Laughter a Threat to Chastity? Yes, Declares Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister

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ANKARA, Turkey -- Chastity has long been a source of contention and in fact has often been used as a justification for the domination of women throughout the centuries in various parts of the world. It is another means by which some men seek to control women’s sexuality and reproductive freedom.

Though many people think of the issue of controlling women and forcibly “preserving” their chastity as a phenomenon unique to countries with emerging economies where young girls are routinely subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FMG), these practices have been imported to the U.K. and other E.U. nations with high immigrant populations.

However, the West is not without guilt as similar overt restrictions and unsanitary practices were routinely implemented in Europe during the 16th century when men made their wives wear ‘chastity’ belts to prevent sexual intercourse during their long absences at sea or war.

The history of women being controlled subtly and overtly is a never ending battle; however, this week the war for equality reached ridiculous lows when Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç, stated in a speech that “among other activities that women laughing in public somehow contributed to the moral turpitude of the nation.

During his 28 July 2014 speech which was given on Eid al-Fitr, the official end of the month-long Islamic celebration of Ramadan, “Arınç described his ideal of the chaste man or woman, saying they should both have a sense of shame and honor.” (Source: Hurriyet Daily News)

This atavistic attitude at once casts sexuality as “unclean,” but also blames women for defiling themselves, a specious argument often used to justify rape, while also claiming that these 'loose' women constantly lure otherwise chaste men into debauchery and sin. In his speech, Arınç outlined his ideas of morality saying:

“Chastity is so important. It is not only a name. It is an ornament for both women and men. [She] will have chasteness. Man will have it, too. He will not be a womanizer. He will be bound to his wife. He will love his children. [The woman] will know what is haram and not haram. She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness.”

These ideas are not Arınç’s alone, but are an outgrowth of the conservative tenor of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of which he is a prominent member. The AKP has been in power since 2002, and in the intervening years has shepherded over a subtle but systematic erosion of women’s rights.

Unbeknownst to many in the West, “Turkey had a thriving women’s rights movement in the 1980s and 90s, but has recently experienced a back slide in progress. Violence against women has doubled over the past few years, only one third of women are employed, and the country rates almost dead last in gender equality in education, health, politics, and the economy.” (Source: Huffington Post)

Women’s rights are being eroded on all fronts from wage equality and reproductive rights in the United States, to FMG in Sub-Saharan Africa, to the 'One Child Policy' in China, to chastity requirements in restrictive Middle East nations. Though many in the West and East have greeted Arınç’s comments with derision and mockery, this is no laughing matter.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

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Outrage After Turkish Mine Explosion Kills Over 200

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 21:04 p.m. DST, 15 May 2014

"Orgreave S24's washout (3 of 3)  Photo by: Earthwatcher

SOMA, Turkey— At least 245 Turkish miners have died and 120 are still trapped after an explosion of a coal mine in what is being called the “worst industrial accident in the country’s history”. Hopes of rescuing the remaining miners are “dimming” according to Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. Thousands of people are rallying in response in Turkey, angered by the disaster and the lacking efforts from the government and rescue agencies.

The explosion in the mine occurred after a malfunction with a power unit. This has resulted in a power outage in the mine, making the mine cages inoperative and thus rescue efforts far more difficult. It is also reported by The Guardian that fires from the blast had not yet been extinguished, 18 hours after the explosion. Most of the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning as claimed by Yildiz. Reuters reported that oxygen is being pumped into the mine in order to keep the remaining trapped miners alive. However, Mehmet Torun, a board member and former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers says, “Unless we have a major miracle, we shouldn't expect anyone to emerge alive at this point.”

Tensions are rising above ground as well in the nearest city to the mine, Soma. Friends and relatives of the deceased and trapped miners are venting frustrations against Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party. Erdoğan’s government has a questionable history with the mining industry. Turkey was ranked third worst for worker deaths by the International Labour Organization in 2012. The New York Times says just two weeks ago they vetoed a proposition for a parliamentary commission that would try to alleviate the dangerous conditions in the mining industry. His government is further criticized for not responding to his rival party, Republican People's Party. They requested action on work-related incidents in the Soma mines in April, but were refused.

