Forget about the old question, is Islam compatible with democracy. Maybe what we should really be asking is whether patriarchy is compatible with democracy?
Two statements recently made by PM Erdogan struck me at getting at the heart of his autocratic tendencies. The first refers to students who had protested against him at Middle East Technical University (click here).
“What a shame! Shame on professors who raised those students. Institutors first have to teach how to be respectfull to their students. [sic] We were also students at the time but have never resorted to violence. Those students have burned car wheels, thrown stones and sticks but you can never see someone criticizing them and their attitude. Is violence and terror a protest? Is this how it has to be?”
One could interpet this as a call to peaceful dialogue, assuming a road were open where such dialogue might be had, or more credibly one could hear in this statement the all-powerful patriarch demanding that the younger learn to heed the authority of the older. Respectfulness means silence. If you have something you wish to ask of the patriarch, you go hat in hand and kiss his hand, then ask, and if he is so inclined he may (or may not) grant you that favor.
This will be very familiar to many people in Turkey from their own families, jobs and communities. It gives a sense of virtuous order. It plays to a primal fear with which Turkey’s youth is imprinted from childhood on — “of losing the integrity of the family/nation, the authority of the father/state, one’s honor before the community” (to quote from my own book). A 2005 study of Turkish high school students by Önder Küçükural showed that young people were quite conservative, especially in regard to the sacrosanct authority of the father and the inappropriateness of male-female contact. Even young people who were pro-EU feared that if Turkey joined the EU these two things — patriarchal authority and gender roles — would be destroyed. So Erdogan is playing a tune that falls on receptive ears.
The next statement by Erdogan about the media is, well, as clear as rain about what he believe s the role of the media is, and why he feels free to punish the media and jail anyone who disagrees. A patriarch doesn’t encourage discussion, doesn’t tolerate disobedience, and stakes his honor on keeping loose tongues from wagging.
“We have a problem with media. It is their mission to announce good things to my people. This is what I want. But tomorrow you’ll see headlines saying the Prime Minister slamed [sic] the media.”
It occurs to me that the US used to be quite patriarchal (as anyone who has watched the recent film “Lincoln” can see). So is patriarchal democracy a stage? To what? How did it work elsewhere, if it did?