Bikinis a hot issue as Islamic conservatism grows in Turkey

Turkish political cartoonists have been quite busy lately. They can thank their government, which has provided plenty of material to satirize in a recent series of conservative measures that generated heated controversy and, in some cases, amusement.

The measures range from the banning of beer commercials on the state-owned television network to an official statement urging female foreign tourists not to go topless on Turkish beaches.

Liberal Turks are concerned about these signs of Islamic conservatism in the ruling Motherland Party of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal. Some fear these steps may threaten the secular and progressive nature of Turkey's Constitution.

Turkish politicians, writers, and intellectuals who favor the principles of modernization introduced by Kemal Ataturk 60 years ago say that the latest moves threaten Turkey's social progress.

The daily newspaper Milliyet editorialized: ''These politicians should understand that the preservation of these principles (of modernization) is as important as the efforts to improve the economy.''

Admittedly, some of the measures may be unenforceable. Days after the bikini-top announcement, Tourism Minister Mukerrem Tascioglu agreed there was no way to ''force tourists to wear the tops of their bikinis.'' But, he maintained, foreigners should respect the moral concept and traditions of Turkish society. ''Our party program takes into account all these moral values and we are committed to ensure that they are carried out,'' he said.

On the beer-commercial ban, Education Minister Vehbi Dincerler said: ''There are even small children asking their parents to give them some beer after seeing those commercials, just as if they were soft drinks. The state has the duty of keeping people away from alcohol and not to encourage it with such publicity.''

Other controversial measures include:

* Clothing restrictions for young girls taking part in sports displays and parades on Youth Day. Education Minister Dincerler ordered all young girls to wear baggy slacks or bermuda shorts that cover their legs. For decades, girls have worn a sort of swimsuit or short outfit on that holiday. The minister argued that it was indecent for girls to appear before the public and particularly on TV ''with their bare legs on display.''

* Introduction of a bill in parliament that would classify beer an alcoholic beverage. Under the bill, which was introduced by a member of the Motherland Party, only restaurants and supermarkets having a special license would be able to sell beer. Coffee shops, clubs, kiosks, beaches, and theaters would not be allowed to serve it. In stricter Islamic countries, consumption of alcohol is banned.

* The building of a mosque on the premises of the Turkish parliament. The decision was made after a heated debate in parliament. A leading opposition member and former speaker of the house, Cahit Karakas, said that Turkey's parliament was the symbol of the modern republic and of the principle of secularism.

* Introduction of a bill by the chairman of the judiciary committee, also a member of the ruling party, that would provide for heavier penalties for ''insulting remarks against Allah and the Prophet (Muhammad, Islam's founder).

Experienced observers here recall that similar attempts to introduce Islamic practices to public life were made 10 years ago by the National Salvation Party.

That small party had succeeded in putting into force some of its fundamentalist policies. But the armed forces opposed the measures, and when they staged a coup in 1980, they banned the National Salvation Party. But former party members seem to have some influence in the ruling Motherland Party.

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