As Turkey enters its longest COVID-19 lockdown yet (18 days) Istanbul’s markets and liquor stores have run out of alcohol.
Most alcoholic beverages were already sold out at my local market only hours after people realized they will not be able to purchase booze during the lockdown. As I filled my cart with a plethora of wines, one woman remarked, “Even people who don’t drink during Ramadan are buying alcohol. This is ridiculous!” When I asked the cashier if he thought they could keep up with pre-lockdown demand, he grinned and said, “I hope so!”
The alcohol-ban news spread on Tuesday, after a Presidential reporter tweeted that alcohol sales would be forbidden during the lockdown and the interior ministry later confirmed the ban. However, as legal experts have pointed out, this practice is illegal.
Unfortunately, such illegal practices and arbitrary rulings are so common in Turkey that no one was taken aback. In fact, for months there has been a ban on weekend alcohol sales. So far, nobody has made a big deal of it. During weekdays, the lockdown has been starting at 9 PM, but during Ramadan it was moved up to 7 PM, meaning all markets had to close at 6 PM.
Islamist and pro-government media have been giving examples of similar bans in countries like France and Sweden. They screenshot headlines saying, “alcohol ban in Sweden” and say, “See! Even the Europeans are banning alcohol for public good.” Which is, of course, not the truth.
The hypocrisy is nauseating. High taxes on alcohol are already a problem. BBC Türkçe reported that in 2020, the total amount of taxes on alcohol and cigarettes amounted to 92.2 billion Turkish liras.
This why in past years, many Turks have started to make their own alcohol at home. Additionally, bar owners trying to avoid such taxes have started to produce low quality alcohol, which, in some cases, has resulted in deaths. According to Anadolu Agency, between Oct. 9 – Dec. 16, 2020, 92 people died of methyl alcohol poisoning.
In the suburbs and in Anatolian small cities, ‘neighborhood repression’ is high and openly selling alcohol has become a problem. Under the 19-year AKP rule, alcohol sales became a no-no during Ramadan.
Secular or pious, the majority of Turkish people do not consume alcohol. Foreigners usually do not understand this distinction. In fact, many secular people fast during Ramadan, or try to reduce or quit alcohol during the holy month. Some people who consider themselves pious may also consume alcohol, usually secretly.
It seems that President Erdoğan, a fierce enemy of alcohol, knows this and is once more using COVID-19 restrictions to implement his social engineering desires: ‘His people’ shouldn’t smoke or drink, and the rest (secular people) can go to hell.
Erdoğan does not openly campaign against alcohol -- not now at least. But pro-Islamist voices have been articulating such thoughts for him. Recently, the Turkish Religious Foundation, an association tied to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), proposed that cigarettes should be banned during the lockdown.
A Yeni Akit daily editor wrote a piece with the headline “We are fighting for our lives, they are fighting for alcohol.” He said that alcohol is not an imperative need, saying, “You won’t die if you don’t drink for 17-days. It’s unhealthy and they should use this occasion to get rid of this dangerous habit.”
I think this is Erdoğan’s basic mindset as well: He wants to impose an alcohol ban. In his calculating manner, he made alcohol consumption a luxury for secular people, and demonized it among conservatives.
When it comes to religious rights, the ruling AKP and MHP only refer to Sunni Muslims. Other religious groups, secular people, and nonbelievers simply should not exist in their eyes. Secularism in their minds is a Western invention which does not fit with Islam.
This way of thinking is leading us down a very dangerous path:
You won’t die if you wear a headscarf…
You won’t die if you don’t drink alcohol at all…
You won’t die if you don’t say this word…
You won’t die if you comply...