Violent demonstrations concerning the mining accident are occurring in Soma as well as in the country’s largest city, Istanbul, and the capital, Ankara. Wednesday afternoon protestors, mostly teens and 20-somethings, confronted riot police at the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party, according to The Huffington Post. They also said that the police were equipped with gas masks and water cannons. The protestors could be heard shouting that Erdoğan was a “murderer” and a “thief”. It was reported that hundreds of protestors were also at the Soma Holding headquarters, the company that owns the mine.

Erdoğan’s presence at the mine furthers the anticipation of his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election, despite him not confirming a bid. He has postponed an international trip, instead going to visit the mine. He also has declared three days of mourning in Turkey for those miners lost. According to The Huffington Post, in the past he has been unsympathetic to the dangerous mining conditions in Turkey, saying after a 2010 accident where 30 miners died that it is part of the “profession's fate”. In the case of this accident in Soma, Erdoğan insists that it will be fully investigated. On the miners still trapped, the prime minister said, “Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out. That is what we are waiting for."

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Social Media Bans Persist in Turkey

recep tayyip erdogan, photo by cvrcak1

recep tayyip erdogan, photo by cvrcak1

TURKEY, Ankara - First Twitter and now YouTube, social media platforms in Turkey are continually being banned by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority. This latest YouTube ban comes after a video posted on March 27 on the site that is supposedly of an audio recording of top Turkish officials discussing a military operation against Syria, according to CNN.

This leak was followed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s accusations that YouTube and Twitter are being used to slander and spy on the government. The Twitterban came first on 21 March 2014 after a re-election rally during which CNN quoted Erdoğan as saying he was determined to “root out Twitter”; however, the ban was deemed unconstitutional by the Turkish high court.  The YouTube ban followed six days later.

Besides the audio recording of a planned false-flag against Syria, more audio was leaked that incriminate the Justice and Development party leader, Erdoğan. What he calls “immorally edited material”, had been published on YouTube that supposedly was of Erdoğan instructing his son to hide millions of dollars from the police, further implicating him of corruption allegations.

After public outcry and protest, the 27 March 2014 YouTube ban was overturned 2 April 2014. Al Arabiya News said that the ban was found to be in violation of human right and instead of a site-wide sanction, 15-videos were banned. However, just two days following the lifting of the ban, it has been reinstated.  This back-and-forth with the rulings against YouTube has created more mass disapproval in Turkey and internationally.

Turkey has been vying for admission into the European Union, but after these latest regulations by the Turkish government, it seems like this may be less and less of a possibility. An anonymous high-ranking EU official spoke on Turkey’s EU bid to Today’s Zaman saying, “For Turkey's EU membership, countries like France and Germany will eventually seek a referendum for public support, and Turkey has lost the support of young and liberal constituencies in the EU with its ban on social media. This [ban] has definitely not brought Turkey closer to the EU.”

Losing EU favor is only the beginning. The US has also been vocal about their objection to Erdoğan’s social media ban. Al Arabiya News reported that last Friday, Washington had been urging the Turkish government to “open all social media space in Turkey”.

Even the massive internet company Google has joined the protest against the YouTube ban. Russia Today reported that Google has appealed the YouTube ban to Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Since Google Inc. is the owner of YouTube, a Google spokesperson told Wall Street Journal via email, “it is obviously very disappointing to people and businesses in Turkey that YouTube is still blocked, and we are actively challenging the ban in the courts,” and that the YouTube ban impedes on “freedom of speech”.

