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With Bombs and With Ballots, Terrorism Wins One

March 17, 2004|Patrick J. Ishmael | Patrick J. Ishmael is an American studying in Madrid.

MADRID — Almost a week after being attacked, Madrid remains as shellshocked as it was last Thursday. Through the weekend, millions of Madrilenos cried, shouted, marched and then cried again. Someone was responsible. Someone had to pay.

Now there are tired eyes and somber faces. The streets are quiet. Signs reading "No to terrorism" and "Peace" stand vigil over lakes of coalesced candle wax at makeshift monuments. Some of the messages left for public viewing are outright political; others are heartbreaking. The closer you are to atrocities such as these, the greater the effect. Even though I am a Midwesterner, the terrible realities of 9/11 struck close to home for me; yet only now can I appreciate the bewilderment that the people of New York City and Washington, D.C., must have felt when they were attacked.

As an American student living in Madrid I ride the public trains here daily, and I have been through the Atocha train station. Friends of mine went through that stop the night before. We were all targets.

The public backlash was clumsy and swift. In Sunday's election, the allies of the U.S. in Iraq and the most vehement anti-terrorists were swept from the ranks of power in an upset of colossal proportions. Their Socialist replacements wasted no time in putting forth their first, terrible terrorism "solution": a pullout from Iraq. Spain's incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, made clear that he intended to withdraw Spanish troops stationed in Iraq at the earliest possible moment. He has capitulated to the terrorists' demands and granted these assassins their wildest dreams. A full retreat. Thus, Al Qaeda has won its first election.

The cost of the March 11 bombings will not be limited to the more than 200 dead and 1,500 injured. I fear that hundreds, if not thousands, will suffer as a result of the expected Spanish pullout: the Zapatero retreat.

The sad reality is that it appears Spain has become the Britain of the 1930s, sacrificing its (and the world's) long-term security for its own short-term safety. And so as we in Madrid mourn the lives senselessly lost at the hands of madmen no longer a world away, we must also now mourn the lives that have been sacrificed by this parochial and myopic decision by the Spanish government. Zapatero has given hope to a hopeless cause, and many will pay the price for his decision.

The war on terrorism has only now begun, and it seems that my mourning, our mourning, may have only just started as well.

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