Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Pawn in the Game?

PHOTO of AKP deputy Edibe Sözen from Today's Zaman

In what appears to be a rather orchestrated set of events, a recent legislative proposal drawn up by AKP deputy Edibe Sözen has been withdrawn from consideration and the female deputy scolded by AKP's male-dominated leadership.

Sözen's Protection of Youth bill mandated public schools provide places of prayer (for all religions) and included tough regulations on pornography and minors' attendance at nightclubs and restaurants that served alcohol. The pornography restrictions would have required vendors to procure the national ID numbers of consumers and report these buyers to the Department of Youth and Sports. It would have also required vendors to sell items deemed pornographic in red bags. Introduced last week, Sözen's proposal drew criticism from numerous journalists and political analysts.

Following this week's AKP executive meeting, Erdoğan publicly scolded Sözen for acting on her own initiative and without the party's consultation. The prime minister reportedly instructed Sözen to wait for the party's lead before introducing proposals to the public. On Tuesday, AKP's secretariat-general issued a formal statement renouncing Sözen's proposal as neither in AKP's legislative program nor its intra-party regulations.

While I might indeed be wrong in doubting that Erdoğan, who is well-known for his tight control of the party, had little idea as to Sözen's release of the proposal to the public, it is hard to believe that the party leadership did not give a significant amount of instruction to Sözen before the proposal was released. Sözen released the bill amidst claims that it was consistent with German law intended to protect minors, and even meant to further the EU accession process. According to Sözen, the proposal was the result of a year-long commission comprised of AKP members who she oversaw. It is further hard to believe that Sözen would release such a controversial proposal so soon after the closure case without consulting Erdoğan. What is more likely in my mind is that Sözen's proposal was used by the AKP to curry support with European politicians and prove that the party is indeed being more careful in its treatment of secularism. To this end, Sözen was used as a pawn in a much larger game. If such is the case, the fact that Sözen is a woman is interesting insomuch as the party chose one of its female members to play the role of the "bad guy" to publicly sanction in a well-coordinated game of political theatre.

Related to this story is the discussion of pornography that Sözen's proposal generated in the Turkish press. I am amazed that daily newspapers shamelessly include photos of topless women in their inner pages alongside serious news stories and coverage of last night's football game, but this is again one of the many seeming contradictions (to a Westerner) inherent in the complex diversity of Turkish society. One month ago I remember finding myself astonished while on a dolmuş with about eight to ten older, much more traditional women and men from outlying villages, a couple of obviously very conservative women (clad in the complete niqab), and a middle-aged man sitting in front of me who was glaring openly at the bare breasts of women appearing on the inner pages of the day's Milliyet. No one thought much of it, and I was left to just simply put the experience aside as one of those things that still made little sense to me--perhaps due to the prejudices of my own experience--but that one day I might understand. To this end, Mustafa Akyol's column is particularly interesting. He compares Turkish law regarding pornography to that in the United States, and his discussion provides a bit of insight into just how confusing issues like pornography can be here.

For coverage from Today's Zaman of Sözen's public scolding, click here.

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