Russia's ambassador to Turkey was assassinated yesterday by a Turkish security guard during a press conference in an Ankara museum. Most people probably see the deed as an act of Islamic terrorism, and while they may not be wrong to do so, that response is interesting in light of widespread perceptions, or perceived perceptions, of the Syrian civil war. The assassin reportedly yelled, "Remember Aleppo! Remember Syria!" or words to that effect. Aleppo, of course, is the besieged city long held by forces thought to be among the good Syrian rebels, as opposed to self-styled Islamic State forces or al-Qaeda affiliates. The siege maintained by the Assad government and its Russian ally is regularly condemned in the western media as something like a war crime, or at minimum a humanitarian catastrophe. Russia is condemned regularly in the western media for propping up and enabling Assad's tyranny. So why isn't the Ankara assassin a hero -- or dare I say a martyr -- here in the west? I suppose it has something to do with him shouting "Allahu akbar," since that throws into question what exactly he stood for. It's not so easy to think of him as a mere freedom fighter. This isn't just an Islam thing; a lot of liberals feel an extra thrill of fear whenever Donald Trump talks about Christianity, for instance. Also, I suspect that the Aleppo story appeals to western liberals because it's primarily a story about helpless people. On some level I suspect they prefer their rebels that way rather than taking power and settling scores or otherwise breaking the idealistic spell. The Ankara assassin probably was too proactive for their tastes, though assassins in theory remain the most cost-effective (in human terms) means of fighting tyranny or oppression.
In any event, perspective determines perception. In Russia and Syria, I don't doubt that they took the assassin at face value as a representative or champion of their immediate enemy -- or better yet, as confirmation of their own propaganda portraying all enemies of Assad as terrorists. The Turks, meanwhile, are embarrassed by this lapse of security at a time when President Erdogan reportedly wants to improve relations with Russia even as he remains opposed to Assad. For them, the easiest explanation of the assassination may be that the killer was actually an agent of the same diasporic conspiracy, whose leader remains in American exile, that organized the failed coup against Erdogan earlier this year. The idea in that case is that someone wants to sabotage Russo-Turkish reconciliation for selfish reasons that actually have little to do with Syria. Likewise, I think American perception of the assassination has little to do with Syria, which may only prove how ineffective western propaganda against Syria and Russia has been. With the rise of Trump in the U.S. Vladimir Putin's popularity reportedly has increased among Americans, and for all I know polls might reveal growing respect for Bashar al-Assad so long as he is described as someone opposed to ISIS rather than someone opposed to Israel. The humanitarian appeal to action isn't working the way it used to as the neocon notion that the world will always be improved by overthrowing tyrants appears to be refuted by recent history and people worldwide feel they have more to worry about than whether faraway people suffer. Alleviating Syrian suffering is worth no one else's life, not even a Russian's.