‘Islamism: a malicious exploitation’

Should one laugh or cry?..

A lot of women in Turkey chose the first, turning it into a campaign both on social media and in the public space, and laughed out loud.

The reaction was triggered by a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which went like this: “Women should be chaste … they should not laugh in public and not be inviting in their behavior. They should protect their honor.”

The very core of such declarations of “wisdom” is nothing new. Before Arınç, a theologian demanded that pregnant women should not be visible “out in the streets.” This was Ömer Tuğrul İnançer, who made his remarks on a Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) station, and a few days later, he added that people should abandon the notion of women’s economic freedom altogether. He argued that women who work stop “obeying” their men and instead serve their bosses and ruin their households by divorcing.

In a country where domestic violence, so-called honor killings and gender inequality are chronic issues, it is natural that the political advances of the AKP under the strict rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan go hand in hand with such oppressive discourse and the approval of conservative segments of society. The AKP’s increasingly cynical leadership knows it and is determined to push it further.

But, there should be a limit to global laughter.

What is behind this is extremely serious.

There are two immediate ways to interpret Arınç’s remarks. One, which I discussed yesterday with two female representatives of the opposition, is that due to ongoing unease, Erdoğan and his close circle feel that in the light of the corruption allegations and a perception of growing abuses of power, there is a need to determine the country’s agenda.

Now, everybody is talking about it, both at home and abroad. This is not strange, given that the entire discourse stemming from “the Erdoğan method” is to divide the voter blocs and pit them against each other.

Since the 2011 general election, the “Ihwan-isation” of Turkey under the well-articulated rhetoric of political Islam is a fact. (Ikhwan is the Arabic term for the Muslim Brotherhood.)

Usurping huge slices of power since late last year, Erdoğan feels that a no-holds-barred approach is the only path ahead. When he declared his candidacy, he began his speech with a message from God and ended with quotes from the Quran.

Thus, Arınç’s remarks might not be completely improvised.

Murat Gezici, an opinion pollster, told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that this was with good reason. “More than two-thirds of Turkish voters consider themselves devout Muslims,” he said. According to Gezici, Turkish women are, on average, more religious than men, “and 64 percent of AKP voters are women. … according to this criterion, Erdogan is the ideal candidate.”

In a manner that should truly cause deep concern for the future of Turkey, we are now witnessing a campaign where the silent majority are kept on a leash under aggressive and divisive religious rhetoric and intense economic dependency through social aid schemes and charity.

When I visited Malatya and Elazığ provinces recently, I was repeatedly told how “neighborhood pressure” was at play in poor and lower middle class districts. “If Erdoğan goes, economy will collapse and you will lose jobs. If he is voted out, a coup will come and there will be dark times,” the conservative voters are “warned.”

However, severe “Ikhwanisation” does not progress without criticism. Recently, two key figures of the AKP raised the alarm to red. Ertuğrul Günay, a former minister of culture, thinks that Turkey is being dragged into dangerous and uncharted waters. Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, a conservative Kurdish co-founder of the AKP, said the party was “encouraging corruption” and resigned.

Levent Gültekin, an intellectual who worked for the AKP for many years, told the weekly Aksiyon: “I now realize that Islamism is an abusive organizational concept. I have seen that it harms most Muslims and Islam itself. Devout people are also exploited. Islamism, I now realize, is the name for dividing the Muslim societies as “less pious” and “more pious”; it is the name for all the malice done under the banner of “we are more pious than you.” It is all very obvious.”

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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