Prime Minister Erdogan has raised hackles again with a recent speech in which he denounced male and female university students living cheek to jowl (and implying proximity of other body parts) in university dormitories. He followed up by denouncing unmarried men and women shacking up together off-campus as well. Disgusting. The laws should be changed to no longer allow this, he continued. What “this” is remains ill-defined and seems to preclude massive intrusions into citizens’ personal lives. Will it make Turkey a state effectively operating on the basis of religious law, which injects community norms into the most intimate spheres, rather than a country governed by law rooted in individual rights that protects the personal sphere? Judging by the uproar, many seem to think so.
What bothers me mightily is the reason trotted out for this and other similar government pronouncements: “We have received complaints about….” I wrote about this increasing symbiosis between neighborly snitching and government surveillance and control here recently. This is another example (complaints about men and women in the dorms; therefore the government must act to restrict). According to the news, about 150 apart hotels in the Karakoy, Galata and Beyoglu areas were closed down by the municipalities, their furnishings (and tourist inhabitants’ belongings) thrown into the street. Why? Complaints have been received… Unrelated men and women staying in rooms together, rooms rented by the day, even by the hour, who knows what goes on in there. And then there are the complaints by hotels about the competition. Apart hotels in Istanbul have a capacity of 20,000 and, the standard hotels say, do not fulfill the requirements for safety etc that they must comply with. Some are unlicensed (the licenses are hard to get, according to the news article).
This is the problem with policy made on the basis of snitching: motives vary and may be self-serving, unjust and plain dirty. But if the snitching fits the government’s purpose, then it can claim “The citizens want…”. A law and order state, however, places systematic safeguards between the desires of some citizens and the rights of others. AKP has always claimed to run a ‘law and order’ state, but seems to have dropped orderly law for order based on opinion, rather than rights. Law is made handmaiden to this partisan order.