Any negative impact of these social bans on Erdoğan’s chances of winning has yet to be determined. Prime Minister Erdoğan is currently running in the Turkish presidential election. Local elections in Ankara were challenged March 30 after claims of corrupted results, of which Erdoğan won. Reuters reported that the opposition party’s call for a recount was denied. It appears that in local elections his candidacy has not been tainted. Turkish national elections for presidency will take place on 10 August 2014.

Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Women Seeking Safety Encounter Abuse in Syrian Refugee Camps

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:33 a.m. DST, 10 April 2014

Syria Bedouin Woman, Photo by Marc VeraartDAMASCUS, Syria – By every metric, the Syrian countryside is a war zone. Suburbs are subject to aerial attacks and corner stores have become foxhole retreats from city gunfights. The death toll now exceeds 150,000 lives. Massacres waged by Syrian troops and rebel forces alike continue to raise questions about the legitimacy of either side's agenda. All the while, ordinary people either defend their community or seek stability in a less contentious Syrian locale or border country.

Amidst the chaos, the international community places bets on either the Syrian Army or various rebel collectives. The United States, Russia and Iran make high-stakes wagers in the form of assault rifles, chemical weaponry and large-scale explosives. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also seated around this international card table. Given the current political landscape and the violations of basic human rights by the establishment and the rebellion, global efforts to arm either side are a gamble indeed.

One thing is certain. With increased weaponry provisions, a commensurate level of unfathomable bloodletting has followed throughout major cities like Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia. The widespread violence and continued threat of biological warfare has been a powerful impetus for Syrian migration to more stable nations. Over two million nationals have escaped the perimeter of their home country, while millions more try to cope in the crossfire. There, they face the reality of suicide bombers and large-scale attacks carried out by both factions.

Lebanon has been the principle destination for those people fleeing the ongoing turf war. To date, over one million Syrians have claimed refugee status in Lebanon, a staggering influx for a nation numbering less than five million before civil war broke in Syria three years ago. Thousands more seek safety in the Mediterranean nation every day. Lebanon has been a gracious host to Syrians seeking asylum, forgoing required permit fees upon entry and allowing their neighbors to live outside of designated treatment centers and refugee shelters.

Syrian migrants exercise this right, but not without adversity. Women are particularly affected by sexual abuse following their relocation. Human Rights Watch reports that female refugees are subject to improper advances and verbal abuse on a regular basis while living in their makeshift communities in Lebanon. Perpetrators range from employers to volunteers from religious institutions, according to HRW. The actual scope of abuses remains unknown, as many victims presumably have outstanding residency payments or have little faith in the criminal justice system. Assailants continue to act in the shadows of fear and silence.

For many of these women, leaving home meant a better life for themselves and their children. Rape is used in Syrian warfare as a tool of power and coercion against men, women and children indiscriminately. While President Bashar al-Assad and top leaders of various opposition forces have not openly condoned sexual assault of the enemy, the act is permissible and never punished internally. Externally, retaliatory rape is not uncommon. In a society where rape is taboo, victims are hushed and assaults go unreported. But anecdotal evidence confirms the disturbing and rampant nature of the mistreatment.

Journalist Lauren Wolfe directs The Women Under Siege project and discusses abuse against Syrian women in her feature Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis. Wolfe cites a report from Ya Libnan news website in which a member of the Syrian Army was commanded to rape teenagers in late 2012. The girls were later slaughtered. Similarly, Wolfe describes a young rebel soldier who was arrested by Syrian forces. During his imprisonment, the man was forced to watch while Syrian security raped his fiancée, sisters, mother and other female acquaintances. Belligerents in both camps resort to these barbaric measures.

The mass-exodus of Syrians will continue so long as lawlessness persists. Massacres such as August's Ghouta chemical attack on civilians and the execution of 51 loyalist prisoners in July have only added fuel to vehicles of hate and violence. While the United States is heavily invested in the success of the rebellion, the White House now knows that many of these renegades are affiliated with al-Qaeda and other terror organizations. If history repeats itself, these weapons may be trained at their supplying nation in the future.

