Turkey’s Islamist President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has said that “Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women [in society]: Motherhood.” He added that, “You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”
Erdogan went on to say, “Sometimes, here they say ‘men and women equality.’ But ‘equality among women’ and ‘equality among men’ is more correct.
He made the remarks in a speech delivered to the Women and Justice Summit hosted by the Women and Democracy Association in Istanbul. His statements echoed those made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in April when he said that gender equality was “one of the biggest mistakes of Western thought.”
Violence against women has skyrocketed since Erdogan’s Islamist AKP party began ruling. According to the Turkish Ministry of Justice, from 2003, when the AKP party took power, until 2010, there was a 1,400 percent increase in the number of murders of women. Turkey also has very poor economic equality between the genders. Data from the World Economic Forum showed that in 2013, Turkey ranked 127th among 136 countries in the gender gap index of “economic participation.”
Erdogan made other troubling remarks in the speech. In reference to a recent court ruling against a proposed privatization of a port, he criticized the country’s judiciary and said that laws are not nearly as important as whom the ruler is.
“However, there is a beautiful saying that some attribute to Confucius, while others attribute to [Islamic caliph] Omar: ‘No matter how bad laws are, if they are held by a just sultan then they lead to fine results; no matter how good the laws are, if they are held by a brutal sultan then they lead to injustice.' Here, we see the same thing.”
Some commentators have said that this remark is further evidence that Erdogan ideally would not like to be the president in a democratic country, but rather the caliph of and heir to the Ottoman Empire.
In the Turkish Ottoman Empire, as in contemporary Islamism, there was no separation between religion and state. Erdogan's remarks against women are well grounded in Islamist thought.
For example, in Saudi Arabia — where sharia (Islamic) law is the state law — women are legally subordinate to men. The kingdom's male guardianship laws forbid women from travelling, doing business, marrying, divorcing, opening a bank account and even undergoing certain medical procedures without the permission of their male guardian (which can be their father, husband, son or even grandson).
In the days of the Ottoman Empire, the caliph was the spiritual leader of all Muslims worldwide, as well as the temporal leader of the Ottoman Empire’s vast territories. One of the caliph’s powers as the spiritual and political successor to the founder of Islam, Mohammed, was the power to declare jihad. This power is currently being exercised by the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
During the First World War, the Turkish Caliph Mehmet V exercised that power in a 1915 fatwa where he declared jihad against all "infidels" in the Ottoman empire. This fatwa was aimed at the British and French, but also the Armenian Christians living within the empire.
At least one and a half million Armenians were slaughtered wholesale in genocide by Turkey — a genocide that Turkey has never apologized for, compensated victims of, or even acknowledged.
The official fatwa authorizing the jihad reads,
“It is necessary that they [all Muslims] should know from today that the Holy War has become a sacred duty and that the blood of the infidels in the Islamic lands may be shed with impunity (except those who enjoy the protection of the Muslim power and those to whom it has given security and those who are confederate with it)."
(The exception was put in for German soldiers, with whom the Ottomans were allied in the war.)
This is the same empire of which Erdogan said, “We were born and raised on the land that is the legacy of the Ottoman Empire. They are our ancestors. It is out of the question that we might deny that presence.”
Erdogan has supported regional Islamist movements for years. He has repeatedly expressed sympathy and support for the Muslim Brotherhood, putting him at loggerheads with Egypt’s President Abdel Fatta el-Sisi.
At a rally last year he used the Muslim Brotherhood "raabia" hand sign to express support for Egypt's anti-government Brotherhood protestors. At the time, Al-Arabiya reported that Turkey has “become the regional hub for the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization.”
The Muslim Brotherhood has been designated as a terrorist organization by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Erdogan’s ally, the Muslim Brotherhood, also wants to restore the caliphate, just as the Islamic State is attempting to restore the caliphate. Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna said at the group’s fifth conference: “The Muslim Brotherhood has placed the idea of the caliphate and the work to reinstate it at the top of our priorities.”
While differences between the various Islamist factions are real and important, the fundamental goal remains the same: the establishment of a Islamic caliphate which governs the entire world, in which women are legally subordinate to men and where sharia law is the state law.
Turkish money was given to Hamas to wage their jihad against Jews. The Turkish border has been open to Islamists wishing to cross to wage jihad in Syria, yet closed to Kurds wishing to aid their beleaguered fellow Kurds in Kobane. Recently, Turkish soldiers stood by and watched while the Islamic State attacked Kobane.
Erdogan’s comments about women and his comments about the sultan are two facets of the same Islamist ideology. He is as firmly committed to Islamism now as he was in 1998 when he was arrested for reading a poem saying, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.