Photo: Alex Kolomoiski
Yosef Paritzky
Photo: Alex Kolomoiski

Seculars losing culture war

Israelis should learn from Turks how to counter fundamentalist religious coercion

The road from downtown Istanbul to the airport is dotted with billboards. One can debate their quality, or the need for such billboards at such crowded roads, but it appears that there is no arguing one thing: These are not "modest" ads. They feature barebacked women, as well as women who wear clothes that reveal more than they hide. On one billboard, we see a woman with a generous cleavage standing near a man wearing a fine suit.


Why am I talking about Turkey? Because it's a country where most citizens are devout Muslims and where the ruling party is an Islamic one. Many women on the streets wear scarves and long dresses, and still, the billboards are no different than those found in Western Europe. I assume that for a significant part of the Turkish population, and possibly even most of it, such ads are distributing at the very least, and possibly even infuriating. And yet, there are no outcries and life goes on.


Meanwhile, here, in the State of Israel, which calls itself a democratic country, advertisers reached a shameful and disgraceful understanding with fundamentalist Jewish organizations (there is no other name for them) whereby these groups would serve as a sort of censor that would decide which billboards will be allowed and which ones will not. This group will decide for me and for you what we can see and what we cannot see.


What is the reason for this difference? Well, the difference between us and Turkey is not that fundamentalists there are different than their counterparts in the Holy Land. Both here and there, yesterday's forces of darkness wish to impose their authority. The difference is that there, as opposed to here, State institutions prevent this kind of control. Mostly, there, as opposed to here, the free, secular, educated and progressive public stands up for its rights and is unwilling to renounce even an iota.


The genius of the founder of the new Turkish nation, Ataturk, was the complete separation of religion and State and the uprooting of any religious character from government institutions. As noted, most citizens are devout Muslims, and there are numerous mosques in Turkey. Yet public officials, on the job, are not allowed to wear any religious clothing or don any religious accessories. Discrimination or benefits based on faith are completely forbidden. This separation is safeguarded by two powerful bodies: The courts and the army.


Again, we shall note that we are talking about a Muslim country and Muslim ruling party. It is true that in recent years, the ruling party has been attempting to shift the balance in a more Islamic direction, yet the secular public's demonstrations, riots, and legal petitions, as well as the threat on the part of army officials who made it clear that they will not hesitate to intervene should the government go too far, have served to greatly restrain religious zealots.


Weak and indifferent 

And here, we have a public that is referred to as "secular" and that is seemingly free, progressive, and liberal. Yet it's all only seemingly so. This public's opinions are so weak, it is so ignorant, and so indifferent to its rights that it allows religious fundamentalism to do whatever it wishes without uttering a word.


Had the coffee served at coffee shops in northern Tel Aviv been improperly foamed, or heaven forbid, had the sushi not been rolled appropriately, we would hear the cries. Yet such despicable deal of advertisement censorship elicited no response.


The free public agrees to be forced what to eat and how to get married and divorced. It agrees to the absence of public transportation on Shabbat and holidays. It agrees to bear the burden of military service while those who curse the State enjoy an exemption. It agrees, submissively, to have a significant part of the taxes he pays handed over as a political bribe to anti-Zionist parties. Now it also agrees, through its silence, to be told what it is allowed to see in public.


I intend to refrain from purchasing the products of any advertiser who gives in to religious pressure and censors its ads. I wish that more people would do that, so that this fundamentalism would not pass. As long as the free public agrees to be trampled on openly, the forces of yesterday would be able to continue doing what they wish. We are talking about a culture war. And in war, those who are weak, confused, and mostly indifferent – lose.


פרסום ראשון: 03.18.08, 09:54
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