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The war against terrorism: the Spanish experience from ETA to al-Qaeda

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The use of state terrorism by the 1982–86 PSOE administration undermined Spanish democracy and fostered support for ETA. Efforts to cover up this dirty war scandal, and to manipulate it for short-term political gain, compounded the damage. However, the investigation of the GAL death squads by the judiciary and media indicates growing democratic maturity. The PP's very different counter-terrorism strategy has left an ambiguous legacy: legitimate police action has critically weakened ETA, but Aznar's hostility to Basque nationalism in general has left the region more politically polarized than ever. His instrumentalization of the 9/11 attacks to gain international support against ETA led him to support the invasion of Iraq, but paradoxically caused him to underestimate the growing domestic danger of Islamic terrorism. The new PSOE administration has been slow to reform the intelligence services and take other measures necessary to counter this threat. The government and the PP have played a blame game about the March 11 bombings, to the detriment of a clear democratic strategy against radical Islamism. Dirty war tactics have no place in the ‘international war on terrorism’. When democracy breaks its best rules to fight terrorism, democracy loses and terrorism makes gains.
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Keywords: Basque nationalism; ETA; GAL; Islamists; al-Qaeda; terrorism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Iowa

Publication date: 2004-12-01

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  • The International Journal of Iberian Studies (IJIS) is the academic journal for scholars from around the world whose research focuses on contemporary Spain and Portugal from a range of disciplinary perspectives. IJIS is interested in history (20th century onwards), government and politics; foreign policy and international relations.
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