In both attacks, the bombs were carefully placed in public areas with the goal of inflicting maximal carnage on innocent civilians. In both incidents, the architects of these terrorist atrocities were Islamic radicals who are inspired by a profound hatred of Western civilisation.
In one case this bloody act elicits universal expressions of solidarity with the victims of terrorism, and declarations of unrelenting war against the perpetrators of such crimes. Yet, in the other instance the tormented are urged to empathise with the motivations of their tormentors, and to attempt negotiation with those who seek their destruction.
The Spanish capital of Madrid and the Israeli port city of Ashdod are still picking up the pieces in the wake of mass casualty terrorist attacks. In both countries forensic specialists search through the rubble for clues, while ordinary citizens display extraordinary courage by refusing to be deterred from carrying out normal lives.
For Europeans, the Madrid bombings represent a watershed event that marks their passage into the uncharted realm of Islamic radical terrorism that, until now, has left their continent largely unscathed. By contrast, Israelis perceive the suicide attacks in Ashdod as merely the latest instalment in an all too familar saga of Arab violence that has hardened into tragic routine.
The planners of the Madrid rail attacks clearly selected their targets with care in order to slaughter as many innocent commuters as possible. In this they share a common goal with the Palestinian suicide bombers who slaughtered 10 Israelis in an attempt to kill hundreds more by exploding a chemical facility in Ashdod.
Thus, there are obvious similarities that unite the perpetrators in both of these cases, as well as an irrefutable equivalence that binds together Spanish and Israeli victims of terrorism. The ranks of both Al Q'aeda and Hamas are filled with zealots who are so motivated by malice that they don't care about dying so long as they can keep the hated Western infidels from living. Yet, the response of the international community to these two attacks is marked by moral inconsistency and hypocrisy.
In recent days, the global media have reverberated with voices proclaiming the need to pursue and destroy the perpetrators of the Madrid bombing. In the immediate wake of the attack in Spain, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that declared a "reinforced determination to combat all forms of terrorism." Well, all forms except those committed against Israel, that is.
Almost simultaneously UN Secretary General Kofi Anan issued a statement that urged Israel to ignore Yasser Arafat's history of consistent support for Palestinian terrorist violence. Rather than the implacable pursuit that the UN was vowing towards the Islamist zealots who carried out the Madrid attacks, Anan averred that Palestinian radicals must be appeased and accommodated. Yet, this ever so typical UN pronouncement turned a conveniently blind eye to the fact that most Palestinians obdurately refuse to accept Israel's basic right to exist.
Of course, no mainstream voice would propose a similar policy of reconciliation towards Al Q'aeda, because the relentless Islamist hostility towards all things Western is self-evident and undeniable. Indeed, European Parliament President Pat Cox described the Madrid bombings as "a declaration of war on democracy." President Bush similarly made it clear that he considered the 11 September attacks to be the commencement of hostilities that warranted a full-fledged military response.
But, this clarity of thought and purpose seems to dissipate whenever Israel is introduced into the equation. When the Israeli army adopts a strategy of active defence in which armed terrorists are killed before they can carry out suicide bombings, the Jewish state is castigated for its "assassination policy." Yet, when Israel adopts a strategy of passive defence that involves a barrier to keep suicide bombers off the streets of Tel Aviv, the Jewish state is dragged before the International Court of Justice. It seems that the international community will reflexively damn the Israelis if they do, or if they don't.
The Presidents of both the United States and the European Parliament have recognized that Islamist terrorists are openly engaged in armed hostilities against Western civilisation. And, just as Napoleon remarked with the saying "à la guerre, comme à la guerre," when you are at war, you use warlike means.
For years Israel has been fighting a lonely battle against violent Islamist militancy that threatens the entire democratic world. The Jewish state should be recognized as a valued ally in this conflict, rather than criticised as an impediment to a utopian agreement with zealots who have no peaceful inclinations.
Ted Lapkin is Associate Editor of The Review, a monthly journal of analysis and opinion published by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.