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.”