“Restaurant owner killed in row over smoking ban” was the headline in a miniscule piece in The Guardian last week. Obviously, I was wrong when I suggested in “Gasping for a gasper,” on July 27 that the new anti-smoking legislation could not possibly result in death.
I wrote: “With the second phase of the government's anti-smoking legislation that took effect on July 19, bars, restaurants and cafes have been added to the list of areas where smoking is prohibited, joining offices, government, education and retail outlets already targeted last year. Mind you, it could have been worse. According to a Reuters' article in this newspaper on July 21 (‘Smoking like a Turk?'), at one time nothing less than execution awaited those who smoked in cafes. The article begins: ‘Smokers in Turkey tempted to flout an imminent ban in cafes, restaurants and bars will be spared execution as allegedly meted out in 17th-century Istanbul, but their prime minister has likened cigarettes to terrorism'.”
The Reuters' story I found in The Guardian said: “A restaurant owner in south-west Turkey was shot dead when he tried to stop his customers smoking in an attempt to comply with the law on the use of tobacco indoors, the newspaper Hürriyet reported yesterday. A fight broke out after 46-year-old Hıdır Karayiğit told customers to extinguish their cigarettes as they sat in his traditional meyhane in the town of Saruhanlı. One of the customers shot Karayiğit four times, said Hamza Havutçu, his business partner, who was also shot and wounded. On 19 July the Turkish government introduced a nationwide ban on public indoor smoking.” So people will not be killed for smoking, or encouraging smoking, as would have happened in the 17th century, but they are killed for upholding the new law against smoking in indoor public places. People living outside Turkey need to make a major intellectual adjustment to make any sense of some of the things that are going on.
The smoking ban has been in place here in England for some time now, and to my knowledge, no one has been killed, either because they were in favor of public smoking or as a defendant of the smoking ban. But then, no one has been shot dead celebrating a wedding, the success of a soccer team, the birth of a son or his eventual circumcision. What don't Turkish males understand about the stupidity of owning, bearing and blasting-off guns? Hasn't the death-rate by gun crime in the US taught anyone anything? Yet again, last week we had a horrendous mass murder in a gym in Pennsylvania. The US is the US, but Turkey is apparently working to ease its way into the European Union. Oh yeah? Has no one explained the difference? The reason why -- despite some glitches in the UK and some anomalies in France -- most of us are able to go to work without fearing being shot to death, is because people here are not allowed to wander around loaded and “tooled up.”
A committee has been convened here in Norwich to address the problem of the city's most notorious street: “Prince of Wales Road.” Why? The major commercial activity in the lower reaches of this street comprises bars, restaurants -- some “fast food” -- and night clubs. It has been declared a dangerous area, but it is not a no-go area. The police are now trying to work with bar, club and restaurant owners to manage the situation following a number of deaths and injuries of largely innocent passers-by at the hands of drunken and out-of-control young revelers.
While guns are rare here outside of the rougher areas of London, Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow, knives are still the weapon of choice among young people, allegedly on the grounds of protection or self-defense. There has been a concerted government and police campaign to make young people more aware of the nonsense of walking around armed with blades on the simple precept that if you are carrying one, you will use it, however stupid the reason turns out to be. Some 5,000 knives, blades and stilettos have been turned in following a police amnesty. That did not stop a homeless man, selling copies of The Big Issue -- a news magazine sold on the streets to give the most peculiarly vulnerable a legitimate income -- from being stabbed to death on the streets of this city 10 days ago.
The MAD principle -- mutual assured destruction -- was the principle of the Cold War standoff between the US and Russia, along with Europe. You show me yours, I'll show you mine! Rather like the “my dad can beat up on your dad” rhetoric of school playgrounds in the past. What is worrying about what happened in Saruhanlı is that it exposes again the dysfunctional nature of Turkish society at a time when the government, business leaders and even an increasingly growing percentage of the population are getting behind the EU accession program.
We are, unfortunately, used to gangs, conspirators, mad mavericks, opportunist criminals, outraged relatives committing so-called “honor” killings, Mafia morons and -- allegedly -- a whole conspiracy of military, media, judicial and academic misfits who are trying to use extreme violence through the barrel of a gun, the glide of a grenade or the blade of a knife to influence the course of history, locally, nationally or even internationally. That does not, however, justify you or me bearing arms of any kind, either to supposedly defend ourselves or to make our point. What kind of society are we living in or do we desire? It is not about being Turkish or English, Christian or Muslim, black or white, heterosexual or homosexual. It is about respect for life. We seem to be living in an increasingly intolerant society, both locally and globally, and one which reveals itself all the more dangerously when the access to and use of offensive weapons is included.
In the US or Canada, there is a popular phrase: “Don't take a knife to a gunfight.” Sensible advice one might say. Ordered and law-abiding societies are, however, beginning to stress that not carrying a knife or a gun is the first step toward survival, rather than the opposite as some societies continue to insist. Carrying a gun or a knife in Turkey and in England is against the law. Notwithstanding, men -- and to an extent, women -- are increasingly arming themselves either for what they perceive as protection or as a premeditated gesture in advance of a criminal act.
One of the most charming features of İstanbul is the beauty of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. But “Lo! What light [arms] through yonder window breaks?” to misquote Shakespeare. A recent article in this newspaper informs us: “The fame the Bosporus, a symbol of İstanbul, has earned as a result of its beauty has lately been overshadowed by the strait's newly acquired fame as one of the most bountiful bodies of water in the world when it comes to fishing for weapons and ammunition -- as over 1,000 pieces of weaponry have been discovered hidden in the Bosporus in the past few months.” It goes on to say: “The most striking find in the Bosporus was a light anti-tank weapon and two bags of ammunition found in late June off İstanbul's Üsküdar district at Salacak. A spear-fishing enthusiast noticed the light anti-tank weapon as he dove in the area and informed authorities. Last week police discovered 250 bullets and rifle grenades in addition to a gun off the Sarıyer coast. Weapons have also been found in other bodies of water in Turkey, including eight hand grenades, a detonator and the clip of a G-3 rifle, which were found yesterday in the Asi River in the province of Hatay. The Ergenekon investigation itself began in July 2007 with the discovery of an arms cache in İstanbul's Ümraniye district.” The problem is that it is not only some shady group plotting and planning a major overhaul of politics and society that is of concern; it is the fact that a certain section of society retains the misconception that it has the right to roam around armed, self-deceived and thus dangerous. That is equally true among macho males in Turkey as it is of adolescents in England afraid of aggression or of being aggrieved. It is often said, “One man's meat is another man's poison.” It suggests that what may be acceptable to me may not be so for you and therefore a dispute ensues. But disputes, disagreements and debates are resolved through dialogue these days rather than through the drawing of knives or guns. Smoking may be an example of the dichotomy between what is my meat and your poison, but resorting to violence -- physical or armed -- is no solution. Here, notices in all public enclosed places warn of the illegality of smoking therein, but also of the need to resolve any issue ensuing with another person in a socially responsible fashion. Smoking is not the only controversy in society, but we should all seek amicable and adult ways of solving our disagreements.