The West was warned. Now it is paying the price of the 'war on terror'

By Robert Fisk

15 March 2004

They had been warned. The Aznars and the Blairs and the Bushes had been told by those who were their allies - France and Germany and many others, not to mention the Arabs - that their crusade against al-Qa'ida could most cruelly rebound upon them. The Madrid bombings are not only a terrible revenge for Spain's participation in "part two" of the "war on terror" - the illegal invasion of Iraq - but a cruel and incrementally more painful attack on civilians by al-Qa'ida.

If America's neo-conservatives believe in the "war of civilisations", then so does al-Qa'ida: what other effect could the Madrid slaughter have in the West than to reinforce the notion - however preposterous historically - that Islam and the West were in conflict? Civilians are now to die in Europe as brutally as they have died in Bali and Tunisia and Istanbul and - let us, for a moment, see the world through another prism - as they have been torn to pieces by our bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sources close to Osama bin Laden's organisation are puzzled about the strange message, supposedly from the attackers, which was printed in the Arabic language paper Al-Quds al-Arabi. It suggested that the initial response to Spain's involvement in Iraq was the attack on Italian troops in Kerbala - if real, it would surely have referred to the killing of seven Spanish intelligence officers near Hilla. Using a public statement to order its own "cells" to make more attacks does not show the desperate discretion which al-Qa'ida normally shows in its communications.

But the arrests in Spain, the mobile phone calls, the sheer scale of the train bombings shows an al-Qa'ida as confident and ruthless as ever - and now resolved to attack in Europe. If the right foot fell in Istanbul and the left foot fell in Madrid, where, geographically, will the next right foot fall? We can take out an atlas and a ruler and work it out for ourselves.

I don't believe this is the Third World War. Nor is it a "war on terror". Nor is it a "war of civilisations". But our own leaders are wilfully leading us into a period of appalling suffering because they will not address the causes of injustice in the Islamic world. Repeatedly, our leaders were told of the consequences of participation in America's Iraqi folly. They lied to us. They told us about weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist, about links between Iraq and 11 September 2001 that didn't exist. Now, trapped in Iraq, we are desperate to scuttle away, leaving behind us a half-trained force of collaboration police who will - supposedly - shed their blood for ours.

No, the murderers are the men who plant the bombs. The killers are those who kill - and that includes our pilots as well as their bombers. We don't want to kill civilians. But we know that our wars will do that, and death does not come more pleasantly, less painfully, because the victims are killed by the supposedly benevolent West rather than the supposedly cruel East. Now we are beginning to pay the price.

Did it really begin on 11 September 2001? No, it began long before. And no amount of weasel words, no amount of church warden sincerity can mask the degree to which we have been taken by our leaders into this insane conflict.