Cause and effect

Many of us here in Turkey will continue to scrutinize the Justice and Development Party (AKP) policies as independent intellectuals, rigorously distinguishing right from wrong on the scales of fairness, conscience and universal principles of democracy.

Two quotes from Karl Popper must lead the way and keep the train of thought clean. “Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell,” he said. In another essay, his advice was for all of us bearing great responsibility as public observers: “In my view, aiming at simplicity and lucidity is a moral duty of all intellectuals: lack of clarity is a sin, and pretentiousness is a crime.”

Both apply a great deal in our troubling “Turkey watch” — a tough task for all.

Let us focus on the turbulence of the social fabric due to a series of events that have taken place recently. The “kissing ban” on public transportation, imposed by a municipality, is not only a simple ban. The moves to demolish a historic, iconic movie theater, and now a park, at the heart of İstanbul, are not just simple construction projects.

And, a hastily passed bill that restricts the advertising, sale and consumption of alcohol is not simply about health or public order. When put into a real context of politics, transition, normalization and reconciliation, they change meaning and become overloaded with huge significance beyond themselves, leading to mistrust and polarization.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday tried to defend the restrictive bill on alcohol, stating: “This law is not a ban, as some have been saying. It is not an interference in lifestyles either. Nobody should turn this alcohol regulation into a matter of identity.” He added in a yet another well-known coarse tone, “Those who want to drink can go home and do it there.”

Not surprisingly, social media, dominated by the urban youth, was buzzing with negative reactions, posting things like “Now the beans have been spilled,” etc.

Needless to say, the statement in defense of the bill was far from convincing since it was a blend of arguments — with more than just references to public health and traffic underlined by those linked with a lifestyle based on religious values. True, Erdoğan has a strong religious identity and is the leader of a conservative movement, yet he is also the “prime minister of all of Turkey” as he was keen on making clear after the national elections.

If you are an unchallenged, powerful statesman, you should be aware that whatever you say, and how and when you say it, has repercussions — and those may be for the good or bad of the nation you lead. If you lead a movement whose main suffering has been due to ruthless, paternalistic despotism over its lifestyle and manners, your plight should be to create lebensraum for those affected as well as others who suffered from the same tutelary “ancien regime.” Recently, moves by the government started to suggest otherwise, albeit they’ve only been small hints of change — yet, as history tells us, once you start experimenting with arbitrariness beyond the expectations of the masses, nobody can guarantee where you can stop.

That is why the silence of Erdoğan against the mob’s harassment of the kissing couples who protested peacefully against a ban, and his unconvincing arguments as to why an alcohol bill now, when it is (apart from the drunk driving) a non-issue, must be debated honestly, with the endgame kept in sight: Is Turkey missing its historic opportunity for a large consensus on peaceful coexistence and tolerance within?

The moral majority might be happy about these recent events, but all the data on the social fabric have taught us that Turkish society is sensitive about its own lifestyle, and has, in general, a liberal attitude to those who indulge in alcohol consumption.

Needless to say, the symbolism of the kissing ban is enough to offend much of the urban youth. Again, needless to say, the Alevis who do drink alcohol and constitute about 8 percent of society, as much as many of the Kurds and Turks who drink in the east and in the Thrace region, feel further alienated. People may resist the idea of having to “go home” to kiss and sip on a glass or two.

They want to embrace and taste freedom — as much of it as possible.