If the efforts of the States involved more non-lethal aid, certainly the people of the world would be grateful. The need for the increased protection of women is self-evident. When better mechanisms to report and convict perpetrators of sexual abuse are established in refugee camps, these facilities will truly be places of refuge.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

Lioness of Iran's 'Strange Fruit'

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:25 PM EDT, 29 May 2010

Anonymous Iranian Hanging VictimIRAN - Five Kurdish political prisoners were executed 9 May 2010 in Iran. One of the prisoners was a young woman named Shirin Alam Holi. Arrested in May 2008 in Tehran, the twenty-eight year old was sentenced to death for her alleged support of Pezhak, a Kurdish opposition group.

Convicted and sentenced to death on the charge of moharebeh (enmity with god), during her two-year incarceration she was repeatedly subjected to torture and degrading inhumane treatment to confess to supporting Pezhak. She had no legal representation during her long and grueling interrogation period and her rights as an accused were never observed. Neither Alam Holi, her family, or her lawyers were informed about the planned execution.

In the same month, Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced exiled women’s human rights activists Shadi Sadr and Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh in absentia to 6 years imprisonment and 74 lashes, and 2.5 years imprisonment and 30 lashes, respectively, for participation in peaceful demonstrations in 2007.

On 8 March 2010 Simin Behbahani's was leaving Tehran Airport for Paris to deliver a speech and read a few of her poems on the occasion of International Women's Day. Her passport was confiscated and despite her physical fragility and age, she was interrogated all through the night and told to report to the Revolutionary Court. For now, Behbahani is under country arrest. She is virtually a prisoner in her own country.  Source: PBS News Hour

Simin Behbahani, also known as the Lioness of Iran wrote a poem about the horror of the execution of Shirin Alam Holi and her fellow prisoners.

NOT ONE, NOT TWO.......THEY WERE FIVE By Simin Behbahani (translated by Fatemeh Keshavarz) Not one, not two ...they were five and yet I don't know why In my mind, they were more like fifty. And, how is it possible that gallows [on which they were hanged] Were, someday, trees that did not surrender to axes? Tell me how to write about the treehood days of the gallows: Standing firm for freedom, they dug their heels in the meadow. When the breeze found them in the orchard and wrapped itself around their branches Their message reached everyone in soft playful dances. Now, heads have grown on them, heads hanging from broken necks, Heads of full-bodied figures, perhaps champions in their own way. Left waiting, feet-dangling-in-the-air, utterly robbed of their words, These heads whose stories could have filled many books! Only clouds could now rain tears on their broken bodies, For mothers were not united with them even after their death. Don't waste a complaint on the faithless judge, who Was the enemy, not of darkness and tyranny, but of the Giver of life.

Source: Payvand Iran News

Behbahani's poem is eerily reminiscent of another famous lament of human rights abuses.  Abuses that occurred in the United States made famous by Billie Holiday in the song 'Strange Fruit' which decried the  abhorrent practice of 'lynching' in the South. Listen to song here.

Duluth, Minnesota, June 15, 1920

Lynching is extrajudicial punishment carried out by a mob, often by hanging, but also by burning at the stake and shooting, in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate, control, or otherwise manipulate a population of people, however large or small.

It is related to other means of social control that arise in communities, such as charivari, riding the rail, and tarring and feathering. Lynchings were more frequent in times of social and economic tension, and often were means by the politically dominant population to oppress social challengers. Nearly 5,000 African-Americans were lynched in the United States between 1860 and 1890.[1] Source Wikipedia

America has come a long way since these heinous acts, though racism and xenophobia by fringe groups is on the rise. However, it took the concerted effort of individuals and groups to highlight such atrocities as lynching and to valiantly fight to eradicate them.

