Turkish Islamists vs. Turkish women?

Turkish Islamists vs. Turkish women?

About two months ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was then a U.S. Presidential hopeful, made headlines with a provocative statement. “Turkey should be kicked out of NATO,” he said in a Fox News interview, as the country “was being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists.” 
Upon hearing that unexpected comment, I wrote a short tweet that was less polite than my usual tone, which became more noticed than I had expected. (“Rick Perry: what an idiot,”

I wrote, in a line which was picked up by some American media outlets). What made me so blunt was not just the recklessness of Mr. Perry, but the line of reasoning he used to argue that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government could be called “Islamic terrorists”: His greatest evidence was that there are honor killings in Turkey and their numbers have increased in the past decade.

With the same line of reasoning, one could have called the United States government “terrorists” as well, by simply referring to the high number of violent crimes in America. But obviously, the fact that neither the U.S. nor the Turkish governments condone those violent crimes would render that line of thinking ridiculous.

Now, that infamous comment by Rick Perry was two months ago. Fast forward to this week, and fly over the Atlantic to come to Ankara. The Turkish Parliament, which is dominated by the party Mr. Perry fumed about, passed new legislation about women this Thursday. The bill did not reward honor killings, encourage female genital mutilation or impose the burqa. (The latter two are non-issues in Turkey anyway.) It rather brought new protective measures for women against aggressive men.
As the Daily News summarized well, “The law provides protection for all women: married, divorced, engaged or in a relationship.”

Accordingly, in cases of life-threatening danger, authorities will make urgent protection decisions or issue restraining orders on husbands, who could also be monitored with electric handcuffs. Spouses in clear and present danger could be given a new life and identity, as in the “witness protection” programs of the FBI and other police forces.

It should be noted that some feminist organizations still criticized the bill for being “family-minded” rather than focusing on women solely as individuals. (No wonder the bill was devised by the “Family and Social Policy Ministry” of the AKP government). But this is not a scandal: the AKP is a self-declared “conservative” party with sympathy for “family values.” It would only be a scandal had they sacrificed individual rights for these values, which is not the case at all.

In fact, the AKP improved the legal status of Turkish women before as well, in 2004, by amending the Turkish Penal Code - which used to be lenient to “honor crimes” - in a radically feminist way. (See the report titled “Sex and Power in Turkey” by the European Stability Initiative) Moreover, in the past decade, it has actually been Turkey’s secularists who discriminated against Turkish women, by depriving the veiled ones from the right to attend universities or get public jobs. 

Meanwhile, the past decade’s increase in honor killings has less conspiratorial explanations than what Mr. Perry believed. The first is that most honor killings were not reported and defined as such before the 2000s. Secondly, these tragic episodes increased partly, and paradoxically, because of modernization: More internet access, for example, gives isolated women more access to society — something that can drive paranoid husbands crazy. 

The bottom line is that one should not panic automatically when the words “Islam” and “women” come together. Their interaction, apparently, can be less alarming than what some are ready to believe.

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