No laughing matter in Turkey

By bne IntelliNews July 31, 2014

David O'Byrne in Istanbul -


Turkey's deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, has landed himself in a rather undignified public cat-fight after having announced in a public meeting over the Eid holiday that women should refrain from laughing in public, suggesting that to do so was "unchaste."

“Chastity is so important – [Women] should not laugh in public," he said on July 28 , suggesting that television programmes geared for young audiences, the internet, newspapers and universities were turning Turkish youth into "sex addicts" and slamming women who spend too much time on mobile phones "talking about nothing."

“Where are our girls, who slightly blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we [men] look them in the face," he asked rhetorically.

Arinc later claimed his comments had been taken out of context and that critics had pounced on one small section of a one and a half hour speech about the general moral corruption he sees in Turkey, and that what he had said applied equally to men and that not laughing out loud was simply good manners.

However, in clarifying his remarks he also saw fit to lambast women who "go on holiday with their lovers, leaving their husbands behind."

Whatever the motivation for his subsequent comments, his justification came too late to prevent tens of thousands of Turkish women taking to social media to post photographs of themselves laughing in public and many more from trawling Turkish media sites to find photographs of Arinc either laughing in public, or posing alongside women who were laughing.

They also did little to dampen criticism from Turkey's secular opposition who, with presidential elections scheduled for August 10, were quick to pounce on an epic faux pas by one of the leading supporters of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is widely expected to win the presidential race.

Commenting on Twitter, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu who is the chosen candidate of the two main opposition parties, the Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) and the National Action Party (MHP), said: "More than anything else, our country needs to hear our women laughing and indeed the merry laughter of everyone."

Cetin Elmas, chief advisor to MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, pointed out that if, as claimed, Turkey was in the grips of widespread moral corruption, then perhaps Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government should take some of the responsibility. "Arinc claims that Turkey is in moral collapse, but it's his party that has been governing the country for the past 12 years," he pointed out.

All conservative together

It's a good point, and worth remembering that little over a year ago when Turkey was gripped by countrywide protests against the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Erdogan, it was Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc who stepped out of line and initially at least presented himself as a voice of reason, urging calm and speaking out against the use of tear gas.

It was sufficient at the time to prompt suggestions of a major split in the AKP, with Arinc, outgoing President Abdullah Gul and the more moderate wing of the party lining up to challenge Erdogan and the party's more conservative wing. Arinc was even mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in preference to Erdogan.

That interpretation of events was roundly dismissed by one senior AKP aide who tweeted that, "anyone who thinks there is a major split between Erdogan, Arinc and Gul clearly doesn't know them."

A wry comment that was subsequently proven when Arinc was persuaded to rejoin Erdogan on stage at public ceremonies and later announce that having come into politics with Erdogan, he had no plans to change his position.

For many, Arinc's comments on women laughing simply confirmed claims that the AKP's agenda is primarily one of social conservatism. "Nothing seems to be immoral for them except the behaviour of women," says CHP deputy, Safak Pavey, pointing out that the past year alone has seen senior AKP figures comment that pregnant women shouldn't been seen on the street and criticising the length of women's skirts and mixed gender university accommodation.

"They don't act against the real crimes against women – rape, incest or honour killings," she says.

"And we don't hear much being said about corruption or the rights of workers and the obligations of employers," she adds, pointing to recent allegations of corruption against senior ministers and the tragic deaths of 301 miners in the inadequately ventilated Soma coal mine in May.

"Perhaps the government should should look at the morals of employers and problems of corruption rather than the morals of women," she says.

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