Beware the Ides of March. It now looks increasingly clear that Spanish voters did hand al Qaeda their first European election victory. Of course, the voters were not simply bowing to terror; but by putting the Spanish government’s unpopular foreign policy in the front of voters’ minds in the three days before the election, the terrorists, quite brilliantly, highlighted government arrogance and distance from popular opinion and handed victory to the Socialists (see Dan O’Brien inside). At a stroke, Bush and Blair’s Iraq strategy was back on the defensive, the Atlantic grew a few thousand miles wider and Europeans were put in an anxious fluster about the next attack. All the undoubted successes of the war on terror – and it is remarkable that this was the first significant attack in Europe since 9/11 – were, at least temporarily, eclipsed.
The Madrid bomb also presented Prospect with a dilemma. Would Bhikhu Parekh’s imagined dialogue between Bin Laden and Gandhi now cause too much offence? Bhikhu and I considered pulling it but decided to go ahead, adding a short preface to the dialogue explaining the intention behind it. The Madrid bombs show just how accomplished the terrorists are at reading our European minds; it’s time we tried to peer back into theirs. Bhikhu is an authority on Gandhi; he is not, by his own admission, an authority on Bin Laden. The Bin Laden figure here makes no claim to authenticity; the real Bin Laden is a religious zealot and rabid antisemite who would have no interest in appealing to European liberals. Bhikhu has, instead, constructed a more generic pro-terror Islamist radical who can make some sort of sense to us. And, rather alarmingly, according to a recent Guardian poll, such beliefs may already have a significant foothold in Britain. The poll found only 73 per cent of British Muslims are strongly opposed to attacks by al Qaeda – 13 per cent said its attacks are justified.
The reactions to my February essay on diversity rumble on, following its reprinting in the Guardian. I reflect inside on the racialisation of the debate and the emotionalism of some on the multicultural left. Apologies again to readers and writers who were expecting replies in the last issue. Those who can’t see them on our website (www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/replies.asp), please do call the office on 020 7255 1291, and we will send you a printout.