ISTANBUL — After a woman was kicked in the face on a public bus for wearing shorts, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the event as an "individual" act of discrimination. His ruling party, the AKP, expressed a similar opinion, calling it an "isolated incident."
What they failed to acknowledge is the role their cultural politics play in setting the stage for this kind of attack. The assault didn't occur in a cultural or political vacuum: There's a contributing context, rather, that Turkey's leaders deliberately reinforce.
The long list of political reasons behind this attack starts with encouraging and supporting myths and superstitions as if they are religious requirements. Second, constantly promoting male domination in an already patriarchal society creates the cultural conditions that make an unstable individual think he is allowed to punish a woman who does not fit the government's definition of how she should be.
This feudal culture is sustained by the attempt to mobilize masses by means of demagoguery masked as democracy. Political leaders use pious values, in other words, to appeal to the public. And in doing so, they nourish a judgmental environment through their increasingly authoritarian politics that is involved in every aspect of life from drinking, eating and clothing to the manner of giving birth and how many children one should have.
Moreover, people like the bus attacker are encouraged by the legal system's leniency towards perpetrators of past attacks, and the understanding that Erdogan's supporters will be tolerated in a court of law even in cases of sexual harassment and assault. Then there is the education system, which validates the discriminatory culture from the earliest ages, with clothing restrictions in schools, policies that favor male students over females, and books that promote the sexist behaviors of a patriarchal society.
Mixing in Istanbul — Photo: Moyan Brenn
Indeed, it is the overall Turkish political and public environment that allows incidents like the bus attack to happen. The problem is not about an "isolated" attack: It is a problem of human rights and women's rights. The attack is a symptom of deep-rooted problems with the freedom to live one's life as one chooses.
With a government that fosters a tense and polarized society, it is no surprise that a woman was attacked because of the way she was dressed. I wish that women who rallied for the right to wear headscarves, and the male politicians who support them, did not stay silent for the freedom of the woman who dared wear shorts.