Dov Friedman needs no introduction to O&Z readers anymore, and his latest post touches on a larger issue that I have been writing and debating about for some time. I have long contended that the AKP is not an Islamist party, but rather a socially conservative party run by Islamists, but there are some recent signs that perhaps I need to reassess my thinking. Last week, Steven Cook detailed ways in which the AKP is in his view gradually Islamizing political and social institutions, and yesterday brought the news that there is a draft bill curtailing the consumption and advertisement of alcohol that is making its way through the Turkish parliament. It is an open question whether this is part of an AKP project to first transform society and then bring Turkey’s laws in line with ascendant religious and/or conservative attitudes, or whether this bill is typical AKP electioneering that won’t ever actually become law, but irrespective of which of these two options is closer to the truth, it feeds into a much broader debate about the AKP’s direction and motivations. Dov has done yeoman’s work in figuring out exactly how the bill would affect things in the heart of Istanbul were it to become law, so read ahead for some serious quality analysis and visual representation:
Yesterday, a Turkish parliamentary commission passed a controversial law related to the sale, advertisement, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. If the bill is made law, consumption in outdoor areas will be restricted to those businesses holding tourist licenses, advertisement will be largely banned, and alcohol products must bear warnings equivalent to those that grace the packages of tobacco products.
The new—and controversial—regulations regarding the sale of alcohol have received the most attention. If passed and enforced, new liquor licenses will not be issues to establishments within 100 meters of a mosque or “educational institution”. Originally, the law sought to proscribe sales at all establishments within those distances, but strong opposition helped grandfather in establishments already bearing licenses. The hazy meaning of “educational institution” also continues to be the source of both intense debate and nervous anticipation.
The law was conceived, drafted, and supported by members of the ruling AK Party. Irrespective of one’s feelings about the law, this should surprise no one. The AK Party trumpets its social conservatism, and efforts to circumscribe how alcohol is sold, marketed, and consumed are of a piece with the party’s ideology.
For alcohol purveyors and consumers, gut reactions to the law are decidedly negative. Knowing that, roughly, “a lot” of mosques and schools pervade Turkey’s cities and towns, their opposition is visceral—and understandable.
But what, exactly, would the effects of such a law look like? How much, and what areas, of the cities people live in would be affected? To begin to answer this question, I created a map that attempts to reflect the areas of Beyoğlu, Istanbul that would be affected. Beyoğlu—as anyone who has visited Istanbul knows—is one of the hearts of the city and a center of culture, food, and nightlife.
Thanks to the wonderful capabilities of Google Maps Engine, I have created a multi-layered map of central Beyoğlu. The map is meant to be illustrative, not executed with a surveyor’s precision. I estimated the 100-meter distances. I assumed that the alcohol-free zones were based on street access and not as the crow flies. The map only takes into account mosques and schools identified as such by the good folks at Google Maps. Finally, the map does not reflect where businesses might lose liquor licenses; it merely indicates where new licenses may not be forthcoming.
Personally, I am agnostic on the law. I am not Turkish, I do not vote in Turkey, and it is not my job to decide for Turkish society the extent to which the laws should reflect conservative or liberal social values. I do believe, however, that a clear visualization of what the law does, and does not, proscribe is helpful in debating its relative merits.
Indeed, the map has helped me form my own understanding of the law’s intended effect. Several notable areas of concentrated nightlife—including the Asmalı Mescit and Nevizade districts—are largely unscathed. I wonder if the law intends primarily to circumscribe nightlife and contain it to areas in which it already figures prominently, preventing its pervasive expansion throughout downtown.
Presently, the map may be viewed but not edited. Though if someone wanted to contribute—or improve upon, using techniques this neo-Luddite cannot fathom—to the expansion of the map to other areas of the city, I would be happy to share access.
Perhaps this map will contribute to a robust discussion and debate about the law’s precise aims and consequences—something that is too often lacking in Turkey’s present political discourse.