Turks increasingly divided on alcohol restrictions

This is a re-posting of an article by Medina Spiodic, an undergraduate and future REEEC student, who spent part of her summer in Istanbul working for the newspaper Today’s Zaman.  To see the original article, follow this link – Turks increasingly divided on alcohol restrictions.

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Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation with a secular constitution. Critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) say it is responsible for religiously-motivated regulations taking root in Turkey. Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol. In response to the alcohol bill, Leyla Levi, an İstanbul resident, predicts that what “lies ahead is more alienation and more polarization, not democratization. If this is an attempt to make certain groups feel silenced and robbed of their agency, my hope is that it will prove useless”.

The government response to such criticisms is that implementing restrictive alcohol policies shields the youth of Turkey from the ills and dangers of alcohol. Since the main justification of the bill is youth protection, those most affected by the law should primarily be young people. However, the reality presents a different scenario, wherein those most affected are secular groups and tourists. Mazhar Bağlı, Central Decision and Administration Board (MKYK) member of the ruling AK Party and a professor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University, stated that alcohol use is thought to be a “fundamental ritual of modernization” only in third world countries and that it is not right to evaluate drinking alcohol as a reflection of a reaction against a religious belief, referring to the fact that the debate is drifting toward a more ideological discussion. There are certain restrictions and regulations all across the world regarding the use of alcohol, Bağlı said, adding that it is becoming hard to enforce restrictions and regulations because of the ideological meaning people attach to drinking alcohol. Bağlı also stated that the “government’s alcohol law is absolutely limited to regulating the promotion and spread of alcohol. The regulation is aimed at regulating and restricting the use of alcohol, which destroys the “will of individuals,” he said.

The ruling party was targeted by critics when it came into power in 2002 for some of the reforms it proposed such as the law on adultery (which was later withdrawn). But charges against the government for promoting an Islamic agenda have ebbed in recent years as other concerns surfaced regarding government policies increasingly restricting some freedoms. Esra İpek Uçar, a columnist with the Bugün daily, argues that there is a reason why alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs are being described as “harmful habits.” “In legal and public regulations, the issue is not really about a couple cigarettes, a handful of drugs or a drink. The goal is to reduce to a minimum the physical and societal problems resulting from lengthy and excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol,” she said. Esra focuses more on the limits and boundaries of these “bad habits” which are more complicated than most think because they can lead to more serious problems.

Observers, however, believe that if the government’s purpose was to protect the youth, as they claim, then there could be many alternative solutions that don’t require the restriction of freedom. They point to regulation and stricter enforcement of a national drinking age as an effective way to ensure the safety of youth by restricting access to alcohol to an age where it can be responsibly handled. In the US, the sale and consumption of alcohol to and by minors is strictly enforced with fines among other penalties, but they educate those that have committed an alcohol-related offense. Experts believe that better education on the dangers involved with alcohol consumption would help address the issue.

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