Madrid Bombings Not about Iraq

Lee Smith has an interesting piece in Slate entitled, “Jihad Without End – The Madrid bombings weren’t about Iraq.”

If the Spanish electorate believed that committing 1,300 troops to Iraq had needlessly exposed it to the jihadists’ ire, it ought to reconsider the 6,000 Spanish forces stationed in Ceuta and Melilla. The Spanish, whose new prime minister is fond of the word “occupation,” say there’s nothing unusual about having so many troops in Spanish cities. But these cities are not in Spain. Already some Islamist ideologues are beginning to group Ceuta and Melilla together with Palestine and Kashmir as Muslim lands to be liberated. Even if that seems far-fetched, both towns are notorious for narcotics smuggling, and where there are drugs in the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East, an Islamist group is usually not far behind to partake of the profits. Hezbollah, for instance, is a significant player in the drug trade, an enterprise Algeria’s Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat also has a hand in. May my Spanish grandmother forgive me for saying so, but her countrymen appear to be flourishing a big red cape at the Islamists, who will gladly remind them that “Olé” is a corruption of “Allah.”


After the Madrid attacks, a number of journalists, academics, and other experts picked up on the idea, perhaps most fully expressed in Jason Burke’s book Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, that al-Qaida may not be what many people think it is. It’s not one vast organization with tentacles everywhere; it’s a kind of franchise that helps with cash here, logistics there. Most important, it is the brand name of an umbrella ideology that all the jihadists subscribe to, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat and Salafia Jihadia, among others. Bin Laden is just the public face.

Looking at the Almohad and Almoravids, one might make the further point that jihadism is not just international, it’s also a deeply ambitious ideological movement that feeds on its own thousand-plus-year history of extreme violence and revulsion for anything that is not itself.

The whole piece is worth a read.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    revulsion for anything that is not itself

    I believe this might make up a good part of the true definition of evil.