AKP, alcohol and freedom to sin

AKP, alcohol and freedom to sin

The new alcohol regulations that the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) instituted this week have created a lot of controversy. But more controversy than what is necessary perhaps, I must say.

Before explaining why, first let me make clear where I stand on this matter. As I explain in my book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” I am a defender of “the freedom to sin.” What some people consider as sin, in other words, should not be banned by laws, unless the sins are also worthy of being objective crimes, with clear harm to others.

Therefore, I would be categorically against any prohibition of alcohol or many other things that Turkey’s hardcore conservatives might consider as “immoral.” (Hence I found the warning in an Ankara metro that passengers should “behave morally” intrusive and disturbing.)

Yet when it comes to alcohol, some regulation is a must for the sake of public health, safety and order. That is why nowhere on earth are you allowed to drink and drive, risking the life of not just yourself but also others. That is why “public intoxication” is illegal in the United States, and that you cannot walk around with booze in your hand and even appear publicly drunk.

In this regard, almost all of the new regulations that the AKP brought on alcohol have rational reasons, and hence are found in some democratic Western countries as well. The rule that no bar should be allowed near schools or sanctuaries, for example, is common in the United States. In the EU, a third of all member states have limitations on the hours of alcohol sale, just like the AKP just brought in. In a similar vein, five EU member states have a complete ban on alcohol advertising on TV, just like the AKP just imposed.

It is also quite ironic that Istanbul’s Kadıköy municipality, run by the all secular main opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), had instituted similar regulations just two months ago. Nobody complained about “shariah” then.

Some of those who criticize the new regulations acknowledge these parallels, but remind us that Turkey’s alcohol consumption is way below the European average. They are certainly right about that. But the AKP has the right to argue that it wants to prevent widespread alcoholism before it becomes an issue. This is, after all, a proudly “conservative” government.

Yet while the AKP has the right to promote conservative values within the limits of liberal democracy, it certainly does not have the right to impose them on the whole nation with authoritarian means. Here, what really does not help is Erdoğan’s reckless conservative populism, which declares “a national beverage” (the non-alcoholic ayran, for sure), and promises “religious generations.” There are also badly bigoted people in his party, such as Ankara provincial board member Mahmut Macit, whose recent tweets against atheists clearly constitute hate speech.

If you ask me what I think of the AKP by looking at all this - not just alcohol regulations but everything - my answer would be neither black nor white, but grey. The AKP obviously has become less liberal as it gained more power, due to no hidden agenda but mere politics. Yet still, it keeps on being the best hope in the whole Muslim world for the reconciliation of Islam, democracy and freedom. Plus, it still is better than any alternative in Turkey. Hence, I believe, it deserves criticism but not condemnation, encouragement but not abandonment.