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American Literary History 17.3 (2005) 575-594

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Beyond the Line:

On Infinite Decolonization

Look around the table. If you don't see any suckers, then get up. Because you are the sucker.
Amarillo Slim (the world's greatest poker player)


The week of the Madrid M-11 terrorist bombings was also the last week of the political campaign before the Spanish general elections, held on 14 March 2004. Polls had anticipated a fairly solid Popular Party victory, as the Socialist Workers' Party was lagging by about four percentage points when the last official poll was taken on 7 March. Instead, the Popular Party was seriously defeated by a wide margin, and the Socialist Workers' Party obtained a solid majority of 164 against 148 deputies. On 16 March, US President George W. Bush said on US television that the Spanish electorate had "cowered" to the Islamist terrorists presumed to be responsible for the Madrid attack. This was an idea shared, echoed, or even anticipated by a good number of conservative media in the US and also by politicians in the Bush camp. The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, J. Dennis Hastert, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: "They changed their government because of the perception of a threat. Here's a country who stood against terrorism and had a huge terrorist act within their country and they chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists" (Sanger and Johnston A10). The same New York Times piece, however, reports that another member of the Bush administration, Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, took the opposite perspective: "the vote that propelled the Socialists into power in Spain...was a protest by the people against the handling of the terrorist event by the sitting government of Spain" (A10).1 For some, then, if not for all, the "cowering" of the Spanish people would [End Page 575] explain the massive withdrawal of electoral support from the Popular Party, which was committed to sustaining the current US administration's policy in Iraq and elsewhere, and the equally massive new support for the Socialists, who had pledged long before their victory that, if victorious in the elections, they would pull the Spanish troops out of Iraq and withdraw from the US-led coalition unless a United Nations mandate could be obtained by June 2004.

The Socialist victory in Spain was thus denounced by some conservatives as a victory for Al Qaeda and for Islamist fundamentalism in general. The Spanish people were deemed weaklings whose lack of understanding of the real stakes of the world-historical confrontation between the US and terrorism endangered the position of the West and opened the way for many more self-defeating betrayals. For this sector of world opinion, it did not seem to matter that José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Socialist Workers' Party leader, had explicitly stated that the fight against terrorism would be the first priority of his government. It seems clear that Zapatero, although opposed to the war in Iraq, will support stronger European cooperation and a more effective intelligence against terrorist networks. But further terrorist attacks on European cities will most likely occur. As we wait for the events that will shape our future, and as we wait for a more articulate, political European response to the crisis unleashed both by the terrorist attacks and by the inadequate policy of the Bush administration, there are reasons for hope, because the Spanish electorate were able to do what they did. They used their political right to vote to penalize the Popular Party government for their arrogance and for their willful lies, as that government kept insisting, in the face of emerging contrary evidence, that the Basque terrorist group ETA was behind the March 11 bombings. The Popular Party government did so, one supposes, in the hope that the belief that ETA was responsible for the Atocha massacre would benefit their electoral chances. It was a calculated gamble, and they lost. We will never know whether a frank admission that...


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