the madrid agenda

From the Guardian. Read it. You know I only post the good stuff.

Our new Guernica
by Timothy Garton Ash

"I am your choice, your decision: yes, I am Spain." Thus the poet WH Auden, responding to the Spanish civil war in 1937. A lifetime later, Spain is the theatre of another war that affects every European, every citizen of any democracy. This is a war that won't be won by men with guns and bombers from the air. It's a war to avoid another war.

On one side of a broad city street, here in Madrid, you can view Picasso's Guernica at the Queen Sofia Art Centre. Probably the single most famous artistic image of war in the modern world, this commemoration of a town bombed during the Spanish civil war shows, in giant angular segments of black, grey and white, distorted and dismembered body parts - legs, arms and, most of all, heads, with each mouth open in a howl of pain. Just a few metres away, on the other side of the street, is the Atocha railway station. Here, on the morning of March 11 last year, Guernica was repeated. In the space of a few seconds, living, breathing men and women - mothers, wives, fathers and sons - were torn into dismembered body parts by the impact of bombs planted on suburban commuter trains. We must imagine their mouths still open in a last howl of pain.

The memorial to the victims in Atocha station is no Picasso. At first glance, it could be two self-service ticket machines. On closer examination, these turn out to house metal keyboards on which you can type a message of commemoration or solidarity, linked to a scanned image of your hand. Between the two memory machines hang large white cylinders on which people can write whatever they like. "Never again", features several times. "Aznar, Bush and Blair are the assassins." And a voice of touchingly ungrammatical Polish optimism: "Don't stay in hopeless. Polska."

The Atocha memorial lacks any hint of artistic grandeur. Yet its very banality is also somehow appropriate - for this war will be won or lost not in some grand showdown but in a trillion tiny everyday encounters, like those of commuters pouring off a suburban train.

You can understand this better if you walk back up past the Guernica museum to the Lavapies neighbourhood, where many North African immigrants live and several of the March 11 Islamist bombers used to hang out. Here, in Tribulete street, you can view the bolted metal door of one of the small telephone shops, called "locutorios", from which immigrants can make cheap calls home. But the owner of this locutorio, Jamal Zougam, used his telecommunications expertise to prepare the mobile phones that detonated the train bombs by remote control. His premises are now up for rent, but the door still bears the legend New Century Locutorio. New century indeed.

Lavapies does not feel like a ghetto. In its narrow streets, Spanish and north African shops are still mixed up together. So are the people. But I have the sense of a community which could go either way: the strengthening of peaceful coexistence or a downward spiral to low-level urban civil war.

Perhaps the most impressive thing the Spanish people have done in the year since the "11-M" attacks is the thing they haven't done. They have not struck back, scapegoating Moroccans or Muslims of any nationality. A recent report by Human Rights Watch pays this cautious tribute: "To our knowledge, there have not been any clearly documented cases of racist violence that can be attributed directly to the March 11 bombings." It goes on to quote the president of the association of Moroccan workers and immigrants in Spain: "The reaction has overall been exemplary, that of a society that knows how to distinguish between a few terrorists and a community."

Nonetheless, talking to people in Lavapies you glimpse a society close to some tipping-point. A Spanish bar-owner, his voice quivering with anger and alcohol, tells me how he hates people like his former neighbour Zougam, the mobile phone bomber. "If I had had a gun on March 11," he says, "I would have shot them here myself." Muhammad Said, a 19-year old Moroccan in hand-painted sneakers, complains about increased police harassment since the bombings. Why, only three days ago the police roughed up a friend of his and confiscated his mobile phone, just because it showed a photo of Osama bin Laden! So was Bin Laden a hero to this friend of his? Yes, of course. But Said himself is training to be a plumber, and says he's been kindly treated by his teachers. A man on the cusp, then, between integration and alienation.

I ask another Muhammad ("just call me Muhammad"), a voluble 16-year-old, about last year's bombings just down the road, at the Atocha station. Well, he says, he doesn't like to see people dying "even if they are Christians and Jews". But in this case, because of what Aznar did in the Iraq war.

Later, in a heavily guarded conference centre on the outskirts of the city, I sit with an illustrious galaxy of politicians, international officials and thinkers, at a memorial summit convened to discuss "democracy, terrorism and security". The central idea of this intelligently conceived conference is that "democratic government is the only legitimate - and still the only effective - way of fighting terrorism". It aims to produce, in a Madrid Agenda, the most comprehensive plan of action yet seen for a democratic response to terrorism.

I look forward to studying the result. What states and international organisations do next will plainly matter a great deal, from coordinated police and intelligence work to immigration policies, from competing strategies for the democratisation of the wider Middle East to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The resulting policies have a direct impact on our own Arab streets, as both Muhammads' comments make clear.

But this war to avoid a larger war will only be won if ordinary citizens across Europe are consciously engaged in it, through millions of commonplace interactions with people of different colour and faith. These are the experiences that determine whether the Muslim immigrants who already live among us in such large numbers will turn towards or away from Islamist extremism, and eventually terrorism. This is not the "war on terror", in which the mighty armies and security apparatuses of powerful states are repeatedly outmanoeuvred by a few technically ingenious people who are prepared to sacrifice their own lives. It's a war to prevent such people wanting to become terrorists in the first place.

A great French historian once said that a nation is "a plebiscite on every day". So is this peaceful war to prevent the emergence of terrorism in the alienated minds of ordinary men and women. It's a war of small things, of tiny, everyday acts.

Back in Tribulete street, there is an Arab restaurant called La Alhambra, which people charged with involvement in the March 11 bombing used to frequent. When I went there, I met two Spanish women who were studying Arabic and getting acquainted with their neighbours' culture. Although they were Spanish women without headscarves, they were greeted warmly by the Arab restaurant-owner. That, too, is the Madrid Agenda.


Timothy Garton Ash's website.

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