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June 05, 2012, Tuesday

Abortion of normal politics

Turkey’s thorny politics is again back to its routine: It presses the gas pedal when it actually needs to pull the brake. And vice versa.

The nausea it causes also blurs the magnificent prospects the country has before itself. Despite an impressive decade, particularly in economic performance, there is still an impression that those holding power either lack focus or self-confidence. Arrogance, insensitivity, aggression and intolerance are the ingredients that are, as it were, employed to hide them from public attention.

There are issues in this country that expose its fragility. The relations between men and women and the unbearable weight of women’s traditional responsibilities keep many urban women on the edge; they need to be comforted about the prospects of equality and the right to choose.

What the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been pushing on the agenda these days are issues that need to be settled by consensus or plebiscites: The abortion ban (or not) must definitely be linked to a consensus. The mosque on Çamlıca Hill in İstanbul should be a subject for -- at least for all those living there -- a referendum.

When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threw the subject of banning tobacco smoking from the public domain, he knew he had the majority behind him. But he also knew his limitations, despite the fact that he deeply despises anyone lighting a cigarette in his vicinity. He could only define the areas to be banned and had to leave the freedom “to poison oneself” for all citizens. It would be against free market rule to ban the sales of tobacco products and against human rights to punish anyone consuming them. Freedom to be able to have access to those products and freedom to harm oneself are part of capitalism and must remain so.

Therefore, in principle, those who argue that abortion should remain a choice for women make sense because Turkey has been ruled by a free market for ages, and it was also one of the first countries in Europe that granted its women the right to vote. Together, they mean that people here have experienced the sweet taste of freedom and won’t give in to a total ban that easily.

From a purely business perspective, banning abortion does not make sense either: It will not deter women from doing so; and there will soon be “abortion tourism” tours to North Cyprus, for instance, or Western Thrace in Greece. This will also mean a money outflow and higher health risks.

As with the abortion issue, the hastily injected project of the mosque on Çamlıca Hill is another example of arbitrary behavior. Whatever big project in İstanbul may be presented, it is primarily the “İstanbulites” who must debate, argue, discuss -- and agree. The so-called “third bridge over the Bosporus” was an example of unilateral politics, and now with the directive-like announcement of the Çamlıca Hill project, many see the anti-democratic side of the AKP.

Would it be better perhaps if a Corcovado-type (Rio de Janeiro) statue symbolizing the great metropolis of Istanbul is erected on the hill? Or a huge park, with a single TV tower, where people can lunch and dine?

I recently met a friend, a profoundly pious businessmen, who told me, “I would be happy with a mosque on that hill, but this city belongs not only to all its people but also is part of the world heritage,” he said, and added: “You know me, and my belief; but a mosque up there, however magnificent it may look, will be taken by me as a great disrespect for the most beautiful mosque in the world, located in this city for a long time, Sinan’s Süleymaniye.”

Here we go. The real issue, concealed in the hazy politics of Turkey these days is this: The more the AKP stays away from the real agenda -- such as human rights, freedom, the Kurdish problem, the constitution, civilian control over the military, etc. -- and the deeper it pushes the items that absolutely have no urgency -- such as abortion or a huge mosque on Çamlıca Hill, the more divisive of the society it risks becoming.

One can easily detect the changing mood and growing disappointment in many opinion columns in this paper, and it is no surprise. The reason simply is the following: Power and populism have together been very harmful to this country, causing pain and mistrust for its people. It is therefore a righteous call for a sober politics; not the one subjected to undue abortion.

Previous articles of the columnist