On the evening of 19 December, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot dead in Ankara. A few minutes later, on the same day, a lorry ploughed into a Christmas Market on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm Avenue, crushing 12 people and injuring 50 others, according to preliminary reports. The terrorist in Ankara shouted, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” Berlin’s barbarian killed silently. The Ankara killer was 22 years old, Berlin’s was 23. The latter was from Tunisia; he killed the original driver and stole the truck. No one has yet claimed responsibility for Turkey’s terrorist attack. ISIS has claimed responsibility for Berlin’s (frankly, I do not believe this claim; ISIS wants to be part of every terrorist act, as it terribly wants to be feared).

Distinct terrorist acts, distinct countries… What do they have in common, or do they even have something in common? Actually they do! They are both associated with the critical situation in the Middle East, the Muslim world, in concert with the relations between world Islam and the West, as well as Russia (after all, it is not a part of the Islamic ummah). They are both a reaction to the systemic crisis that emerged in the beginning of the 21st Century.

I would like to note that the assassination of the ambassador, in this case of Russia, is not the first such incident. In 2012, the US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in the Libyan Jamahiriya (such a state existed until recently). Both murders are a revenge for meddling in Muslim affairs. Many affirm in Islam’s world that Muslims are capable of resolving their own internal affairs, without any meddling by foreign “Hectors”, which can be deemed as excessive. It is their right, and does not require any explanation. Furthermore, the East has not forgotten the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan, nor Iraq’s invasion by the US in 2003. The Muslims have a lot to remember.

Berlin’s tragedy near the Memorial Church cannot be considered as something exceptional. First of all, the attack cannot be considered as unique in its execution. The lorry (even though refrigerated in this case) was previously tested last July on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, when a mentally disturbed Tunisian drove it into the large crowd. He did not shout, “Allahu Akbar!” However, the ISIS Press-Secretary, Muhammad Al-Adnani, delivered on the occasion a statement entitled “Die from Exasperation”, urging his followers to pursue such actions.

Secondly, the massacre took place just before Christmas, and this is not necessarily a coincidence. The extremists as of lately are increasingly striking the “foreign” Christian religion. Let us remember the churches in Nigeria being dynamited during religious feast days. A catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, was killed last summer in Rouen. In 2015, ISIS executed Christian hostages, and just recently, Islamists were responsible for an explosion near Saint Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo.

Acts of terrorism were carried out in December in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny. Certain experts and journalists have noticed that in the last few years, shootings and explosions incidentally take place in the North Caucasus during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Is this simply a coincidence…?

There is growing talk that ISIS and its supporters are leading a religious war.

The fact that the terrorist act in Berlin’s Christmas Market took place during Christmas festivities was immediately noted by Donald Trump, the newly elected President of the United States. In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel pensively stated that the Tunisian that trampled the crowd was an immigrant. The difference is obvious, but if brought together, it is rather sad: a Muslim immigrant arranges a nightmare for Christmas.

The sad appalling part is that the Ankara and Berlin nightmares are both linked to religion. We must honestly acknowledge this fact regardless of how demanding it is. Humanity has entered a post-secular age. We would like to separate religion from politics, but it is impossible, especially when considering today’s extremist trends. Conflicts, whether in the Middle East or in Europe – those associated with the Muslim migration – take place on a political-religious arena. It is sad, but it is unavoidable in this early 21st Century. We are not ready for this.

The murder of the Russian ambassador inaugurating a harmless photo-exhibit entitled Russia through the Eyes of Turks also has a connection to religion. Either way, it is related to Syria’s internal conflicting parties of Bashar Assad’s regime and the Islamic opposition, comprising a faction that can be considered as moderate, and the other radical, even extremist. These religious radicals are most uncompromising.

We can obviously sustain that the former policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas represented some secret organization, some Russian politicians ascertain that the assassination of the ambassador is the work of NATO (a somewhat hasty conclusion), but the terrorist was most likely operating on his own. I do not believe in the version spreading in Turkey that he was an adherent of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic preacher heading the Islamic opposition living in the States, who according to the Turkish authorities was one of the organizers of the recent failed coup attempt. Terrorism is not Gülen’s manner, who writes about the necessity for a dialogue between people of various convictions, between religions.

The future will tell whether Altintas was backed or whether he was simply a “loner”. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: he was retaliating against Russia on behalf of Islam and believed his cause to be right. Same as that Berlin terrorist from Tunisia.

Unfortunately terrorist acts are becoming routine, whether in the Middle East, whether in Europe. It is a political and religious trend that humanity, whether Christian or Muslim, is not capable of eradicating.

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Alexey Malashenko
Prof. Malashenko graduated from Institute of Asian and African Countries, Moscow State University. He is Ph.D. in History, one of the leading experts of Islam, orientalist, political scientist. Prof. Malashenko is the author and editor of about twenty books (in Russian, English, French, and Arabic) and more than 200 articles. The latest are: • The Fight for Influence. Russia in Central Asia. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Washington DC, 2013 • Policy in Russia and Russia in Policy. Moscow, 2013 • My Islam. (Monograph) Publishing house ROSSPEN, Moscow 2010 • L'islam en Russie (Monograph). Les editions Keruss. Canada 2009. Pp. 1-280 • Ramzan Kadirov, a Russian Politician of the «Caucasian Nationality” (Monograph), Publishing House ROSSPEN. Moscow 2009 Before joining the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute he was the Chair of the “Religion, Society, and Security” Program at Carnegie Moscow Center, Professor at Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), Professor at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Head of the Islamic Department at Institute of Oriental Studies RAN (Russian Academy of Sciences).