The good news about Turkish justice is that despite 15 years of not-so-creeping Islamization, court verdicts do not yet sentence wrongdoers to public lashing, stoning, amputations or public hangings in main city squares. The bad news about the Turkish justice system is that it is increasingly religiously ideological, reminiscent of the Ottoman justice system where non-Muslims were legally inferior to the Muslims and were, in principle, expected to be constantly reminded of their inferiority to the dominant community through restrictions and markers.
In 21st century Turkey, fortunately, there are not [yet] markers revealing non-Muslim citizens or laws discriminating against non-Muslims. Nevertheless, with or without markers, there is positive discrimination in favor of pious Muslims and against the others. Turkish law enforcement is embarrassingly pro-pious Sunni Muslim.
Turkey, nominally, is not a Sharia state. But it is becoming one on a de facto basis.
In January, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government issued a decree stipulating that law enforcement officials, including security officials, police and coast guard officers, could lose their jobs if they marry a “known adulterer.”
The legislation reads that law enforcement officials cannot “intentionally marry a person who is known to be impure, or to stay in a marriage, or continue to live with such a person.” The offense is punishable by up to 24 months’ suspension from work. In addition, the decree covers stricter rules against drinking, gambling, the vague and emphatic “going to places that would ruin your reputation,” as well as “excessive spending,” all while off duty.
What do those new offenses have in common? Adultery, impurity, drinking, gambling and excessive spending? They are all sins mentioned in the holy book of Islam.
This is not only problematic from the viewpoint of modern state and public administration, but also from a technical point of view. When the offense is defined in such vague and holy scriptural language, judgment will inevitably become arbitrary. Who is a “known adulterer,” for instance? Who is a person “known to be impure?” How will the Turkish state define “purity” or “a pure person?” How would an officer know beforehand that a place he goes for the first time will “ruin his reputation?” And what percentage of one’s salary will mean “excessive spending?”
Last year a Turkish man stood trial for seriously injuring [with the intention to kill, according to the indictment] his ex-wife by stabbing her with a screwdriver. The court sentenced the man to an aggravated life sentence. The judges then gave the defendant a shocking reduction: Just 11 years in jail instead of life. Why the generosity? Because the court found out that the victim had the habit of going out with her “divorced lady friends and drank alcohol.” In other words, the Turkish court ruled that the woman had half-deserved to be murdered because of that.
In April, an apparently conservative Turk addressed Selina Dogan, a Turkish-Armenian opposition MP, with the words: “You are all whores … You are the servants of Byzantium.” Dogan sued the man for hate-speech and insult. A Turkish court admitted that the content shared in social media indeed was insulting but acquitted the defendant. Dogan said: “This [ruling] is a free pass for hate speech”.
More recently, Nurettin Yildiz, a columnist for the Islamist Milli Gazete, declared that in Islam it was permissible for children at the age of six to get married. Normally one would expect psychiatric examination for the man or prosecution for pedophilia. But Turkish justice can sometimes be generously tolerant to freedom of speech — as long as the content is Islamist. A prosecutor, citing freedom of expression, dropped charges against Yildiz.
Meanwhile, a secular news site, Odatv, outraged by Yildiz’s statement, placed the man in the news with the headline: “Religious Fanatics Perverting.” This time, the prosecution was not as generous as in the case of Yildiz. A prosecutor is now demanding up to 28 months in jail for Baris Terkoglu, editor of Odatv, for insulting Yildiz. Defending the marriage of six-year-olds is fine, but calling that a perversion is an offense punishable by jail.
One important difference between a modern state and a religion-based state is that the former punishes offenses harmful to the public interest while the latter tends to punish the “sin”. Turkey, once a semi-modern state, is now drifting fast into the Sharia order — without the name Sharia.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum