By Ceylan Ozbudak
18 January 2014
As a free Turkish woman, I acknowledge the movements for political equality, which transformed Western society in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, the modern Turkish women of the democratic Republic of Turkey owe their equality, not to feminist sentiments imported from the West, but to reforms introduced under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Turkish women first exercised the franchise in 1930, but these rights were given to women in 1923, decades before women in Quebec (1941), Japan (1947), Mexico (1947), Belgium (1948), greater Canada (1950), or Australia (1961). Switzerland enjoyed that right, and it was Atatürk who articulated the principle of full political equality for women in his 1934 Vatandaş İçin Medeni Bilgiler, (“Civilian Information for the Citizen”); when he proposed that “women have the right to vote and to be elected; because there are interests that women must defend, and because there are social duties that women must perform.” In light of this, 18 women were elected to the Turkish parliament in the elections of 1935.
But where did Ataturk get his idea of equality between men and women? Contrary to the popular belief found in Arab and Western societies, Ataturk was a sincere and devout Muslim. He openly declared that he followed our Prophet and called on all societies to follow Islam, not backwards traditions. “The Muslims of the whole world must follow the path shown by Mohammad (pbuh), the last Prophet of Allah, and fully obey all his commands. All Muslims must take him as a role model and act like him; they must obey all the commandments of Islam because only in this way can people be happy and regenerated.” Ataturk’s reforms were rooted in Islam; therefore, as a Turkish citizen, I credit my own political self-determination, not to Western feminism, but to Islam.
Even though it started as a benign movement to bring women more rights, Western feminism and egalitarianism has been hijacked by its cousin- European socialism, and is being used to extinguish the concept of gender entirely. Although they love to talk about gender “empowerment,” the neo-feminists actually emulate the socialist concept of “equality” which is an empty envelope with ornamented promises.
Contemporary Western egalitarian feminism extracts a heavy price for what it promises, and that is a generic sameness, which coerces women to become quasi-masculine and ordinary beings, stripped from their maintenance and feminine souls in exchange for the right to be counted. These neo-feminist movements actually degrade women rather than empowering them.
Women are neither the same nor are they equal to men. By creation, we are different. However, men and women have the same rights and responsibilities before Allah. This moral equivalency is the root of political equality in a conservative society.
According to the sterile and cold world view of socialism, women, the elderly, the disabled, everyone in that society has to work as much as the other, and only then they earn almost the same amount regardless of position, talent, or disabilities. Such a brutal understanding of equality doesn’t make anyone happy or content; what pleases people is to see a positive discrimination in favour of those who are most genuinely in need.
This Friday, during the press conference of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gutierrez, Guiterrez commented on how well Turkish people treat the Syrian refugees and how this surprised the world in a good way. It would definitely disturb the Turkish people if displaced Syrians weren’t given an opportunity to begin a new life here in Turkey.
Doing Their Best
Turkey is not a very rich country, but people do their best to welcome their Syrian brothers and sisters here! No one complained about the Syrians taking “Turkish” jobs, or their seats in Turkish universities and no one is begrudging the tax revenues, which are being spent to care for the Syrian people.
If the government spent the taxpayers’ money on high quality pavements and fancy roads rather than in the refugee camps or on humanitarian aid; how would Turks feel if they saw Syrian babies sleeping on those pavements? We would be appalled!
This is the morality which prevails in the majority of Turkish society - good manners, generosity, and charity, but these fruits are all rooted in our religion, Islam, and certainly not in the nihilistic socialism which has ravaged both Europe and the US; which teaches people to be victims, malcontents, and dependent on government wealth redistribution schemes based on punishing the entrepreneurial spirit.
No doubt, there are readers who, when I credit Islam as the source of my political rights, call to mind some Muslims under the influence of bigoted interpretations who consign women to walking behind men. This supposition is understandable; just like the idea that everyone in Alaska lives in an igloo or that all Brits drink tea at 5 pm, but truly, these quaint little memes need to be put away, once and for all.
When a Turkish woman declares, “I owe my political rights to Islam” she is not talking about the tribal iterations of Islam, which segregates women from men, which buries female babies alive, and which treats women as chattel both in, and after marriage. No! Turkish women have enjoyed equality in the law of marriage since Ottoman times. The “Islam” which is the root of modern Turkish social norms is a religious, not a traditional conservatism; ours is rooted in the Qur’an, not in Bedouin social customs.
Nineteenth century Western feminist pioneers challenged oppressive political philosophies, pernicious traditions, and degrading social customs, which were oppressive to them and to minority groups. Muslims today confront a similar challenge; a cultural tradition which keeps women down in the name of Islam.
In general, the advent of Islam brought an enormous improvement in the position of women in ancient Arabia, endowing them with property and some other rights and giving them a measure of protection against ill treatment by their husbands. The Prophet Mohammad gave women the right to inherit property at time when women were being inherited as possessions. In his last sermon, he called on men to treat their women with dignity - something quite unknown to the ancient Arabs. His wife Ayesha was a leader of men. Islam, therefore, gave rights to women when others were burying their daughters alive, or later burning them as witches in Europe. As the flag bearers of Islam, the Ottomans, when assessed according to the period of time and place they thrived in, treated women far better than the Europeans of the same era.
Compared to Europe, Turkey offers a safer environment for women. Mega city Istanbul, when compared to European cities has been safer since the Ottoman times. The 18th Century Istanbul was much safer than the Chicago of today. According to the available data, one of every 66 people in Istanbul is involved in a crime. This is compared to one of 14 people in Budapest, one of seven people in Vienna, one of eight people in Luxembourg, one of 34 people in Sofia, and one of six people in Berlin. The research conducted by the EU Crime and Security Consortium, exposes however that 18% of people in Istanbul become victims of a crime as compared to 32% in London, 27% in Amsterdam, 26% in Belfast and Dublin, 24% in Copenhagen, 23% in New York and Stockholm, 20% in Brussels, 19% in Rome.
One might think that the free women of Turkey owe these democratic rights to feminist activism. However, the women of Turkey attained equality through the morality of Islam.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings.