Obviously these attacks have shaken Spain, and so one hesitates to fault them too much for a hasty rush to judgment in the moments after. But it brings back unpleasant memories of the reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing, when police started detaining Muslims in droves because, hey, who else does that sort of thing?
In moments of crisis, we are especially vulnerable to our deepest fears and prejudices. In this country, that has often led to embarrassing bouts of racism — not just the post-Oklahoma roundup, but lynchings of blacks, Jews and gays, not to mention the internment of Japanese during World War II. In Spain, the natural instinct when something blows up is to blame ETA.
The trouble in this case is not that ETA will be unfairly accused. ETA is already a terrorist group with much blood on its hands, and if this attack leads to ETA’s demise, so much the better for the world. The danger, however, is that the Spanish will go after the familiar demon of ETA instead of pursuing their new and shadowy enemies, who may be much harder to find. It strikes me that this is exactly what America did by going to war against Saddam Hussein. And as long as we are distracted by old enemies, the latest (and deadliest) murderers remain at large.