Hankering after a primitive past

Hankering after a primitive past

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s penchant for controversy has no bounds. He is now on record arguing that it is unnatural to consider men and women as equals. He provides hackneyed arguments about the “weaker sex” to prove his point, and maintains that Islam prescribes motherhood for women.

In an attempt to show that he is not actually denigrating women, he says heaven lies under their feet, and also claims that feminists cannot understand this “because they reject motherhood.”

Erdoğan uttered these remarks at a conference organized by KADEM, the Women and Democracy Association, which is close to the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). KADEM says its mission includes “formulating common public awareness in society in terms of women’s rights and equal opportunities within the family and in social roles.”

Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye is among the members of KADEM’s board of directors. As an educated graduate from the University of Indiana and the London School of Economics, and a professional woman working for Erdoğan, one cannot help wonder what she thought about her father’s remarks.

She would no doubt support them for the sake familial and ideological solidarity if asked publicly. But one has to question then why she bothered to get educated, and what she is doing as her father’s adviser, rather than sitting at home rearing children.

Whatever Sümeyye Erdoğan’s thoughts on the matter may be, Erdoğan’s words caused the expected uproar among civilized Turks of both sexes. It also turned the international limelight on Turkey again, almost immediately after his remark about how it was not Columbus but Muslims who discovered America.

Erdoğan obviously has no inkling about the rights of women and their struggle for equal opportunities in the contemporary world. His remarks indicate that he despises this struggle and is contemptuous of women who spearhead it.

He approaches the matter purely from his ultra-conservative religious point of view and brings explanations that have nothing to do with science, reason or intellect.

The president maintains that it is unnatural for women to handle picks and shovels, “as they did in communist regimes,” although it is not clear why this should be “unnatural.”

But he has no answers as to why a professional and fully qualified woman should not receive the same respect and remuneration as a man who she may even be outperforming. It is clear that in Erdoğan’s world it is unnatural for women to become pilots, members of the police force, bank managers, ambassadors, generals, politicians, doctors, accountants and the like.

It is also clear that these women, especially if they happen to also be feminists, are not qualified to be proper mothers either.

The only way to describe this outlook in this day and age is “primitive.” But the person uttering these remarks is not just any man, even though there are scores of Turkish men who see the matter in the same light as Erdoğan. The person promoting this reactionary outlook is the president of a secular republic that used to pride itself in having a modern orientation, and in being the embodiment of a country that is at peace with the contemporary world, despite its predominantly Muslim population.

None of this is valid in Erdoğan’s “New Turkey,” which is obviously not at peace with modernity or contemporary values. AKP followers will argue, of course, that Erdoğan was elected by 50 percent of an electorate which is fully aware of his religious outlook and admires it.

This, however, is what makes matters more worrying. Erdoğan and his political supporters, or rather his religious followers, are hankering after an age that is best left in the pages of history.

Equality between the sexes may be unnatural for them, but what is unnatural for a secular democratic republic in the modern world is to have a president who expresses such reactionary views, even if he is an elected one.