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Europe's Two Culture Wars

George Weigel

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At the height of the morning commute on March 11, 2004, ten bombs exploded in and around four train stations in Madrid. Almost 200 Spaniards were killed, and some 2,000 wounded. The next day, Spain seemed to be standing firm against terror, with demonstrators around the country wielding signs denouncing the "murderers" and "assassins." Yet things did not hold. Seventy-two hours after the bombs had strewn arms, legs, heads, and other body parts over three train stations and a marshaling yard, the Spanish government of José María Aznar, a staunch ally of the United States and Great Britain in Iraq, was soundly defeated in an election that the socialist opposition had long sought to turn into a referendum on Spain's role in the war on terror.

So, evidently, had the al-Qaeda operatives who set the bombs. A 54-page al-Qaeda document, which came to light three months after the bombings, speculated that the Aznar government would be unable to "suffer more than two or three strikes before pulling out [of Iraq] under pressure from its own people." In the event, it was one strike and out—as it was for the Spanish troops in Iraq who were withdrawn shortly thereafter, just as the newly elected prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had promised on the day after Spanish voters chose appeasement.

Earlier this year, five days short of the second anniversary of the Madrid bombings, the Zapatero government, which had already legalized marriage between and adoption by same-sex partners and sought to restrict religious education in Spanish schools, announced that the words "father" and "mother" would no longer appear on Spanish birth certificates. Rather, according to the government's official bulletin, "the expression 'father' will be replaced by 'Progenitor A,' and 'mother' will be replaced by 'Progenitor B.'" As the chief of the National Civil Registry explained to the Madrid daily ABC, the change would simply bring Spain's birth certificates into line with Spain's legislation on marriage and adoption. More acutely, the Irish commentator David Quinn saw in the new regulations "the withdrawal of the state's recognition of the role of mothers and fathers and the extinction of biology and nature."

At first blush, the Madrid bombings and the Newspeak of "Progenitor A" and "Progenitor B" might seem connected only by the vagaries of electoral politics: the bombings, aggravating public opinion against a conservative government, led to the installation of a leftist prime minister, who then proceeded to do many of the things that aggressively secularizing governments in Spain have tried to do in the past. In fact, however, the nexus is more complex than that. For the events of the past two years in Spain are a microcosm of the two interrelated culture wars that beset Western Europe today.

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Posted: 13-May-06



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