|Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Iran|
During his visit to Tehran in January, then-Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, "Iran feels like his second home." Turkey's political Islam, through the ranks of which Mr. Erdoğan proudly comes from, has had a love-envy-hate relationship with Shia Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution: envy, because the Iranians, not the Turks, built an Islamic state; love, because it is an Islamic state, but; hate, because it is a Shia Islamic state.
The opposite is also true. Iranians have rarely hidden their love-hate (not envy) relationship with the Turks. Last November, Iran's ambassador to Ankara, Alireza Bigdeli, said "just like Imam Khomeini did it in Iran, the Justice and Development Party [AKP] have paved the way for the advancement of Islam in Turkey." Privately, the Iranians probably think the Turkish Islamists can be useful but, after all, they are a bunch of corrupt Muslims who dress up like western clowns.
The Islamic state of Iran has always been a source of fear for secular Turks because of its systematic efforts to export its regime to and weaken the secular regime in Turkey. But for Islamist Turks, Iran has denoted religious purity both as a nation and governance; a country where, thanks to the Islamic rule, all Quranic evil tends to disappear and all Quranic good proudly prevails.
Iran is home to girls with chastity. Adultery and theft are punished like in the early years of Islam. Iran is so pure; it is entirely free of even a drop of alcohol or a piece of pork meat. And, according to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "there is not a single gay in Iran."
There are, of course, de jure checks to make sure the enviable religious purity remains intact. In Iran, Article IV of the Constitution states "all articles of the Constitution, as well other laws, are based on Islamic criteria." And the Revolutionary Guards will always be too happy to use its police power to maintain purity.
All the same, apparently, things are not as pure as Islamists in the region may (or may not) wish. In Tehran drugs are prevalent, as Iran has one of the highest rates of drug addiction in the world. In 2013, statistics released by the U.N. estimated that roughly 2.2 percent of Iranian adults are hooked on drugs, the highest rate in the world. Moreover, earlier this year, the Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced some 6 million Iranians are affected by problems related to drug addiction.
Iran's own youth is not happy with Islamic purity. According to an InterMedia Young Publics poll released last year, one-third of those aged between 16 and 25 said they would abandon the Islamic Republic if given the option – and keep in mind when the youth mention "abandoning Iran," they are not talking about going to destinations such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt. A youth bored of purity?
More recently, an 82-page document released by Iran's parliamentary research department (which went largely unnoticed in the Iranian media for obvious reasons) found that 80 percent of unmarried females, including secondary-school pupils, had boyfriends, a practice Turkey's Islamists are not really fond of. The document went further by defying Mr. Ahmedinejad when it discovered that 17 percent of the 142,000 students who were surveyed said they were in fact homosexual.
The figures are quite revealing, but there is more. The Islamic Republic is also notorious with its prospering sex industry that is religiously purified through an ancient practice in Shia Islam, sigheh, a much deprecated temporary marriage that can last an hour or a decade.
Iran can be a bad story that Turkey's conservative social engineers should keep their eyes on. Turkey is not Iran, but Turkey's leaders have never hidden their aspirations that it should look like Iran in its pious Muslim behavior toward alcohol, drugs, flirtation, tattoos and even rock music.
Iran, really, can be a perfect role model to Turkey, especially if it comes with the tag "what not to do" or "what may happen if states tend to purify society by their police force."
Burak Bekdil is a columnist for the Ankara-based daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.