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Stanley G. Payne

A Substitute Religion

The senior terrorist organization in the world.

The Basque nationalist movement ETA (an acronym standing for "Basque-Land and Liberty) is the senior terrorist organization in the Western world, though its activities have diminished greatly in recent years. Basque nationalism is the single most important source of conflict in the Spanish system of constitutional and democratic federal monarchy that is now thirty years old. As such, it has generated an enormous bibliography, primarily in Spanish, but also in English and many other languages. There are several good narrative histories of ETA and of the senior, non-violent movement, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), in Spanish and English, while the revised edition of Javier Corcuera's The Origins, Ideology, and Organization of Basque Nationalism, 1876-1903 (2007) provides a possibly definitive account of its origins and early development.

Amid this sea of publications, what contribution can another brief study in English hope to achieve? Cameron Watson has published a dissertation prepared in the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada that attempts to provide an account of the "ideological and intellectual origins of eta," on the assumption that these are inadequately understood, a debatable proposition. The origins of ETA terrorism have previously been broadly examined in terms of historical narrative, of social framework and even of cultural anthropology, as in Joseba Zulaika's Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament (1988).

There are several dimensions to Watson's book, which sometimes demonstrates historical perspective and objectivity, though more commonly his narrative and analysis simply assume the point of view of the nationalists, as is common with much of the contemporary literature. For the most part, it consists not in the intellectual history which is its professed goal, but in another thumbnail account of the history of the Basque Country and of nationalism, of which we have already had so many.

The historical treatment reveals certain weaknesses. ...

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