It looks increasingly as if the forthcoming process of drafting a new constitution will be dominated, initially at any rate, by the headscarf question. On the government side, a series of comments, from prime minister Erdoğan and those around him, give the impression that the core objective is a reversal of current restrictions on women who wear a headscarf.
It’s pretty much inconceivable that any new draft constitution won’t facilitate such a reversal, so putting down these kinds of markers is a bit superfluous—a matter of positioning or presentation rather than of substance. This doesn’t augur well. Even with the best will in the world on all sides, it will be extremely difficult to draft a constitution with support and legitimacy across Turkey’s various divides. If the government’s view is that this isn’t about the full constitutional package, but about securing the outcome it wants on its hot-button issue, then it’s game over before the drafting has begun.
Of course, it’s not just the headscarf that divides Turks. To take an example that has been in the news, so too does alcohol, which shows signs of evolving into another important barometer of the relative power of Turkey’s religious and secular camps.
The recent Tophane gallery attack intensified fears among some that a crackdown on alcohol (and, more pointedly, on those who drink it) is under way and gathering force. These are not new concerns. In 2008, Prof Binnaz Toprak led a research project which reported that “neighbourhood pressure” was being allowed to impose conservative and/or religious norms on the country. Pressure relating to alcohol consumption was one of those highlighted.
More recently, in May this year Sonar Çağaptay (one of the government’s most ardent critics) outlined various anti-alcohol administrative and tax changes that have been introduced since 2002, when the AKP came to power. He argues that these amount to a programme of social engineering aimed at limiting individuals’ rights to choose how they live their lives.