Creeping Islamization or pre-emptive politics: what's behind Turkey's 'booze ban'?

Published May 28th, 2013 - 08:55 GMT
Efes will no longer be able to advertise in Turkey under the 'booze law'
Efes will no longer be able to advertise in Turkey under the 'booze law'
With the new law, alcohol advertising campaigns such as promotions, sponsored activities, festivals and free giveaways have been prohibited. Retailers will no longer be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In addition all liquor bottles sold will have to display warning signs that indicate the harms of alcohol, similar to those found on cigarette packages.
In TV series, films and music videos, images that glorify the consumption of alcohol will not be allowed. Images of alcohol will be blurred, in the same way as cigarettes are being blurred already. 

Student dormitories, health institutions, sports clubs, all sorts of education institutions and gas stations will be banned from selling alcohol. Already acquired licenses to sell alcohol will remain intact. For new facilities to get a license, they must to be located outside the perimeter of 100 meters of educational and religious centers.

The new bill received mixed reactions throughout the country and internationally. The opposition in Turkey argues that these regulations aim to make Turkish society more “Islamist”.

Osman Coskunoglu, a former lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), tweeted:

"Step by step toward fundamentalist Islamization by the ruling party: Turkey's new booze law”

“This is not a struggle against the ills of alcohol but an attempt to re-design the society according to their beliefs and lifestyle,” Musa Çam, a deputy from the CHP said.

The criticism is constructed in a way that discusses the regulations as being an attempt of Islamization of Turkey. This kind of labeling creates the notion that the regulations are affiliated with so-called Islamist extremism rather than a conservative ideology of a government that is religiously motivated. When a certain government in the west or the US promotes a law that is religiously motivated about abortion, alcohol or gay marriage, the words used are conservative rather than “religious” or “Christian.”

There is nothing wrong with a government that has a conservative ideology and that is in fact elected by the people of the country. Turkey is not Saudi Arabia where the government consists of a royal family and a king, who has never been elected and who introduce certain laws that they see fit without paying the least attention to the population’s needs or preferences.

Also, these restrictions, as the opposition suggests, do not actually limit people’s freedom of choice. This is not a ban on alcohol; it is a regulation for the sales and advertising of alcohol. People can still buy alcohol from retailers at anytime between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and it is readily available in bars, nightclubs, hotels and restaurants without any time restriction. The biggest loser in all of this is the alcohol producer who will no longer be able to promote or sell their products as easy in Turkey.

Government officials argued that the regulations they have proposed are already being implemented in the west, in countries like Sweden, Norway and Finland. A number of US states also have similar regulations. The opposition, on the other hand, argues that the problems that the west suffers from are nonexistent in Turkey and thus such restrictions are irrelevant. Does this mean that a government should wait until the problems appear and then act on it? Whether the problem exists or not should not be a factor in implementing a law. 

In addition, Turkey is moving towards a lifestyle that resembles the western culture, actually that was the whole point of the secular movement; to get Turkey to become more “western.” That means the country might at some point have to deal with the problems the west is facing now.

Foreign companies that might have never considered Turkey for investment 10 years ago are now rushing to acquire successful Turkish companies. Representatives of Diageo, one of the world's leading spirits company, which acquired Mey İçki for $2.1 billion in 2011, owns the country's leading raki brand said on May 25:

“The alcohol restrictions adopted by the Turkish Parliament May 24 will damage Turkey's image as a progressive and commercial country.”

This is a company that has made a huge investment in Turkey and is planning to recover their $2.1 billion and make double that in profit.The fact that the annual alcohol consumption in Turkey was 1.5 liters per capita in 2010 means that there is a vast potential consumer base in Turkey that a company like Diageo could target and benefit from.

A company of such financial capability does not make such an investment without believing that the “Muslim culture” in Turkey will not stand between them and their profits. 

What does that mean for Turkey?

It means that Turkey is as interesting for those companies as the western countries once were. In those countries, societies did not remain stagnant in the face of powerful corporations, who came to increase their profits, but were actually transformed because of them. Those companies target the young emerging generation in a certain market in order to increase sales and profits. And the priority of billion-dollar companies is profit and not the well being of society. Therefore, in a fast growing country like Turkey, the young generation who strives to be modern and western and who is quite familiar with the west through the media will ultimately be affected by those companies’ effective advertising strategies. 

Turkey is not immune to the problems that have emerged in the west, as a matter of fact it is closer to them than ever. The west and the US started out as conservative societies that opposed gay marriage and abortion and believed firmly in the Church. But a transformation took place; yet these modern and developed entities continue to suffer from social problems. That is the path Turkey is taking. Thus, the Turkish government should be pro-active and act responsibly and not wait for the problems - others have already experienced - to actually arise.

By Mohamed Hemish

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