By Sevgi Kuru Açikgöz
January 04, 2015
“Selling snails in a Muslim neighbourhood” is a proverb which points to the conservativeness of a Muslim society. It is an example of the roots of the culture of intolerance: “You can't sell snails in a Muslim neighbourhood.” I suppose there are similar proverbs in all cultures.
On the eve of the New Year, Turkey's well-known Christian columnist Hayko Bağdat, who recently published a book named “The Snail,” tried to make a humorous remark on the Turkish state's unequal positioning of the religions which are being practiced in Turkey. He posted a tweet tagging the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality's Directorate for Public Transportation, asking whether public transportation (buses, trains and ferries) would be free of charge on Christmas day, since that is the practice during the Muslim feast days of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The directorate responded to Bağdat in the negative. The columnist responded: “But why? I also pay my taxes as a citizen, so I expect equal service.”
I think Bağdat was aware that what he said would be regarded as an extraordinary demand in an authoritarian “Islamic” Turkey. Nevertheless he tried to point out the unequal practices between Turkish citizens, while taking the risk of becoming a target of very impolite and hateful responses on Twitter and Facebook. The responses he received are a look into the psychology of the intolerant sector of the society. But I think there are also people in this country who do support equal citizenship in all forms.
However, one has to keep in mind that equality in all forms is not even the case in Western democratic countries. European countries have millions of Muslim citizens and there is no regulation (that I know of) which grants the Muslim citizens a holiday on their holy days. Maybe there are local practices and solutions but there aren't any general regulations. Of course, the Western example doesn't justify the regulation in Turkey.
So the phobia is present everywhere on earth. It is against all differences and stands as a source of discrimination and denial of human rights. Consolidating tolerance and democracy in a society -- especially in a society with high conspiracy reflexes -- is really a tough issue. I guess the solution is related to knowledge and confidence: If one is confident of one's own identity and has proper knowledge of the “other,” maybe phobia could be minimized and tolerance strengthened.