The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey and the bus-borne attack on a Christmas market in Germany should be seen as reminders of how difficult it is for any country to avoid the consequences of Islamicist terror. But this would be better understood as examples of how difficult it is for any country, especially in Europe, to escape the consequences of State collapse in West Asia.
The contradictory geopolitical interests and interventions of regional powers like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia and great powers like the United States and Russia have so far only added tinder to the sectarian flames that burn in the region. Russia may have intervened militarily to stop the Islamic State from capturing Syria. However, the assassination of their ambassador is a sign that the more they involve themselves, the more Russia will become a target for Sunni Muslim anger and frustration — as the US was a decade ago.
Germany’s terrorist attack seems to have been an indirect fallout of chancellor Angela Merkel’s generous decision to allow a million West Asian refugees to enter her country. Both policies, while as different as guns and butter, are placebos for what really ails the region — which is why neither has stopped terrorism from striking either country. Motives, whether good or bad, are no substitute for clear and strategic thinking about finding a long-term solution to such crises.
There is certainly a crisis within the Arab Muslim world, often compared to the sectarian conflicts that rent the Christian world several centuries ago. But radical and apocalyptic visions like those of the Islamic State and similar groups find ready adherents because for those who live in the region between the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf feel as if the world has come to an end. The siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo and the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding there are a microcosm of all that is wrong today in West Asia and why nothing that is being done there is actually resolving the core problems that beset the region.
Unfortunately, creating a stable state structure in this span of West Asia is beyond any single country and would strain even the most comprehensive international coalition. The only hope is that, over time, a series of terrorist attacks and Aleppo style tragedies will lead all the external powers and some of the domestic players to recognise that the present scorched earth policies are getting them nowhere. Even if the Islamic States is defeated, another version will take its place. The fact Turkey and Russia, bitter rivals only a few months ago, accept they have to work together is hopeful evidence of a trend that needs to find greater momentum.