Friday, July 29, 2005

Forbidden Nation

So how come the Basques don't go in for suicide bombings? The question is worth a thought or two, given the views of Professor Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win, and self-appointed expert on the phenomenon of suicide terrorism.

Pape's key observations are that "Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think" and that "overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland." (So by implication, if we withdraw from Iraq, they will stop blowing themselves, and us up. Hmmm.)

Back to the Vascos. Having enjoyed de facto autonomy from roughly Roman times through to the end of the Second Carlist Wars in 1876, and then again, briefly, during the Republic, many Basques might indeed have acquired the suspicion that their homeland has been subjected to encroaching occupation by the late-developing Spanish state.

During the dictatorship efforts were made to ethnically dilute Euskadi by encouraging immigration into the region from Castillian Spain. However nebulous the state of Basque political autonomy before the Civil War, it's unlikely that Europe's most genetically-detached population would ever have felt such a sense of acute danger to the persistence of their unique cultural identity as during the forty years of Franco. The transition to democracy should have eased the situation but the ratification of the new constitution was mishandled, and ETA responded by killing 100 people each year between 1979 and 1981.

But unlike the exploding Islamics, Tamil Tigers, Marxists and other assorted fanatics, Basque nationalism has not been informed by an overriding political superstition. i.e. deep down they wouldn't rather that the whole world spoke Euskera and submitted to the fueros.

This is an obvious point that Pape seems to miss - that the pyschology of the suicide terrorist is cushioned by a transcendent political or spiritual ideology.

In its Iranian cleric manifestation Islamic fundamentalism may appear to be 'conservative', but the essence of Islam was a radical rejection of customary Arabian society. The Basques on the other hand were the most conservative and 'customary' element within the forces that lined up against the fascists, and in spite of the racialist themes within the thinking of Sabino Arana, Basque nationalist urges have remained largely defensive in character.

Pape makes another point in order to undermine any simple association between Islamic extremism and suicide terror: "Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Sudan."

Well, there's always a first time for everything...

Presumably though, an Islamic fundamentalist living in a society that more or less matches his beliefs, is unlikely to feel the necessary sense of stewing irritation fomented by trespassing infidel values.

London's suicide terrorists are a mixed bunch, some born here, others apparently not. It may well be the case that the coalition's occupation of Iraq has made the difference between angry words and violent action for these men. But at the level of competing civilisations concepts like "occupation" and "homeland" are much more fluid than Pape acknowledges (and likely to become more so).

It should be remembered that the terrorist cell in Madrid intended to continue their campaign after the election of Zapatero and the announcement that Spain would be withdrawing its troops from Iraq and how prominently Al Andalus figures in Jihadist nostalgia.

2 comments:

Haters said...

Back to the Vascos. Having enjoyed de facto autonomy from roughly Roman times through to the end of the Second Carlist Wars in 1876, and then again, briefly, during the Republic, many Basques might indeed have acquired the suspicion that their homeland has been subjected to encroaching occupation by the late-developing Spanish state.

-- What?!! That's crazy.

El Blogador said...

Can you be more specific?