Once upon a time, the images of terror were few, often delayed and frequently, depending on who wielded and tasted power’s whip, lost in translation. The new terror is entirely different. This is immediate, an unbalanced arithmetic of rage and, as the assassination of a Russian ambassador and the attack on a Christmas market show, a dark spectacle set in the brightest landscapes.
The assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, shot dead in an Ankara art gallery, itself resembles a nightmarish installation; a corpse — some minutes ago, a living human being, speaking about photographs — sprawled on an ivory floor, his and his assassin’s figures made starker by their black suits, the murderer holding his gun at a rakish angle. The other attack resembles a medieval tableau, a Berlin Christmas market full of glittery, snowy air, bright lights, mistletoe, stalls with sausages and warmed wine. A few moments later, stalls, shoppers, gingerbread houses and gifts lie crushed under an assassin’s truck, looming in the shadows of a Gothic church.
Once, terror meant an explosion, a bomb attack, impossible to capture except post-facto when the moment already appeared slightly removed. But 9/11, with its immediate visuals of planes crashing into skyscrapers and towers, full of people, caving in, changed that. Terror today can be anything, anywhere — a hotel lobby, a racing lorry, one man with a gun — which can, via mobiles, be captured as it strikes, swiftly circling the world. Terror is no longer a slow poison that seeps over decades into lives. It is immediate, ruthless and furious; a bomb on Aleppo causes an Ankara shoot-out. As terrorists themselves relish the spectacles of destruction they create, the world must brace for more miserably spectacular violence. But the drama of terror’s spectacles must not make the world immune to real lives, real deaths; that would be truly terrifying.