The recent Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Istanbul was amazing, but the audience was angry. Thousands of fans gathered outside the venue until the last minute to consume as much beer as possible, in a silent rage over the government's decision to ban the sale of alcohol inside.
The excuse was that the concert venue is located near the sacred Eyup mosque. Anti-government chants were heard here and there. Others checked the distance between the venue and the mosque using their smartphones - a little more than four kilometers. One of the fans voiced his concern over the fact that the distance between the mosque and the bustling, alcohol-filled Istiklal Street is almost the same as the distance between the mosque and the concert venue.
A friend of mine who manages a nearby restaurant told me that before a previous concert at a local university, Prime Minister Erdogan phoned the university's rector and instructed him to ban the sale of alcohol during the event, despite the fact that there are no mosques in the area. I told my friend that this would never pass in Israel. He said that in Turkey no one would dare defy Erdogan, who, according to my friend, employs mob-like tactics. "The government can always arrest some professors and deans and claim that they assist the underground Ergenekon organization," he told me.
A sense of helplessness is spreading among the old Turkish elite, as is the rage over the government's efforts to change the country's character. It is becoming more and more apparent that Erdogan has a long term 'human engineering' plan. He is working quietly, slowly and systematically. Recently Erdogan expanded compulsory school education from eight to 12 years. The goal was to circumvent the constitution and pave the way for middle school students to attend Islamic schools. It is difficult to bring high school students 'back to religion.' The alcohol ban at rock concerts is part of this trend, as are the attempts to reduce the sale of alcohol on beaches and discourage women from getting abortions.
Following three terms as prime minister, Erdogan is widely expected to seek the presidency in 2014 in order to concentrate all the powers in his hands, just as Putin did in Russia. His chances are great in the absence of a charismatic secular opponent. It appears that Erdogan will continue implementing his plan patiently over the next six years.
As a historian I consider all long-term 'human engineering' plans, from the kibbutz in Israel and the Soviet Union to the Islamic revolution in Iran. All 'human engineering' attempts have failed, apart from the great enlightenment of the French and American revolutions. Does Erdogan's traditional-conservative version have a greater chance of success in a 21st century that is slowly being engulfed by darkness?
In the words of the Red Hot Chili Peppers:
It's the edge of the world
And all of western civilization
The sun may rise in the East
At least it settles in the final location (Californication)