Proving that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) still does “not subscribe to the view that Islamic culture and democracy cannot be reconciled,” the AKP-led Turkish parliament passed a new law last month that will put further restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the Republic of Turkey.
Erdogan, who is a former member of the banned Islamist Welfare Party, and was jailed in 1998 for making pro-Islamist and anti-Kemalist statements, has recently rubbed Germans the wrong way with his opinions on integration of Turks into German society by stating that Turkish-German “children must learn German, but first they must learn good Turkish.”
The general trend from a focus on the West to the East was most alarmingly highlighted last year during the Flotilla incident when Prime Minister Erdogan fanned the flames of conflict by referring to Israel as “lawless,” a statement which was timed in concert with his total departure from general
international policy by opposing Iran Sanctions during Turkey’s tenure on the U.N. Security Council. The Daily Telegraph has backpedaled from a story in September suggesting this was more than a coincidence by apologizing to Erdogan; the story linked his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to funding from Iran via a Turkish Islamic charity known as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation.
However, the current government is not limited to international saber rattling and pro-Islamic Republic of Iran sentiment. In addition to lifting bans on headscarves (seen by some as protecting personal freedoms), there has been an alarming trend towards limiting access to alcohol in Turkey. In 2008 there was a similar attempt to restrict alcohol following an increase in alcohol tax. The new law announced in January followed the same pattern with a tax last fall, and it expands on the restrictions of the 2008 law. The new restrictions should be viewed in the context of a broader attack on “secular lifestyles” given the impact it will have on any events sponsored by an alcohol manufacturer, such as the Efes Pilsen basketball team, because the new law includes a total ban on alcohol advertising.
Sadly, to many Westerners none of this pro-Iran anti-alcohol news will come as a surprise due to the near total lack of understanding on their part of the secular nature of the Turkish Republic and the history of Kemalism. From many a Western perspective, Turkey’s new laws may be seen as comparatively liberal for a Middle Eastern country. Those Westerners are wrong, but this view fits the narrative of Turks as the Islamist European other, the invaders, and the “sick man of Europe.” Additionally, the charming but misguided notion of a “Soft Islam,” popularized in the Bush era, has blinded Western nations to what is really going on with the AKP, Erdogan, and Turkey. It would be convenient if the 34% drop in alcohol consumption in recent years was due to an organic desire to live healthier lifestyles, but it is clear that this is the result of social pressures, which are now being used as a foundation for a radical Islamist legislative agenda. The era of the Iranian-style Islamic Revolution may have passed, but in Turkey we are witnessing something with the potential to be as sinister for individual rights: a slow chipping away of personal liberty, rooted in religious values, under the auspices of protecting citizens, and in total opposition to everything the Turkish Republic was founded upon.
For further reading:
The Journal of Turkish Weekly (Erdogan quote)
Hürriyet Daily News (New Turkish alcohol law)
Spiegel Online (Erdogan’s opinion on Turkish integration in German society)
Al Jazeera (Freedom Flotilla)
The Washington Post (Iran Sanctions)
Hürriyet Daily News (Daily Telegraph apologizes to Erdogan)
The Guardian UK (2008 alcohol law)
Hürriyet Daily News (2011 alcohol law)
BBC (attack on lifestyles)
Hürriyet Daly News (Efes Pilsen basketball team)
The Wall Street Journal (Social pressure on alcohol consumption decline)