The outrageous murder of Özgecan Aslan
The attempted rape and brutal murder of 20-year-old university student Özgecan Aslan has infuriated the public, enraging women in particular. This is not surprising since Turkey remains a country where daily violence against women is perpetrated with impunity.
So much so that the ugly phenomenon has become part of the national culture. One could argue it always was, but was shrouded over, this being a male-dominated society. It is only now when women are no longer prepared to remain silent, and when the issue gets serious coverage by the media, that the matter has become more noticeable.
The leniency enjoyed by men who brutalize their wives or daughters, as well as women they do not know, still exists though. In other words, there is every reason for a man in Turkey to believe he will get away with it if women are on the receiving end of his violence.
If murder is perpetrated in the name of “honor,” on the other hand, the man can even enjoy a certain respect in his community and among peers. In such a culture, it becomes almost necessary for a father or brother to kill a daughter or sister who allegedly dishonors the family by, for example, refusing to marry a man forced on her and running away with the man she loves.
The same cultural outlook, which is also based on ethical religious values, sees women who dress and act according to contemporary modes of living as open targets, too. It is not surprising, therefore, to see people in the Islamist camp suggesting that Özgecan Aslan was murdered because of the way modern secular women dress and behave.
We have a president, after all, who is trying to roll back women’s rights by claiming that it is unnatural to consider men and women as equals, and who is exhorting women to have at least three children and stay home and look after them. We also have leading members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who argue that women should not be seen laughing loudly in public.
In addition to this, we have Islamist ideologues who say it is shameful for pregnant women to be seen in the streets, and who argue that working women are prone to immoral behavior. Such remarks cause outrage in large segments of the population, but they are also accepted by most AKP voters.
It is all very well for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to rail against President Barack Obama for not immediately condemning the murder of three young American Muslims in North Carolina. No doubt such moralizing, which is clearly designed to play to an Islamist gallery, goes down well with his supporters at home and abroad.
One does not hear him, however, come out with the same passion to condemn violence against women in Turkey, even though this is a daily occurrence. He reportedly called Özgecan Aslan’s bereaved mother to express his condolences to her, and sent his daughters to meet her in person.
But at the time of writing, Erdoğan had still not spoken out publically in person about the brutal manner in which the young woman was killed. Neither has he come out to use this sad occasion to unconditionally condemn violence against women, even though the matter has become a source of public outrage.
Clearly, though, civilized women and men are not prepared to accept this ugly side of Turkey any longer and are speaking out increasingly against it. Attempts to explain away why young women like Özgecan Aslan are being brutally killed are merely spurring them on in their determination.
The call by some government ministers to bring back the death penalty, on the other hand, is only a smoke screen. This merely tries to shroud the fact that we are not just dealing with criminality here, but also with a social and cultural malady that has to be addressed accordingly by those in responsible positions of authority.
What we need here are not emotional calls for the death sentence, which should remain abolished in Turkey no matter how much of a public clamoring there may be for it, but effective measures that enhance women’s rights, whether these apply to the home or the workplace.
There should also be stiffer penalties for violence against women that show men that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated, whatever the reasons that are brought up to try and justify it. It goes without saying that there should also be education from an early age on that raises awareness about why violence against women is unacceptable.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, after the outrageous murder, that effective measures would be taken. We will wait and see what these are.