Are Russians becoming the chief target of Islamist terror?

An unnamed gunman pictured shortly after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The latest terrorist outrage, if that is what it is, and it is hard to see what else it can be, that took place yesterday in Berlin, is by no means the first of its type; indeed, so common have such attacks become, that it is hard to keep track of them all. This is the Age of Terrorism, and a particular type of terrorism too. The Nice attacks of July 14, Bastille Day, were seen as an attack on ‘liberty, fraternity and equality’, the three things people are supposed to celebrate on that date. It will be interesting to see how commentators treat an attack on a Christmas market – as an attack on ‘peace and goodwill’, perhaps? Or was this like the attack on the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, an attack on a specifically Christian target? Or will we be told, once again, that this has nothing to do with religion?

On the same day, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey was murdered. This sort of high profile assassination sends shivers down the spine, thanks to our collective memory of the double assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 that sparked off the First World War. One hopes that the murder of the ambassador will not have the same consequences, but it is a terrible and criminal act that will certainly reverberate for many years to come. For while this murder was the act of one man, possibly a lone wolf, it is also true that anti-Russian feeling is running high in Turkey, with frequent demonstrations outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul. If the assassin wanted revenge for the sufferings of Aleppo, he was certainly not alone in that. Herein lies a difficulty for the Turkish government, presently enjoying something of a rapprochement with the Russians. The Turkish leadership may now find itself seriously out of step with public opinion, particularly the type of public opinion on which it has relied up to now. It is possible that this assassination may bring about a new froideur between Russia and Turkey, already on opposing sides in Syria. It certainly won’t bring peace in Syria any closer, as a necessary precondition for that is agreement between the various foreign powers involved.

Does the ambassador’s murder have something to do with religion? Most certainly. When the assassin shouts “God is great!” we should take that as an important clue. But it is religious feeling of a certain type, which we should all understand. The assassin was presumably subject to strong feelings about his fellow Muslims in Aleppo; just as we Christians feel for our brethren in, for example, Pakistan and Egypt, though, let it be said, with very different consequences. In other words, this assassination is an indicator of the idea that an attack on Muslims in one place is an attack on them everywhere, which, funnily enough, is something the Russian government should understand, as it likes to pose as the protector of Christians everywhere, reprising a role it first took up in the 19th century.

The ambassador’s murder was a response, simply put, to Russian policy in the Middle East, and the poor Mr Karlov is not the first Russian to die as a result of Islamist terrorism. Let us not forget the victims of the Russian plane that was brought down in Sinai by ISIS back in 2015. Indeed, that was not the first time Russians have suffered at the hands of terrorists, and the list of Russian victims would be a long one. Mr Karlov’s murder may alert us to a new global trend in which the preferred victims of Islamist terror are no longer American but Russian.

What then can be done? How can the hydra of terrorism be defeated? Will the Russians have any more success in doing so than the Americans, or the British, have up to now? It is unlikely. But one thing stands out: the Russian involvement in Syria has brought comfort to Mr Assad, but not to many others. British friendship with Saudi Arabia has meant cluster bombs for the people of Yemen. As for Turkey, the far from democratic regime there is a great friend of Britain and America and a member of Nato. Isn’t it time that all nations, including Russia, stopped enabling repressive regimes?