Unknown to many Americans the women's movement in Iran began in the early 1900's.  Since that time Persian women have played a significant role in the quest for equality.  During the "White Revolution" in 1962, important women's rights measures, including suffrage and the Family Protection Law of 1967 were ratified. Later these laws were amended more heavily in favor of women in 1975, which ended extrajudicial divorce and restricted polygamy.[2]

Though the women in Iran continue to be faced with the daunting task of achieving equality, they persevere in challenging a theocracy dominated by a rigid religious machinery with deep cultural beliefs about the limitations of women. Sometimes this comes at the cost of their lives, at other times the cost of their freedom, yet they still prevail. Below is a photo montage of Persian women who have advanced the role of women in Iran, followed by a list of their names with hyperlinks to their biographies.

Some of the most notable activists are:[3][4]

Between the 'Nuclear Fuel Swap' brokered by Brazil for Iran and Turkey and the 'Moms of the Detained Hikers' returning home without their children, this contentious nation very much in the public's eye. Iran is a country plagued with human rights abuses and under the current government Women's Rights in Iran continue to erode as the government cracks down on women like Behbahani who are viewed as subversive.

We may yet know the fate of Simin Behbahani, however, her voice is an inspiration to all who seek to promote peace through the exploration of our commonalities versus our differences. As a woman and a writer, she is a testament to the power of a single voice to change lives.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias

Istanbul Fashion Week

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:37 PM EDT, 21 April 2010

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Often when people think of Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, the idea of fashion does not readily come to mind.  However, the 2010 Spring Season Fashion show in Istanbul, Turkey should have dispelled this misconception.  Turkey has become the new centre of the East meets West fashion world. It has been prognosticated that within five years Turkey's fashion week could rival that of Paris, Milan, London, São Paulo, and New York; a trend which Vogue is capitalizing on with the issuance of a premier Vogue Turkey edition.

Turkish designer Hatice Gökce, who is a founder of the Association of Turkish Fashion Designers, says: “Traditionally, Turkey excelled in manufacturing but did so without an understanding of the design process. That changed with the recession, which has had the opposite effect in Turkey compared to its impact in other countries: it has not only encouraged many more young designers to set up business, but it has woken manufacturers up to designs importance.”

What was most fascinating but not as well-known were the Islamic fashions that were featured during this week. Muslim women, especially those who embrace the Hijab which is both the head covering that traditional Muslim women wear and adopting modesty in dress, are often patrons and attendees of the Paris and Milan fashion shows.  However, with the Turkey show, some designers decided to tap into this lucrative market by designing a line of clothes that were fashion forward but met the needs of conservative women who value modesty.

What is often not known by Westerners is the fact that there are many extremely affluent Muslim women, particularly of Saudi descent, who shop, purchase and wear clothes from some of the worlds most exclusive designers. Clothes which are usually worn beneath the Burqa when in public but in private are clearly displayed with pride.

The idea of modesty is not unique to Islam.  In fact every Orthodox sect of the major religions (Judaism and Christianity) practice some level of covering for women.  In Orthodox Judaism, Tzunit governs the conduct between women and men, the tenets of modesty, and dress codes for women. Part of Tzunit is the practice of covering one's head, particularly if married, since a woman's hair is her crowing glory and should be reserved for the enjoyment of her husband.

Chaldean Catholic women among others cover their heads, and for conservative, traditional women of all three faiths, the issue of modesty, particularly when traveling to coed beaches and swimming pools remained a challenge until now.

One of the fashions featured at the show was the "Burqini", a full body bathing suit that allows a woman to maintain her sense of modesty without restricting her movement in such a way that it would be difficult for her to swim.

Bathing suits that provide the wearer with a level of modesty to which they have become accustomed are sold by a number of vendors such as Ahiida, and the swimsuit line by Stingray Bay was most appealing because they focused on all three faiths - Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as well as providing alternatives for individuals who need to cover for environmental and health reasons.  In any case, the Turkey fashion show has challenged existing preconceptions of fashion, and informed the public about the diversity that exists among Muslim women.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1uDKphuBfs]