Political language degenerates in Turkey

Political language degenerates in Turkey

Political language in Turkey is degenerating as political polarization increases. The ongoing “pervert” debate is an embarrassing example of this.

A sexual crime scandal is in the background of the debate. The scandal broke 10 days ago when it was reported that a theology teacher had been sexually abusing male students for many years in the dormitories of private Quran courses run by conservative education foundations.

One of those foundations was the Ensar Foundation, which has been among the foundations most favored by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). 

When the opposition parties asked for a probe not only into the teacher, but also against the foundation, there were objections from within the AK Parti.

One of those objections came from Sema Ramazanoğlu, one of two woman ministers in Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s cabinet. When Ramazanoğlu said Ensar should not be the target of blanket criticism because of individual cases, the debate fired up further. She is the minister in charge of family and social policies and the protection of children from abuse is among her responsibilities.

Meanwhile, the accused teacher was arrested and put in jail but the probe was not extended, as the opposition had requested. A motion against Ramazanoğlu was also rejected in parliament thanks to AK Parti votes.

Accusing the AK Parti of turning a blind eye to the abuse cases just to protect private institutions close to their ideology, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the minister was “laying in front of certain people” to cover up the abuse cases.

The AK Parti became furious over the use of this expression. Davutoğlu said Kılıçdaroğlu had “no manners” by using such low language against a minister, who is also a mother.

Refusing to express regret, the CHP leader said the expression had nothing to do with sex, and it had actually been first introduced to Turkish politics by a former AK Parti minister. He was referring to an alleged telephone recording between former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and a businessman who had allegedly taken a bribe - the infamous Turkish-Iranian Reza Zarrab, who was recently arrested by a U.S. court. The expression effectively means something like “they cannot touch you, over my dead body.”

Enter President Tayyip Erdoğan. He raised the bar to a new height by saying the “sexual pervert” in the Ensar case was now in jail, and asking what the people should do with the “political pervert,” pointing at Kılıçdaroğlu.

Kılıçdaroğlu is generally known for his mild and polite manners, but he went out of proportion while responding to Erdoğan. He first recalled one of the president’s earlier criticisms of modern lifestyle, when he expressed discontent about young men and women hugging each other on ferries passing by the window of the prime minister’s office in Istanbul. Kılıçdaroğlu hit hard by saying Erdoğan was not only a “political pervert,” but also a “sexual pervert.”

It is not clear where this war of decomposing language will end, but escalating polarization has long been intoxicating the political atmosphere in Turkey. Acts of terror, suicide bombers and security operations have all been straining people to record levels every day. Political leaders must reduce the tension so this political row does not reach physical dimensions, which could drag the country to even more dangerous ground.