Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where There's No Smoke, There's Fire

This past Sunday was a fairly historic day for Turkey. Despite centuries of being known as a land of smokers, Turkey is now officially smoke free, after a new law banning smoking inside restaurants, cafes and other public places went into effect. (Bianet has a good rundown of the new law's extent.) But how to view the new ban? A question of public health? An issue that touches on individual freedom? If only. With the political polarization in Turkey continuing to grow, the new smoking ban is clearly about something much more sinister, at least according to some of Turkey's newspaper columnists.

In the Hurriyet Daily News, Yusuf Kanli says the new smoking ban (a "pogrom," as he calls it) is yet another indication of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attempt to fashion himself as a "neo-Sultan" and of his government's desire to create smoke- and drink-free "red zones" in Turkey's cities. From Kanli's piece:
Apparently, the “cloudless air space” pogrom of smokers was a “personal issue” for Prime Minister Erdoğan. After all it is an issue very much related to communal health. Yet, was it really a must to have such a strict and wholesome smoking ban? Could not Turkey follow the examples of Spain, Greece or Germany where smokers were given some rights, though very much restricted? But, the Sultan Recep the First wanted it so. Now, some allegiant media outlets are exploding in anger because the across the board smoking ban was likened in some Western media outlets as the success of Murat the Fourth, the Ottoman sultan who had banned alcohol, coffee and smoking as part of an effort to prevent people coming together and criticizing the edicts of his highness. Without thinking for one second why those Western media outlets were drawing such a comparison between Erdoğan and Murat the Fourth, the allegiant media has started complaining again of “Western hypocrisy....”

....What is indeed the intention of the government of Sultan Recep the First? Is it....aimed at confining Turks to their homes? Are we leaving through a process of advancing red zones in the cities? Or, is it as Le Monde or some other Western media outlets implied in their reports, an effort by the neo-sultan in the footprints of Murat the Fourth aimed at avoiding Turks coming together and criticizing his all benevolent and all capable government?
You can read the full column here.

Meanwhile, over at Today's Zaman, the HDN's pro-government rival, columnist Mumtazer Turkone sees through the smoke to find, I kid you not, the connection between those who defend the right to light up and the Ergenekon coup plot case. Writes Turkone:
There's no difference between the defense of the freedom to smoke cigarettes and the support of the Ergenekon terrorist organization in the name of the nation-state's interest. Neither of these are freedoms because both of them constitute major attacks upon the most basic right, the right to life. There is no such right as “the right to smoke....”

....There's no difference between saying that the acts committed by Ergenekon were for the good of the state and the people and listing the benefits of cigarettes. Both are harmful, very harmful....

....A society that has long been suffocated by cigarette smoke is finally being freed. It's akin to the freeing of a society unable to exhibit any of its talents under the military tutelage, imprisoned by a machine that's harmful to the intellect. The crises in Turkey's military-civilian relations are the forerunners of a freer and more diverse society -- just as the ban which began yesterday is the start of a healthier and more civilized society....

....This could be a good opportunity to try to see cigarettes in the same light as Ergenekon's weapons, and to get rid of them for good.
You can read the full (and strangely fascinating) column here.

It looks like even this new smoking ban will be another opportunity for Turkey's battling power centers to go at it. There may be less cigarette smoke floating around in Turkey now, but the air is certainly not any clearer.

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