Originally published under the title, "Being 'Protected' in Turkey."
Turkish members of parliament in a brawl on February 17
If Turkey were a person instead of a country, law enforcement authorities would probably require it to have psychiatric therapy. Pundits are asking: "What has become of us?" Good question. No one has offered a good answer.
Earlier this month about 70 members of parliament spoke at a special parliamentary session. Each speaker, from government or opposition seats, condemned the widespread violence against women in the country. The audience applauded every speaker, from government or opposition seats. There was peace in the house. Three hours after the session closed, the deputies gathered to debate a controversial security bill. Chaos ensued as a brawl broke out. The session ended after five MPs were hospitalized.
The fighting broke out after two Kurdish female MPs (opposition) walked to the speaker's bench to protest an alleged breach of house rules. When asked to explain the bruises the women had shown to journalists, a senior government deputy, Mustafa Elitas said: "They beat themselves up."
Istanbul parliamentarian Ismet Ucma of the ruling AKP believes that Turkish soap operas are causing the country's rape epidemic.
You wonder why rape has become a social malady in Turkey? Ask your government MP and he will explain. Ismet Ucma from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has blamed popular Turkish soap operas for the visible rise in rape cases and argued that "such series are ruining the nature of the Turkish family structure." In earlier remarks, Ucma had proposed that couples should get a "license" in order to get married; and that local residents should act to "protect the honor of their neighborhoods."
The Turks indeed protect their neighborhoods in bizarre ways. A shopkeeper in Istanbul stabbed Nuh Koklu, a journalist, in the chest and killed him because a snowball had hit his window. Several hours before being murdered, the journalist had bought cat food from the same shop.
Apparently, it was not just a petty crime committed by an insane shopkeeper. Last November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tasked shop owners with "protecting their neighborhoods and the country themselves":
Tradesmen and craftsmen are not people involved in economic activity ... in our civilization and in our national soul, [they] are soldiers if needed; they are martyrs, veterans, and heroes who protect their country when needed. [They are] police who restore public peace when needed; [they are] the judges who provide justice.
The shop owner who stabbed the journalist Koklu to death proved how "heroic" Turkish tradesmen can be. Tradesmen soldiers at your orders, Mr. President!
Friends and relatives of journalist Nuh Koklu place snowballs and pens on his coffin last month.
Apparently, it is not only Turkish shop owners who can act as the soldiers of an Islamist government. The vice-principal of a high school in southern Turkey caused loud laughter and embarrassment when she suggested creating "harassment teams" in her school to prevent female students from wearing short skirts.
News reports said that the vice-principal of a high school in Antalya province proposed, at a meeting with class presidents, that "male students could follow girls who wear short skirts to make them feel uncomfortable, after which the girl students would eventually have to dress 'properly.'" The proposal was then debated at a teachers' meeting after some class presidents told other teachers about the idea. At the meeting with other teachers, the vice-principal admitted having made the suggestion and defended the idea.
The head of the local teachers union accused the vice-principal of encouraging students to commit crimes. He said: "Female students are being targeted. Principals and deputy principals do not have the right to say such things. Telling male students to 'harass' amounts to provocation."
The good news was that the vice-principal, after having hit the headlines in the secular (not pro-government) media, was "punished" by the city's education authorities. The bad news was that her punishment was merely a reassignment to another school in the same city where she will be "teaching German language."
"Is this the way you punish a teacher with eccentric ideas, or the students at the school she will now be teaching?" asked a European ambassador in Ankara, looking puzzled.
Turkey is becoming an increasingly bizarre place to live in. Imagine a country where taking public transport or merely going to school (especially for young women), or playing with snowballs in the street (for everyone) or just being an opposition member of parliament can be categorized as high-adrenaline sports of extreme danger.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.