As the city’s parishioners recited the day’s closing vespers towards 19:30 on Wednesday last week, a harrowing scene took shape in the southern Spanish outpost of Algeciras, a mere thirty minute ferry ride from Tangier. Djellaba-clad, armed with a machete in one hand and a Quran in the other, a 25-year-old Moroccan national left the squalid apartment he had been squatting in since first arriving in the Andalusian city in 2019. Yasine Kanjaa walked to the church-filled old town with a hell-bent aim in mind: avenging 530 years of Christian rule in what many Islamists still call Al-Andalus.
Kanjaa was apprehended by police mid-prayer, like his victims
What ensued is the traumatic story on every Spaniard’s newsfeed since — one that eerily echoes the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, when white supremacist Dylan Roof sat with black congregants through a bible study before massacring eleven of them. Kanjaa first walked into the nearby church of San Isidro, vandalising various paintings and religious artefacts, yelling that the Christian faith is “not the authentic one” and attacking priest Antonio Rodríguez (who is not recovering). This was bad enough — yet the attack became more gruesome when Kanjaa walked a couple of blocks to La Palma church, vandalised some more, got into an argument with sexton David Valencia, then chased him as he fled to a nearby square. There Kanjaa killed him amidst cries of “Allahu Akbar”.
Kanjaa was soon apprehended at the square by police, on his knees mid-prayer, like his victims. Yet Spanish media hesitated to apply the “Islamist” label in the killing’s immediate wake. Kanjaa was under a deportation order since June for illegally residing in Algeciras but wasn’t yet on record as being radicalised, so most of the initial coverage stressed his legal and economic precarity in bland yet deterministic terms. The press only began to use the “terrorist” label widely on Friday, once the prosecutor issued a search warrant for Kanjaa’s home that yielded evidence that he had undergone “express radicalization” by consuming jihadist materials in the past few weeks. The prosecutor went even further that day, speaking in his court order of a “murder and attack with terrorist aims” and “Salafist jihadism”.
Radicalization, we must learn, can involve a quicker process than the shrewdest intelligence. By the time a suspect ticks all the police’s boxes for radicalization, it may be too late. This is a crucial truth often ignored in Spain, where most politicians hoped the country would be spared major attacks of the kind suffered in 2004 in Madrid’s Atocha station. The latest before last Wednesday, however, was a van-ramming attack in Barcelona in 2017. Last week’s atrocity shows that Islamism is never more than one immigrant youth bingeing on ISIS propaganda away, with some regions having vast terrorist potential (namely, Andalucía, for historical-cum-migratory reasons, and Catalonia, where local governments have wooed migrants to boost their secessionist cause).
The next question is how deeply lodged the toxins of jihadism might be, and to what extent they target Christian belief. Consider that in not-so-radical corners of the Muslim faith, Spain is deemed still a part of Dar al-Islam — the “abode of Islam” — despite the Taifa kingdoms dissolving more than five centuries ago. The quandary is a reflexive one: for fear of being labelled Islamophobic, the media failed to spotlight this crime’s Christianophobic nature, and Spanish Catholics will feel less secure on the pews as a result.
The left is still hopelessly wedded to the ideal of multiculturalism
The thorniest riddle is to what extent Spain should reconsider immigration as a whole in light of this attack. On this score, politicians seem more subservient to political correctness than further north. Even the right-of-centre Partido Popular (PP) has shied away from connecting this attack to the scale of immigration from Muslim-majority countries, thus lessening the state’s responsibility to keep people safe by claiming that fundamentalism is a problem of European scope. This leaves the right-wing Vox as the only party defying the orthodoxy. In Andalucía, where a coalition between the two was expected last year but a PP win materialised instead, the current chasm casts into doubt how cohesive their joint national government would be on this issue, if indeed they win the upcoming national race in November.
As for the parties of the left, you would think being in power since June 2018 — when a coalition of the left-of-centre PSOE and the far-left Podemos narrowly won a repeat race — would have somewhat softened their views. After all, PM Pedro Sánchez’s government is caught between, on one hand, the EU’s unwillingness to ease the burden of migration by either beefing up Frontex or resettling asylum-seekers up north; and on the other, Morocco’s no less steely refusal to cooperate through better patrolling on its side of the border. Far from it: in the last four years the left has, if anything, turned more pro-migration. The two coalition partners quickly typecast Vox’s alarm as “xenophobic”, whilst the left-leaning network La Sexta reacted by airing reportage on mass killings in the name of Christianity starring the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik.
If anything, this shows that the left — certainly in Spain, but no less beyond the Pyrenees — is still hopelessly wedded to the ideal of multiculturalism, no matter the gruesomeness of the attacks or the death count they yield. Since Kanjaa has since appeared to be a somewhat marginalised, restive and pot-smoking youth, any claims that Islam is at fault will be even more severely labelled as Islamophobic. More tellingly, the left is blind not only to the evident cultural clash between radical Islam and Spain’s hyper-liberal, secular mores — they still hope to rally Muslims and sexual minorities against the common enemy of “fascism” — but also to the even more evident clash between the same radical Islam and practising Christians, whom the left writes off as a hopelessly declining force. The attack itself, alas, will not change their views.