In Turkey, always a tempest in a wine glass

In Turkey, always a tempest in a wine glass

On Sept. 30, an art exhibition opening in Istanbul was attacked by angry locals complaining about alcohol consumption. That, in Turkey, is the new normal.
But we can sigh with relief that at least the next coup attempt will not be headquartered in the Central Anatolian city of Yozgat. How do we know? Easy. Taking powers from the state of emergency declared after the July 15 coup attempt in order to fight potential putschists, the governor of Yozgat banned alcohol consumption in the city’s bars and music halls.  

The correlation is both easy and difficult to explain. Just because per capita alcohol consumption approaches nil in most Arab and Gulf countries, most notably Saudi Arabia (where consumption is punishable by lashing), doesn’t mean these countries are better democracies than the “infidel” West where alcohol consumption is no different than soft drink consumption.  

So why did the governor of Yozgat decide to fight future putschists by banning alcohol? It is no different than banning miniskirts in public, based on the powers the state of emergency grants governors, in order to prevent coups and defend democracy. It is easy to understand the alcohol ban because it simply reflects a bureaucrat’s opportunism by exhibiting his loyalty to the ruling ideology. He should be rewarded soon with a better posting than the boring city of Yozgat. İzmir would be ideal. 

The governor’s justification of the alcohol ban in his city may look ridiculous but it is worth bringing it under the magnifying glass in order to understand the crooked logic of political Islam and how this logic claims the right to impose a sin-free world on any willing sinner. 

The governor says that he banned alcohol in order to protect both public health and the family. We do not have statistics showing what percentage of Turkish marriages end up in courtrooms because of alcohol consumption, but it is statistically insignificant to assume that alcohol would be a major reason in a country where per capita alcohol consumption is hardly 1.5 liters a year. And if the governor is so dedicated to protecting public health, he should ban overconsumption of kebabs in the city and fight obesity, which is a far bigger danger to public health in Turkey. 

In another point of justification, the governor mentions an appeal from an unknown number of women who are upset about husbands going after booze. That justification, too, looks too ideological. Proof? Would the honorable governor have banned alcohol-free coffee shops if the same number of women complained of husbands killing time by drinking tea and playing backgammon instead of working or spending time with their families? We all know the answer.  

The governor is annoyed because men in Yozgat tend to spend their money at “inappropriate places” like bars. This challenges the law. Bars are legal establishments licensed to sell alcohol. And the governor’s logic is, once again, deeply problematic. He assumes that bars are places attended by men only. In his conservative world, it is an impossibility that a woman may wish to go to a bar with her friends or husband to enjoy a glass of wine.  

He does not understand, either, that it is not the authority of a public official to tell which legal establishments are “appropriate’ and which ones are “inappropriate.” He has every right to think of bars as “inappropriate” places and avoid them. But he has no right to decide which places are appropriate for other people.  

Finally, the governor mentions, “persons in the Black Sea region coming from Russia who once threatened public morals, health and security…” This is an explicit reference to Russian prostitutes who once flocked to Turkey’s Black Sea cities.  

The parallel between prostitution and alcohol is an expression of ideology. Prostitution is an illegal activity; alcohol consumption is not – yet. Constitutionally speaking, it is illegal for a governor to decide if a legal activity – alcohol consumption – is against pubic morals or not.

But never mind. Islamists will never stop counting your sins and trying – illegally – to command the “good” in you. Look at their dry and sin-free lives and raise a glass!