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Europe in Denial: Lessons Learned in Spain

I always look forward to my annual trip to my wife’s hometown of Ecija in southern Spain.

Although Ecija was the first great city of the Iberian Peninsula to be occupied by medieval Muslim invaders, its physical layout strikes the casual observer as a rebuke to present-day Islamists intent on reclaiming all of historic Al-Andalus. Requests from Spanish Muslims to pray in the Cordoba Cathedral seem laughable after observing the towers of Ecija’s Baroque churches looming triumphantly over the Andalusian whitewashed houses.

Alas, my prolonged stays in Spain have taught me that the continent’s impressive outward appearances-massive cathedrals, a strong euro, great cheese-obscure a hollowness at its core. The truth is that Europe’s churches are largely empty; its welfare economies are unsustainable; and-most troublingly- its restive Muslim minorities seem unappeasable.

Spain was under Islamic rule for 800 years, and many Muslims blame Spaniards for the loss of Al-Andalus. Spanish politician and terrorism expert Gustavo de Aristegui has documented how there is already a policy underway to reconquer land and monuments that were once under the domain of Islam. In an interview with me last year, Aristegui said, “Spanish society today is not willing or ready to accept the threat we face.”

My conversations with Spaniards this month gave me reasons for hope and despair. While most people seem to be coming to the reluctant conclusion that radical Islamists pose a threat to their way of life (the first step in defeating radical Islam), they remain unsure how to fight back.

Consider the conversation I had with my wife’s uncle at my brother-in-law’s wedding. I was prepared to be cornered by Miguel, who always finds time at family reunions to bombard me with political commentary. A supporter of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanl – PSOE), he has generally agreed with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s policies of appeasement. You can imagine my surprise when he told me that he had recently joined over a million Spaniards in Madrid to protest the government’s early release from prison of ETA terrorist Jose Ignacio de Juana Chaos. He also agreed with me when I told him that Muslim immigrants to Europe should be expected to assimilate into their new culture, rather than reject a Western lifestyle.

But Miguel wasn’t prepared to call certain Western values superior to radical Islamic values. When I asked him if we could agree to condemn honor killings (a practice spreading across Europe), he said no. Even when I pointed to his three beautiful daughters and reminded him that forced female genital mutilation was regularly practiced in many Muslim countries, he shrugged as if to say “that’s just the way they do things over there.”

My sister, who was vacationing at the same time on the Spanish Island of Minorca, related a story to me that shows a similar acceptance of the status quo-even if that status quo involves murdering one’s compatriots.

After learning of the attempted bombing of London’s Tiger Tiger nightclub on ladies night (my sister works in the building right next door), she expressed her horror and disgust to one of her British friends. His method of comforting her was to declare that “the American public’s reaction to 9/11 was scarier than the event itself.”

I wonder if he was equally troubled by the reaction of John Smeaton to the attack on Glasgow airport. When one of the terrorists-who was so intent on slaughtering innocent children (the airport was full of school children on holiday) that he set himself on fire after the car bomb failed to go off-shouted “Allah! Allah! Allah!” and attacked a police officer, Smeaton, a maintenance worker, responded by giving him a good right-hander. Would my sister’s friend and others who counsel against what they deem to be rash action have done the same?

Then there was the discussion I had with my other brother-in-law and his girlfriend in Madrid. They asked my wife and me if we ever considered moving to Spain. We told them that our fear about the future of Europe was a main reason we never gave it serious thought. They agreed that tensions with Muslim immigrants would only increase in the future. However, they both still clung to the idea that Spain would be safer if it continued to keep its distance from the United States.

This mindset was evident in the national election following the Madrid train bombings, in which the Spanish electorate punished Jose Maria Aznar’s Popular Party for sending Spanish troops to Iraq. But the election of the Socialists has actually made the country less safe. Just because Prime Minister Zapatero openly despises the United States and embraces an Alliance of Civilizations which blames the West for problems with Islam doesn’t mean Islamists will overlook Spaniards when it comes to killing infidels. Just look at the recent murders of Spanish soldiers in Lebanon and Spanish tourists in Yemen.
An email from an acquaintance of mine who at one time lived in the United States before moving to Madrid summed up the feelings I had on my trip. He wrote:

“Come to think of it, things are really crazy here in Europe…thank God you live in America because although Spain is a great place to live at the moment, it is probably not a great place to raise a family and most certainly there is not much of a future here. What I cannot understand is that Spaniards are so blind as to what is happening all around, like they are living in denial…”

As much as I look forward to my annual trip to Spain, the trip home is always more exciting.