In 1996, Necmettin Erbakan became modern Turkey’s first conservative Islamic prime minister and started a revolution that is still changing the face of modern Turkey. The founder of Turkey’s Islamic political movement died Sunday at the age of 84. Erbakan was also the mentor of the ruling AKP leadership, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul — both of whom have in the past been active members of Erbakan’s political parties, filling mayoral, ministerial, and parliamentary posts.
The Islamization of the Turkish society is now visible at all levels. In a television interview in 2007, for instance, Erbakan declared that the Jews are “bacteria” and “disease.” But a more mundane example can be found in the Islamists’ campaign against alcohol. A Turkish glass of wine is one of the most expensive in the world. And it’s not because of the special quality of the wines, but because Erdogan’s government since 2002 has increased the price of alcohol of 737 percent. Thousands of people recently took the streets of Turkey to protest Erdogan’s moral policy against alcohol. “No to fascism,” protesters shouted as others clinked glasses made of lightbulbs — the symbol of the ruling Justice and Development Party. In the last draconian sting, the tax on alcoholic beverages was raised from 25.1 to 30 percent. Before the advent of Erdogan, the tax was steady at 18 percent.
Between 2009 and 2010, the Turkish tax on beer increased by 45 percent. The cost of raki, the aniseed-flavored Turkish drink par excellence, has quadrupled. According to secular observers, this is another demonstration of the Islamist agenda of Mr. Erdogan. Freedom to drink alcohol — in keeping with the legacy of Ataturk, who downed liberal amounts of raki — is embedded in the Turkish vision of a modern and Western society. Which may be why when Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Tehran, the first thing he did was to destroy the bottles of wines in the foreign embassies.
Erdogan always had a problem with alcohol, ever since he was mayor of Istanbul and banned it from municipality-run restaurants. In 2008, the Erdogan government forced Turkish consumers to make an uneasy choice: buy the whole bottle (too expensive for the Turkish pockets) or decide in favor of a soft drink.
Islamization also has struck cigarettes, another habit deeply rooted in the Turkish society. The Islamists in Turkey have made no secret of hating Ataturk, the “apostate” and libertine who defeated the religious brotherhoods, who loved to dance, who attended beautiful women, who abolished the polygamy, who adopted the Gregorian calendar, and who swept away the caliphate, installing in its place a Western constitution. Among the worst things they can do to his legacy, it appears, is to label Ataturk a “drunk” who died of cirrhosis of the liver.
It seems that his legacy of Westernization may finally die of abstemiousness.