Samir Selam Ali was a 36-year-old Libyan who entered Turkey three days ago through Syria. He drove to İstanbul's religiously and historically symbolic Sultanahmet district in a car with a Syrian plate, walked into Topkapı Palace and opened fire with a pump-action rifle, wounding a soldier and a security guard. Eyewitnesses told journalists that he did not aim to kill the soldier at the gate of the palace and that he intentionally shot him in the leg.
It is still early to comment on the motives of Selam Ali. He might have fallen in love with a Turkish girl and failed to receive her father's consent (this happens more often than one might think), he might have been denied Turkish citizenship despite his repeated applications, he might have been inspired by the Norwegian conspirer Anders Behring Breivik, thinking that the Muslim world is being re-conquered by the grandsons of the Ottomans and he could have stopped the invasion by a symbolic act in the very heart of that Ottoman might. And yet these are not the very first possibilities one is tempted to think about.
A Libyan national with a Syrian car perpetuating a terrorist act in one of the touristic attractions of İstanbul says one thing; a Libyan national with a Syrian car killed by the Turkish police while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great) and making it clear that he was an Arab says another thing. The first is a message to the Turkish public that the Syrian regime won't collapse on itself but on the Turks, who are playing a significant role in unifying the anti-Bashar al-Assad front within the Arab League, and it also reminds us that revenge will include that of the former Libyan regime. The second is a message to the Arabs who trust the Turks, telling them that the Turks do not value Arab lives at all.
Whatever the message the instigators of this attack intended to convey, the messages and the measures we should take are clear: Turkey is in the Middle East. The Turkish Republic has never been so much a part of Middle Eastern politics. The artificiality of the political borders in this region holds, not only for the political authorities, but also for social and economic problems. A prolonged social unrest in Syria will certainly have repercussions for Turkey. The leaders of the countries in this region do not have the luxury of speaking about the integrity and inviolability of their domestic affairs.
We are entering an era of correlated -- not necessarily related though -- violence. The violence in the Syrian streets, the occupation of the British Embassy in Tehran, the popular unrest in Egypt, the upsurge in outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorism within Turkey and seemingly singular events of hijackings and indiscriminate shootings are all pointing towards a new era. The end result won't be shaped by whether there is a determined cooperation between these events or not. In the end, terrorism terrorizes and these events do the same. They serve the same end, knowingly or unknowingly. The important thing is the fact that their numbers are and will be increasing, together with the ongoing unrest in the North Africa and Middle East region.
Damascus is already in İstanbul.
What needs to be done is not accelerating the revolutions in countries like Syria and Bahrain or in other non-Arab dictatorships, but to reformat the revolutionary zeal in those countries into an evolutionary patience. Revolutions are like surgical operations. They certainly create wounds around the cut-off organs of the body and they give way to psychological traumas that can last longer than the illness itself. The natural disposal of an unwanted object in an organism both relieves and does not create side effects. That is why doctors suggest waiting for the natural fall of kidney stones and enduring the pain therein, instead of risking the side effects of a surgical operation.
It is probable that Samir Selam Ali was just another lost man who wanted his name to have a place in the newspaper headlines for once, who wanted to have a say in history, who wanted to prove that he is a bit more than nothing, but the already chilly spring in the Arab world will be producing thousands of such lost souls in the coming decades. They will be looking for venues to do the craziest things in the most populous places with the highest exposure to the world media. We will all then lament the opportunities we have lost to rehabilitate the younger generations; we will all curse the fatwas given to support the suicide bombings just because they were not hitting us but others; we will all regret the fact that we could have exported constructive civil society activism to the Arab youngsters, appealing to their minds and hearts, instead of the Turkish soap operas depicting imaginary lives of imaginary people in the middle of nowhere, appealing only to lusts and desires.