Erdoğan’s midnight music ban: a new step toward Islamizing Turkey?

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Alin Ozinian

Turkey lifted nearly all COVID-19 measures on July 1, but a ban on live music after midnight remains in effect, leading to anger and resentment among Turkey’s musicians and raising further concerns about tacit efforts by the country’s ruling party to meddle in people’s lifestyles.

Turkey was outraged at the ban and widely interpreted it as an attempt by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to increase its grip on people’s lives.

Erdoğan presented the new restriction while announcing the elimination of all other COVID-19 measures. “We’re extending the restriction on live music after midnight. Excuse me, but nobody has the right to disturb anyone at night,” he explained as the reason for the ban.

Erdoğan’s announcement sparked a backlash on social media with the “We don’t excuse you” (#kusurabakıyoruz) hashtag, which became a trending topic on Twitter, with more than 250,000 tweets in Turkey and world lists.

A few Twitter users posted messages urging tourists to stay away from the country, even suggesting that they visit Mediterranean rival Greece instead.

Eser Karakaş, an adjunct professor at the University of Strasbourg, where he teaches law and economics, thinks the indoor music ban is completely absurd and has no basis in law.

“If you go to a bar, drink a bottle of whiskey and walk home without creating a commotion, your action is beyond the scope of the law. However, if you try to drive after a bottle of whiskey – even you don’t have an accident, the law and prohibition come into play as you produce the potential to harm third parties. The debate is not about the possible potential harm but something else in Turkey now,” Karakaş told Turkish Minute.

Opposition politicians, musicians and thousands of social media users argued that prohibiting live and recorded music in restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and similar venues after midnight has nothing to do with the fight against COVID-19 but is an ideological attempt by Erdoğan to create a more conservative social order by interfering in citizens’ lifestyles.

According to Karakaş, democratic constitutional states should deal with a music ban within the framework of the law.

“The production of music should not violate people’s fundamental rights and disturb the public peace during late night hours in open areas/outdoors. Public authorities can take action against the potential to produce discomfort, but I repeat, these indoor bans are completely absurd,” he said.

Many people saw the “music ban” as evidence that Erdoğan was seeking new ways to impose his Islamic values on the population. In November 2019 Erdoğan had declared his political mission as “raising devout Muslim generations.” However, Turkish pollster Konda found that young people were less likely than the broader population to identify themselves as “religious conservatives” in 2019.

Musician and singer Ayşe Kara (her name has been changed for purposes of anonymity), who has been unemployed for 17 months, thinks the Turkish government should financially support musicians but instead of support they just imposed new prohibitions.

“We musicians thought that during the post-pandemic period there would be a recovery of the music industry backed by the government. We can’t survive this economic crisis without support,” Kara said during a phone interview.

According to Kara most musicians in Turkey are in a sticky situation. After Erdoğan’s most recent music restriction they really don’t know what to do.

“Some of our friends are in breadlines. Instead of thinking about us – offering us business opportunities or subsidizing us, they create new obstacles, I really can’t understand what they want to do to us,” she said.

In September 2020 Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ankara MP Gamze Taşcıer stated that hundreds of thousands of musicians had been unable to work during the pandemic, and according to her because of the high unemployment in the entertainment industry, nearly 100 musicians have committed suicide in Turkey since the government imposed restrictions.

Last week Turkish musicians took to social media to slam the ban as well as the president’s statement that music was essentially a disturbance. “We apologize to everyone for the disturbance we’ve caused over the years,” singer Cem Adrian and many other well-known stars tweeted.

Guitarist Mehmet Öz (his name has been changed for purposes of anonymity), who used to work at the same bar as Kara, believes that what is happening in Turkey is just ideological. According to him the government was taking advantage of pandemic measures and interfering in people’s lifestyles.

“This ban displays the government’s approach to culture, art and music, which isn’t a surprise to any of us. We didn’t discover Erdoğan with the pandemic. In recent years the AKP has shown us what kind of society they dream of. Erdoğan thinks that with his power he can dictate the ‘right lifestyle.’ Turkey doesn’t want to adopt his ideas and religious views. Turkey is a secular state and it will remain that way,” said Öz.

“From the very first day, we have said these are ideological bans. Erdoğan, if we’re going to talk about disturbances, the country is disturbed by you. What are you going to do about that?” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted on June 21.

Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun responded to the mass outrage by saying that anyone who criticized the midnight music ban was manipulating the narrative via “ideological misrepresentation.”

“Some people resorted to fraud and manipulation, saying that ‘music was banned’ instead of rejoicing about the new normalization in our nation,” Altun said on June 22.

According to Öz, the AKP’s “fight with music” shows that the government feels superior to the law.

“Erdoğan wants to show us he still has power and can do whatever he wants. On the other hand, they’re trying to make their Islamist voters happy by creating a religious Turkey,” he said.

Kara thinks Erdoğan doesn’t understand the younger generation and their needs but that he just gives orders.

“Erdoğan is no longer speaking like a politician, and he acts like a grandfather. When I listen to him, I feel like my conservative elder neighbor is giving me an old-fashioned piece of advice. Last time he said young people shouldn’t wait too long to get married, and then he described efforts to promote birth control as treason.”

On June 27 Erdoğan criticized “a trend among some Turks” of waiting until their 30s to get married. He has also called on women to have more children, saying it’s their “primary duty” as mothers.

There have been many attempts in recent years by Erdoğan’s government to restrict tobacco and alcohol sales. Smoking was prohibited in closed spaces in 2013, and large segments of society were outraged by the decision the same year to ban kiosks from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. Since then, the tax on alcohol has increased, and it has become increasingly difficult for stores and restaurants to get a liquor license.

In May Erdoğan’s AKP government decided to ban alcohol sales during a 17-day COVID-19 lockdown, angering secular Turks, who saw the bans as Erdoğan’s imposition of a religious lifestyle on all of society.

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