Ramallah, and none really believed that Hamas, ultimately a terrorist party, would so easily be voted into office.
Since then, Hamas has picked up where Fatah left off. Now it’s sending Katyusha rockets into Israel — 2,200 missiles from Gaza were fired into Israel in 2012 and 2013. When Hamas’s political big brother, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was in power in Cairo from 2010 to 2013, Hamas was emboldened and constructed a network of cement tunnels, some more than a mile long, to smuggle weapons over the Egyptian border and then for sneak attacks against Israel. With the Brotherhood out of office, the Egyptian Army and the IDF have been able to regain control, reinforcing the border with the Sinai with a huge fence and closing 130 tunnels, which has reportedly cost Hamas $30 million a month in lost smuggling revenue.
In October, Dan Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, visited one of the largest Hamas tunnels discovered by the IDF. The booby-trapped tunnel originated in the Gazan town of Absan al-Zariz, located between the city of Khan Younis and the Gaza security fence, and extended a full mile, ending close to the entrance of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, in Israel.”¬
Shapiro said: “Even though I have seen the photos of the tunnel in the papers, the truth is I was shocked by what I saw. It is clear that this tunnel has only one purpose: to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers. There is no justification for this in our eyes; in no way will the U.S. allow this. The U.S. fully condemns these acts by terror groups.””¬
But as long as Hamas stays in power, it’s another case of a terror group achieving its aims, at least, partially, because Israel still stands.
“Hamas’s rocket attacks certainly do not soften up Israel, more likely, the exact opposite will happen,” Abrahms said. “Areas where the rockets strike are more likely to move to the right, not left, which would not be politically useful to Hamas, but that doesn’t mean it’s being irrational, just that its actions serve other purposes.”
“In order to launch attacks on Israel, it means Hamas (needs) a certain level of capability,” he said. “Hamas is then able to say: we can impose costs on you, the Israelis. We can make you pay a heavy price, we’re not the only ones to suffer here. Hamas is able to inflict a certain measure of pain.”
“As you say in the newspaper business, if it bleeds it ledes, so inflicting damage is how Hamas attracts attention to their cause.”
In terms of Israel’s response, there are two avenues to pursue against terror: the immediate military response, both on defense and offense, and then target what is termed in terrorism studies as the “social” strategy.
Abrahms described a multi-layer defensive and offensive strategy to protect against attacks, while “divesting terrorists of the social utility and political utility of their actions,” in a war on terror that takes place on different fronts.
“What I’ve found is that civilian targeting of non-state actors or governments is non-productive,” Abrahms said. “The key is to kill off or neutralize the existing terrorists without generating any more in the process.”
“Selective attacks that only target the actual terrorists can be effective, but when violence becomes indiscriminate, it not only doesn’t take out the leadership, it can create more anger to fuel the next generation.”
“I support what Israel has done, broadly speaking, in terms of its strategy,” he said. “Israel is interested in a peace process, it was involved several times, in several major initiatives, but in no case did Israel find a credible partner.”
“During the Second Intifada, Israel had to protect itself against suicide attacks on its civilians, so it fortified its defense,” Abrahms said. “Israel built up the wall, got out of Gaza, and got out the Iron Dome,” the missile defense shield that responds to rocket attacks.
“Israel is doing the best it can do, especially as a political solution does seem like a very good solution at all,” Abrahms said.
The “social” strategy is much more complex, but is the only real long-term approach, beyond standing firm and pursuing diplomacy. Where military defense is based on protecting its civilians, and the military offense is based on assassinating terror leaders, the social strategy cuts to the root of what motivates terrorists. These mostly angry, disenfranchised young men become bound to each other and to their mission as a radicalized “social” unit which share a common hatred of their enemy, but also a common narrative that unites them in jihad. Understanding their dynamics and motivation can lead to new approaches.
“Why are gang members from Los Angeles going to fight in Syria?” Abrahms asked, mentioning a surprising finding in a recent report from that front.
“They like to use violence, it’s fun for them, an excuse to travel, to change things up in their lives? For fame, glory, respect? There are countless ways to derive utility from becoming a terrorist, beyond the calculation of winning immediate political concessions.”
“There’s a very strong social component to becoming a terrorist. In fact, a very strong predictor of becoming a terrorist is having a friend who is a terrorist who reaches out to him. We don’t see ‘lone wolf’ attacks, these things happen in the context of militant groups. Why do they join is because it’s inherently social behavior.”
