The Madrid bombings weren't about Iraq.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
March 18 2004 7:25 PM

Jihad Without End

The Madrid bombings weren't about Iraq.

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Almoravid is a Hispanicized version of the Arabic word "al-Murabitun," or "those of the military encampment." As Richard Fletcher writes in Moorish Spain, the Almoravids "saw their role as one of purifying religious observance by the re-imposition where necessary of the strictest canons of Islamic orthodoxy." They came to redeem a weakened Muslim state against the Christians. Once the Almoravids got soft, the Almohads, still more theologically austere, came north to replace them. Almohad is a corruption of "al-Muwahhidun," or "those who profess the oneness of God." It is an Arabic word still in usage; in fact it is the other polite way to say Wahabbi.

After the Madrid attacks, a number of journalists, academics, and other experts picked up on the idea, perhaps most fully expressed in Jason Burke's book Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, that al-Qaida may not be what many people think it is. It's not one vast organization with tentacles everywhere; it's a kind of franchise that helps with cash here, logistics there. Most important, it is the brand name of an umbrella ideology that all the jihadists subscribe to, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat and Salafia Jihadia, among others. Bin Laden is just the public face.

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Looking at the Almohad and Almoravids, one might make the further point that jihadism is not just international, it's also a deeply ambitious ideological movement that feeds on its own thousand-plus-year history of extreme violence and revulsion for anything that is not itself.

Correction, March 19, 2004: This article originally called Morocco a former "Spanish protectorate." In fact, both France and Spain ruled parts of Morocco until 1956. Return to the corrected sentence.

Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.