Spain, the Once and Future Muslim Province

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.