It’s a miracle Matthew Yglesias made it out of Spain alive in 2006. The young blogger described the dangers he confronted on his Spanish vacation in a piece he wrote for the American Prospect shortly after his return to America:
The modern city [of Toledo] features a large traffic circle just outside the medieval town walls known as the glorieta de la reconquista in honor of this distinction. But today in a new ironic twist, it is from that very plaza where the Mullahs issue their fatwas that the craven Spanish government, having chosen the path of appeasement, invariably follows. Toledo’s women, who only in the recent past enjoyed basic legal equality with men albeit in the context of a culture that was highly traditionalistic by American standards, now fear to walk the streets unveiled. Spain’s historic wine industry groans under the crushing yoke of the Islamists’ informal power, the riojas of the past but a fading memory.
Yglesias was obviously writing with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The joke, of course, was on conservative pundits in America, who had predicted devastating consequences in the wake of the March 11 Madrid bombings and the subsequent electoral victory of Socialist José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. “Appeasement,” it turned out, hadn’t enabled Muslims to reconquer Granada and avenge the Moors’ loss of Al-Andalus in 1492 following more than 700 years of Islamic rule. Spain, Yglesias argued, had instead become a paragon of liberalism, with positions on gay marriage and women’s rights that America “should be so lucky as to have.” Two years after Zapatero fulfilled a campaign promise and pulled Spanish troops from Iraq, Spaniards were living in a socialist utopia — not under sharia law.
Although Muslim extremists surely appreciate some of Zapatero’s policies — he granted the largest blanket amnesty in Spanish history to nearly one million undocumented immigrants and thought it wise to negotiate with the Basque terrorist group ETA — their idea of paradise is quite different from those of Spain’s “accidental prime minister.” Critics such as Matthew Yglesias seem unaware that jihadists will not rest until the caliphate is reestablished on the Iberian Peninsula because they feel compelled to reconquer any country or territory that has at one time been under the domain of Islam. Spain is the most important of these lands because it was the largest Christian territory conquered in Europe and it represented the summit of Islamic civilization. The loss of Al-Andalus was therefore the most important loss ever suffered by the Ummah (the community of Muslims). Thus, freeing Spain from an illegal and illegitimate occupation by infidels would prove that all other Islamist goals can be achieved.
Nostalgia for an idealized Al-Andalus is being passed on to the next generation. Gustavo de Aristegui, the foreign affairs spokesman for the conservative Popular Party, explains in his book The Jihad in Spain: The obsession to reconquer Al-Ándalus that, in schools throughout the Muslim world, maps are used with Spain and Portugal colored green because they are still considered part of dar al-Islam, or the House of Islam. The HAMAS children’s magazine Al-Fateh published a piece in 2006 from the point of view of Asbilia or — as the infidels call it — Seville: “I yearn that you, my beloved, will call me to return, together with the rest of the lost cities of the lost orchard [Andalus] to the hands of the Muslims so that joy and happiness will fill my land, and you will visit me because I am the bride of the country of Andalus.”
Unfortunately, it’s not only terrorists in the making who are being told to reclaim Spain. Osama bin Laden has made many references to “the tragedy of Al-Andalus,” and Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s number two man, never misses an opportunity to mention the “lost paradise.” He’s not pining for a Mediterranean vacation and the sandy beaches of Marbella, though. Last year he exhorted Islamists in North Africa “to once again feel the soil of Al Ándalus beneath your feet.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, he later released a videotape in which he says that “the reconquest of Al-Andalus is a responsibility” of all Muslims.
Many are doing their best to live up to that responsibility. More than 300 Islamist suspects have been arrested in counterterrorism operations in Spain since the Madrid bombings. Most recently, twelve Pakistanis were arrested in January for allegedly planning suicide bombings in Barcelona’s subways. Meanwhile, rhetoric about the reconquest of Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish enclaves on the North African coast) is common among jihadists. For example, Zawahiri responded to the arrests of 11 individuals for planning to stage terrorist attacks in Ceuta by referring to Ceuta and Melilla as “occupied cities.” No wonder former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer once warned that if by any chance Israel were to fall and be defeated, the next in line would definitely be Spain.
Some Spanish politicians often seem eager to move Spain up to the front of that line. Zapatero, who has said that “sexual equality is a lot more effective against terrorism than military strength,” appointed a pregnant woman as defense minister in April. According to PJM’s Jose Guardia, this move was meant to symbolize Spain’s new role as a soft power. At least the primer minister isn’t prepared to start giving away land. Representatives of the Cordoba and Seville City Councils signed a document in 2004 that states that Ceuta and Melilla are occupied territories that need to be returned to their legitimate owners. In 2007 the small left-wing party, Izquierda Unida, backed a call for preferential citizenship for descendants of Spanish Muslims expelled from Spain in the seventeenth century. Such a policy would be less disturbing if there wasn’t already an active “foot in the threshold” strategy being employed by irredentist Muslims. Aristegui explains that the “purchase of land, houses and commercial properties in some of the most emblematic cities of the former Al-Andalus…[is]the first step towards dominating the city, the region and eventually, all Al-Andalus.”
It’s worth remembering that the terrorist cell responsible for the Madrid bombings called itself “the brigade situated in Al-Andalus.” Since March 11, 2004, Spanish security forces have successfully broken up plots to blow up such locations as Real Madrid’s soccer stadium and Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional — the highest criminal court where Islamic cases are investigated. But, as former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has noted: “Islamic terror is not just a criminal activity. It’s something more. To win over terror we will need much more than just intelligence or police actions. We will need more than defensive measures.” Of course, Spaniards made clear that they prefer appeasement to this uncomfortable truth when they voted Aznar’s party out of power in 2004.
So could Spain could once again fall under Islamic rule? I asked this question to Aristegui in a 2006 interview. “I don’t think so, but the fight will become more difficult and extensive because Spanish society today is not willing or ready to accept the threat we face,” he told me. In other words, Spain might not always remain an ideal vacation destination — even for Matthew Yglesias.