The government of Turkey, and in particular, its president, are frequently lambasted by opponents, at home and abroad, for being Islamic-based, authoritarian and dictatorial – so much so the accusations have become boring, even laughable to anyone with a knowledge of the wider world.
Islamic-based? Ninety-eight percent of Turkey’s population identify as Muslims in some form or another so it’s hardly surprising that a democratically-elected government would reflect this demographic. Who accuses United States’ administrations of being Christianic-based? It’s expected. All presidents kow-tow to the Pope of Rome, and the Big DT is currently risking the very fabric of NATO in defence of an evangelical “missionary”! Britain’s Tony Blair flew into the bosom of the Roman Catholic church as soon as he stopped being Prime Minister! Is there a double-standard here?
The AK Party government and the president have, since Day One, been accused of working to a hidden Islamic agenda. Cited as evidence are: relaxation of the ban on women wearing head-scarves; restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol; and the latest move to lift the ban on single-sex education.
Well, first of all, this government has held the reins of government in Turkey since 2003 – fifteen years! If they really planned to lead the country into a black night of Shariah fundamentalism, they are showing remarkable patience and stealth! Overtly religious parties contested elections for years in Turkey without ever collecting more than 20% of the vote. AK Party won and held the right to govern alone by virtue of appealing to a broad base of the electorate – something the so-called secular Kemalist parties had never managed to do. I might add that Turkey’s proportional representation electoral system is far more democratic and reflective of popular feeling than the systems in either Britain or the United States.
But what about alcohol, you ask. Aren’t they trying to ban it? Well, they are the government. If they wanted to ban it, they could and would, I guess. But they haven’t yet, in all those fifteen years. On the contrary, the range and variety of local and imported beers, wines and spirits available for purchase in bars, cafes, supermarkets and off-licences have expanded out of sight in those fifteen years. Revellers gather and imbibe freely in entertainment districts all over Istanbul and holiday resorts (and no doubt elsewhere, for all I know) – even in the holy fasting month of Ramazan! Picnickers lounge and socialise in parks along the Marmara coast, sipping their chardonnay etc without attracting the attention of any prohiibitionist authorities.
I must admit to being uncomfortable with the level of tax imposed on alcoholic beverages. There is a danger that, if drinks become too expensive for ordinary people, they may resort to manufacturing and consuming dangerous homemade products. But that’s another matter. It seems to be a worldwide trend to tax alcohol and tobacco products to finance health care services for the associated problems – nothing to do with religion.
And on the same theme, on a recent visit to Melbourne at the time of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament, I joined the crowd in Federation Square to watch action on the giant screen, and sip a cold beer in the summer heat, you might think . . . But no! Uniformed security guards were patrolling to ensure that the ban on alcohol was strictly enforced . . . in Australia!
OK, but what about this education business? Are they going to force kids to learn in gender-segregated schools? Surely that’s an infringement of civil liberties? At one time, many schools in Turkey, state and private, were gender-segregated. I don’t know which government changed that – but whoever it was, they removed an element of choice that many families consider important – and not just for religious reasons.
As I understand the government’s proposal, the intention is to return to a situation where families have the option of choosing to send their children to a school offering single-sex education – as they do in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and other countries where civil liberties are allegedly respected. I myself spent my five years of secondary schooling in a boys-only school, returning fifteen years later as a teacher. That school is one of NZ’s most popular and successful. Property prices in its zone are astronomical, and a place on its out-of-zone allocation is hotly contested. Not everyone in NZ loves it, but that too is another matter.
Meanwhile, another “journalist” has been arrested in Turkey. According to Hürriyet Daily News:
Turkish authorities have arrested an Austrian journalist and activist on suspicion of a terrorism-related offence, the leftwing website where he works said on Sept. 11.
Re:volt, which describes itself as a “radical left-wing” online magazine, said Max Zirngast had been arrested at his apartment in the Turkish capital Ankara on the morning of Sept. 11.
“We condemn this arrest in the strongest terms of course and call for his immediate release,” Re:volt said by email, confirming a statement on the arrest from rights group Reporters Without Borders. “Our writer, who has lived in Turkey for many years, is a passionate leftist activist and author who campaigns for freedom and democracy,” the German-language publication added.
“We expect Turkey to immediately explain what the journalist is accused of, and if that is not possible then to immediately release him,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters before a weekly cabinet meeting. Kurz’s government, a coalition of his conservatives and the anti-immigration Freedom Party, is opposed to Turkey joining the European Union and has called for accession talks to be broken off.
Well, it’s nice to see that “conservative, anti-immigration” Austrian government supporting a “radical left-wing” magazine and “passionate leftist activist reporter”. Strange bedfellows indeed. I’ve always felt that, when you’re attacked by extremists on the right and the left, your political position is probably well balanced.