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No more ads? …

16 Temmuz 2013 , Salı 17:13
No more ads? …
melis.sunay@halklailiskiler.com

Advertisements are designed to catch a person’s attention and create memorable impressions almost at the blink of an eye.  Of course, the trick for agencies is to capture target audiences interests’ in the most effective way in their ads, billboards, magazines and alike, in order to make a strong and lasting impact... This lasting impact wasn’t all that coveted by the current AKP (Justice and Development Party) administration in Turkey when it came to the alcoholic beverages sector, for thanks to a bill passed in May, all sorts of ads and promotions are completely prohibited along with additional ‘restrictions’ for the sector now.

I should admit that this new legislation restraining the sale of alcoholic beverages wasn’t all that alarming for me initially, having grown up in a ‘dry county’ in the US, basically believing that it wouldn’t have a major impact on a country where 83 percent of the population maintain that they do not consume alcohol to begin with.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t exactly sure as to why it included such strong clauses as making it more difficult to obtain a license to sell alcohol, bringing stricter penalties for drunk driving, and restricting the sale at certain hours.  

Initial defense methods claiming that such rules existed throughout the world for public protection didn’t convince anyone in the case of Turkey since alcohol consumption is not a social or a health hazard for the country.   

Yet, ‘lo and behold’, Prime Minister Erdogan revealing this decision as being religiously motivated soon after the passing of the legislation, once again proved to me and all secularists alike that the government’s definition of moderate Islam is not compatible with my definition of democracy.  It didn’t take Prime Minister Erdogan long before he openly declared that this alcohol ban was a religious requirement and that he wanted to reshape public life according to religious strictures.  He went further and openly called "anti-religious” anyone who opposed such bans on the basis of personal rights and freedoms. 

Such restrictions are quite distressing, having been raised on democratic ideals for this nation struggling with liberties of all kinds for all citizens alike as far back as I can remember.  Thus, alcohol consumption could be regulated for secular reasons but not for religious ones in a country that claims to be a democratic and Turkey has long been a secular nation whose secularism has been protected by its democratic constitution for generations. 

The current prime minister and his supporters are eager to change this constitution to fulfill their own religious-based desires.  The gradual Islamisizing of political and social institutions is intervening in the lifestyle of individuals, which is in clear violation of rights and freedoms of all Turkish citizens. 

Undermining the separation of state and religion by no means is democratic as we all know. Yet, since coming to power in 2002, the current AKP government has taken various measures against alcohol. As mentioned above, permitted blood alcohol level for drivers is another clause in the legislation, being lowered from 0.1 to 0.05 (the international norm being 0.08).  So what happens to the country’s image and the sector itself, one may ask, especially since alcohol has never caused a hindrance at home or on the roads. Turkey’s drunk driving is responsible for less than 1.5 percent of accidents in which death or injury is involved; reckless driving being the leading cause.

Leading wine, beer and rakı producers are angered and disappointed by the continuous attack from all directions, this legislation serving as the icing on the current taxes of more than 100 percent on the sale of alcoholic beverages - among the world’s highest.  What is to happen to production and exports, and all who earn their living through this sector?  If the country isn’t able to use its geographical and cultural distinctiveness in displaying such beverages, how is it to compete in the global markets?  Should we allow the country’s cultural identity to crumble, dismissing its love for enjoying its rakı with fresh seafood, and its local cheeses with its Anatolian wines?

I know that the sector will face irreparable damage due to this legislation, which however, will not stop those who want to drink from doing so -- if they can afford to, of course.  A blow to this sector will most definitely have an impact on the entire economy, which seems to have escaped the administration’s attention among other things.

Interfering in people’s lifestyles through laws based on religion, contradicts secularism in a multi-cultural and multi-religious country as Turkey, where diversity, personal rights and freedoms which include religion, are the leading tenets preserving its strength. Turning one against another will certainly bring an end to various ideologies, if not administrations in the long run.

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