The social explanation is, “like in ‘Lord of the Flies,’ there’s a small group that self radicalizes. The more time they spend apart from civilization at large, the more extreme their views get, which is very true of terrorists.”
“It’s also hard for terrorists to return and become non terrorists — there’s tremendous recidivism in jihad,” Abrahms said. “We’ve seen in interviews from terrorists in Guantanamo, that associating with others inside, your views seem mainstream. A study on all former Gitmo detainees founds the odds of recidivism were extremely high — 30% will strike again. From a national security perspective, that is a tremendous number.”
Israel, which agreed to release 104 imprisoned terrorists as a “sign of good faith” to the Palestinian Authority when they began peace talks last year, could be seeing many return to violence.
Abrahms said there could be thirty “or worse.”
Part of that dynamic is created in the community to which released terrorists are returning.
“If you commit violence against Israelis you may benefit personally,” Abrahms said. “You may ascend socially, you may gain respect in the local community, there could be a ceremony in your honor, posters could celebrate you, there could be all sorts of benefits.”
When Saddam Hussein was in power, it was said that he would offer $25,000 to any family whose child died as a terrorist martyr. Abrahms said, “I’ve heard that a million times, and (have) never seen it refuted,” but certainly “terrorists are often provided compensation.”
Author Edwin Black, in his book ‘Financing the Flames,’ went into detail on the practice of paying terrorists, citing the actual monthly accounting records from the PA’s Ministry of Prisoners.
“For example, in January 2012 alone, out of a Social Service budget of $119 million, more than $8.7 million was allocated to the Ministry of Prisoners; of that sum, according to Table 6A of the review, $6.56 million was ‘transferred’ to prisoners—hence the overwhelming majority of the budgeted funds paid were not for bureaucratic office expenditures, but for actual terrorist salaries,” Black wrote. “All told, funding for the Ministry of Prisoners was about ten times greater than the allocation for Ministry of Labor, and about half as large as that for the Ministry of Social Affairs.”
The role of the community and what it actually teaches its youth is equally important in this analysis.
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, told The Algemeiner in a recent interview that incitement of hatred and violence is at the core of the question.
Speaking about an Amnesty International report that focused on rock throwing, Kemp said the human rights group missed the opportunity to address how these young men, in many cases, just teenagers, learn to become violent.
“Highlighting the youth of those involved in the violence, Amnesty ignores the fact that incitement to hate is a daily feature of their lives at school – much of which is the result of official indoctrination by the Palestinian Authority through textbooks and the local media.”
Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in an Op-Ed in The Algemeiner last month:
“The scene has become a depressingly familiar one: while the United States works to advance peace negotiations in the Middle East, the Palestinian Authority’s state-controlled media and educational systems teach their citizens and, most troubling, children to hate Israel and its Jewish people.”
“It often seems more like the Palestinian Authority is preparing its people for war instead of preparing them for peace. The PA’s state-sanctioned media and educational systems systematically deny the existence of a Jewish state, arguing that Israel’s existence is a direct threat to Palestinians; even asserting that the destruction of Israel is justified.”
The work of Professor David Cook, a Muslim literature scholar and expert in the history of jihad, at Rice University, looks beyond the charges of “incitement” to analyze the actual themes that hatred is based upon.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Cook said that rather than viewing incitement in political terms, what is really being talked about are religious themes, and how, couched as jihad, a religious war, leaders can maximize their power.
Rather than simply nationalist goals, or “political concessions,” in Abrahms’s terms, Cook said that what is really being talked about is global, religious war, a timeless battle between good and evil that reaches its full potency when expressed in Apocalyptic themes of life and death, or, in the Hamas refrain, “death for the sake of Allah!”
“Hamas has to maintain its hold over its followers and only an Apocalyptic framework offers that energy,” Cook said. “Without that hope, a large section of Hamas would simply collapse.”
“Islam has a tradition, the warrior aspect, which is entirely lacking in our culture,” Cook said. “Muslims are continually reading about heroic battles from the time of their Prophet, so the opportunity to take part in a battle of that magnitude must be very tempting for a disenfranchised young man.”
Indeed, among the items cataloged in the investigation of the Madrid bombers and their local Al Qaeda leadership, as referenced in the DA’s initial report and the judge’s final decision, police found a treasure trove of books and pulp magazines, painting the righteous war to be fought by these new soldiers of Allah. For a crash course in Islamic radicalization, the personal libraries of terrorists document their motives.
