If “terrorize” and “polarize” is the name of the game, the message from the Brussels terror attack has been transmitted to Madrid with lightning speed. Flares reached the sky opposite the Spanish capital’s main mosque located on a major motorway. A banner read: “Today Brussels, Tomorrow Madrid?”
The banner is a very literal effort at polarization because the rise of Podemos, the Spanish Communist Party, in last December elections, inspired the leftwing Mayor to hang a giant size placard outside the City Hall: “Welcome the Immigrants.”
Even though the centre-right, Peoples Party and Centrist Socialists won 123 and 90 seats in a house of 350, neither has been able to form a government unless Pablo Iglesias, the charismatic leader of Podemos, throws his 69 seats with friendly parties behind the Socialists.
Podemos is not for Catalan separation but supports self determination for Catalan and Basque people. The socialists will not give up on a United Spain. There are differences on economic policy too.
A new government has therefore not been sworn in. Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister, whose PP party was brought down several notches for its unspeakable corruption and being in bed with “crony capitalism”, is in the saddle until the next prime minister is selected.
Rajoy cannot carry on as caretaker endlessly. There is talk of fresh elections in June. This is the timing for fire and brimstone outside a mosque. The spectacular demonstration is the handiwork of Madrid Social Home which claims descent from the Fascist party associated the Franco dictatorship.
A quick riposte has come from the soft spoken Mayor Manuela Carmena.
“The response to terror must be solidarity, not fear of the other.” She tweeted: “they are not going to criminalize the Muslim community. We fight together against terrorism.” Her punchline is: “Co-existence=safe cities”.In Madrid the effort is avowedly by a far right outfit to alter the electoral mood before fresh elections expected in June. But this has not been the drift of discussions CNN has been cluttered with this past week.
A notion popular with panelists has been that Paris and Brussels like terror attacks intensify polarization which Jihadists find useful to lure fresh Islamist recruits.
These are, therefore, as we know, Jihadist inspired attacks. But this line of thinking makes nonsense of the Madrid fascists putting up the show. I don’t think we should waste much time in coming to a simple conclusion: the far right and jihadists are each other’s essential requirements in all such situations.
Madrid is not a city seething with Muslims prone to Jihadism. The hospitality sector of Barcelona on the other hand would collapse without Muslims from Pakistan. They have taken advantage of Catalan autonomy for easy entry. Here the Catalan-non Catalan sentiment overshadows other differences.
It does not require large Muslim populations to affect polarization. In other words, Greece, Ireland or Portugal, where Communists are already in the government, have all veered away from the two-party structures which “crony capitalism” milked.
Economic concerns, austerity policies have of course angered voters away from the right of centre structures promoted by the post soviet world order. But if the spectre of global terror takes centre stage and National Security becomes the primary concern of states there may still be hope for the right to linger a little longer.
But this Right will resemble Marine Le Pen’s National Front which will make Spain’s Rajoy look like a Socialist wimp.
The kind of show mounted in Madrid may not immediately polarize society to the required level when a right wing take over can be contemplated, but it certainly nudges all political discourse a few degrees to the right. It all depends how the electronic media develops the theme.
Salah Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. It was an important story worth a prime time splash and a discussion or two. But CNN, BBC and Aljazeera, birds of a feather under some circumstances, made it a 24X7 show for four full days without a break until their obsessive harping on one arrest in a Brussels ghetto almost anticipated serial terror attacks on Tuesday at the airport and metro terminal in the vicinity of EU and NATO headquarters.
The reverberations are being felt everywhere, most alarmingly across the Atlantic where Republican frontrunner Donald Trump with Ted Cruz in distant chase for the party nomination, in the world’s most intemperate anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican campaign, have found more combustible material to set the Cleveland Republican convention ablaze in the coming months.
The vocabulary of Manuela Carmena is not in order in a country where even Hillary Clinton has had to look hostile and belligerent to come this far for the Democratic nomination. Even before the campaign began she had established her aggressive style.
Remember her imperious wave of the hand as Secretary of State. “Get out of the way, Assad?” But it was in Libya that television suitably amplified her toughness. One frame showed Qaddafi, desperately pleading for his life; he was being sodomized by a knife. The next frame settled on Clinton proclaiming without any sentimentalism. “I came, I saw and he died.”
How the campaigns of Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Bernie Sanders are affected by an interminable 24X7 show focused on Brussels, the city of Hercule Poirot, only time will tell. In fact I can almost see the great detective running his fingers over his moustache. “There’s more coming; the worst is not over yet.”
(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on [email protected] This views expressed are personal.)