Cook said he had an opportunity to analyze materials found among the effects of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“It was clear to me these were a pair of losers who were looking to place themselves on the world scene,” he said. “They saw themselves as knights, as warriors in the end times conflict.”
“They weren’t going to go to Syria, and they were too spoiled to go back to Chechnya, but, seeing themselves as part of the larger theme gave them an underlying belief in the power of their actions.”
In the search for a powerful narrative that can overcome “reality on the ground,” as Israelis call it, Cook said Hamas’s religious imagery is fundamental to how it wages war on Israel.
“The Palestinian people have a hard time having to deal with the fact that their enemy is simply way too strong for them,” he said. “They need something symbolic to give them a higher purpose, and placing their fight in that apocalyptic framework gives them that potency.”
Instructively, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in January addressed Gaza’s ‘Futuwwa’ youth camp, a program that was graduating 13,000 young people, who he congratulated on their “jihadi education,” in an eye-opening televised production broadcast on Hamas’s own station.
“The best way for us to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday is to walk in his footsteps and provide the future generations a jihadi education,” the Hamas prime minister told the students. “We shall walk in his footsteps in educating the future generation to love death for the sake of Allah as much as our enemies love life.”
“This is the generation that will be qualified for liberation, victory, return, and independence. Woe betide you, oh sons of Zion, for weakness knows no entry route to the hearts of this generation. This is the generation of stone, the generation of the missile, the generation of tunnels, and the generation of martyrdom operations.”
Hamas Education Minister Osama Al-Mazini said, “Today, 13,000 youth are graduating from the ‘Futuwwa’ camps. Oh ‘Futuwwa’ youth, remain steadfast on the path. Continue the work you began in the camps. Memorize what you have learned, and implement it in the battlefield when you meet the enemy.”
Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad was even more explicit in his goals for the graduates: “These young men, assembled in formation here, in Yarmouk Stadium, continue on the path of the previous generations. This generation, Allah willing, will vanquish Israel.”
“It was the Levant and Palestine that destroyed all those who invaded this Arab and Islamic land. The Battle of Yarmouk shattered the Byzantines, the Battle of Ain Jalut shattered the Mongols, and the Battle of Hattin shattered the Crusaders. Now you, members of the next generation, brought up on da’wa, educated by the Al-Qassam Brigades, and by the factions of Jihad – get ready for a second Battle of Hattin.”
“Let me congratulate you on your future victory, and on the annihilation of Israel. As I said yesterday, they have only eight years left. Just eight years, dear brothers! Therefore, sons and brothers, you do not have much time to train. Study, conduct training, become experts and be inventive, with the help of Allah. The battle will be your battle. The Jihad will be your Jihad. Palestine is your land, Islam is your religion, and Allah is your God. The Messenger is your role model, and the Koran is your constitution. You have been planted by Allah, and therefore, you will harvest the enemies of Allah in the battle to come.”
“We pray for Allah to choose martyrs and leaders from among you – and not only in Palestine, but throughout planet Earth, so that the call for Jihad will be spread all over the world, and the entire world will embrace the religion of Allah.”
The camera focused on one of the graduates who said: “Our message to the Zionist enemy, everywhere and at any time, is this: You shall never enjoy a pleasant life on our beloved homeland. We, the sons of the ‘Futuwwa’ youth camps, will confront you on every hill, in every valley, and on every road. Nothing awaits you here but to be killed. Nothing awaits you here but to be killed or to leave.”
As part of a refrain, thousands of students in the stadium chanted responsively along with the announcer, “Our utmost desire… is death for the sake of Allah!”
In any battle of extremes, it is the voices of moderation that can gain currency if their ideas can temper the narrative.
While the Apocalyptic saber-rattling of Hamas’s Haniyeh will not die until he does, there are reasons to be optimistic.
The Algemeiner reported last week about a Jordanian Sheikh, now nicknamed the “Zionist Sheikh” who, from Amman, has began to preach a different sort of ministry aimed at friendship and religious reconciliation, rather than incitement and religious war.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Adwan, said, in an interview with Israel’s Mida magazine, that, “God may he be praised and blessed rewarded me with knowledge of His holy book and chose me to renew the knowledge of God and religion among the Islamic Ummah, and interpret that which needs interpreting in its verses, which most Islamic scholars misinterpret.”
“Among these are the verses which deal with the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) and their rights in particular,” he said. “There are a hundred holy verses in the Koran which contemporary scholars did not properly interpret… These verses prove and express God’s will and his intentions: the will and desire for peace and harmony and His instructions for people to ensure them.”
“The Jews are our cousins and therefore we must pray for them and visit them, live alongside them, grant them respect and cooperate with them at the highest levels of esteem and appreciation,” he said. “This, because we are not more God-fearing, smarter, or better than the Prophet Muhammad may he rest in peace, who lived alongside them and behaved honorably, mercifully and amicably with them. Let us state that it was permitted for Muslims to marry them.”
When asked if his openness towards the People of Israel leads him to recognize Jewish sovereignty of their historic land, he said yes.
“Indeed, I recognize their sovereignty over their land. I believe in the Holy Koran, and this fact is stated many times in the book. For instance ‘O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you,’ [Koran 5:21], ‘We made the Children of Israel inheritors of such things.’ [Koran 26:59] and additional verses in the Holy Book.”
“And there are additional reasons: this people (Israel) is peaceful and peace-loving, is not hostile or aggressive; [they are] a people that defends itself only when necessary, while trying to minimally harm its enemies,” he said.
“In addition, I recognize the fact that God may He be praised gave preference to these people over humans and demons until the end of days.”
“God does not give preference for nothing but grants all that which they deserve. God may He be praised never turned to any [other] people by name and grant them this honor, aside from the People of Israel, who are named for their ancestor Israel (Jacob), may he rest in peace, as it says in the Koran ‘O Children of Israel.'”
He also answered the magazine’s question on how to end anti-Semitism in the Muslim world:
“In my opinion the way to end anti-Semitism is to concentrate efforts and call for peace, spreading knowledge and forthrightly educate people of the values of justice and truth in accordance with what appears in the books of God – the Torah, Tehillim, the Ingil [the Gospel] and the Koran, which admired the Israelites, clarified their rights, gave preference to them and bequeathed to them the Holy Land and their direction of prayer – to Jerusalem.”
“The books testify that this is a peace-loving and peace-calling nation, and it is the first people for whom the Creator designated a role in order to serve as its messenger on this earth until the Day of Resurrection.”
The coda to the case of the Madrid bombing is about the former Spanish prime minister. He, too, recognized that rather than waging a traditional military war, the panorama had changed, and the only lesson to take away from his abrupt departure from Madrid’s political scene was to the need to envision his battle on a wider field.
Aznar became a scholar of the religious war engulfing the West, as a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and emerged as a strong and vocal supporter of Israel against its jihadist enemies, and what has become a mixed relationship with Europe, where Israel’s ingenuity in science and technology is prized while it’s politicians are demonized. In 2010, Aznar founded an organization called the Friends of Israel Initiative.
“The Initiative is neither a public relations campaign, nor a so-called Jewish lobby,” Aznar said. “Most of us are not Jewish, but we share the vision – as much one of values as of strategy – that when defending Israel we are defending the West. We are defending our way of life and values, and also our interests.”
“Simply put, Europe must defend Israel if we want to preserve the West as we know it,” he said. “Look at the changes sweeping the region. Uncertainty is the dominant factor. And Israel is both more important to the West today – and more besieged by hostility – than at any time in recent memory.”
“Four years ago I decided it was time to take this stand forcefully, publicly and effectively. I called upon a number of friends— some Nobel Prize winners, Like Lord Trimble of Northern Ireland, some former presidents like me, like Luis Alberto Lacalle from Uruguay and Alejandro Toledo from Peru and some foreign ministers as well, like Alexander Downer from Australia or my friend and hero the late Vaclav Havel, among others—to establish a high-level group dedicated to fighting the growing chorus trying to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
“We must start by acknowledging and enhancing our critical strategic relationship with the State of Israel. The EU has only to escape from the childish temptation of almost constant condemnation of Israel, and think as we do in our report about the specific gains that we are getting from Israel. It is in the self-interest of Europeans to treat Israel with fairness and kindness.”
Like the “Zionist Sheikh,” Aznar understood that aiming for friendship and reconciliation, rather than incitement and war, was his higher purpose and role to play to win this cosmic battle for the forces of good over evil.