In his seminal 1996 book “Clash of Civilizations,” political scientist Samuel Huntington argued for the existence of so-called cleft civilizations — countries torn between two modes of being.
For instance, Ukraine could be torn between a part of the population wanting to engage with the West and another part wanting to turn toward Russia. Pre-split Sudan was torn between the Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south.
And, perhaps most ominously, there was Turkey.
While led by a largely Western-leaning secular government for decades, in recent years, the country has been run by an increasingly Islamic government. The regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tilted toward the Islamic side of things in a major way, attempting to consolidate its power as much as possible.
However, few have realized just how far down the wrong path the Ankara government has been going in recent years. The wake-up call might be a new piece of legislation that would allow child rapists to go free if they can manage to marry their victims.
“The legislation, which was first debated by parliament on 16 January, would give men suspended sentences for child sex offenses if the two parties get married and the age difference between them is less than 10 years,” The Guardian reported Thursday.
“Opposition parties and women’s rights groups have been quick to point out that the bill in effect legitimises child marriage and statutory rape in a country where the legal age of consent is 18,” the report said.
The ruling Justice and Development Party had tried to pass the bill four years ago but the “bill sparked outrage at home and internationally,” the U.K. outlet reported.
This time, however, the party was able to pass the bill despite the worldwide outrage generated by the legislation.
“In 2016, the government introduced a [similar] draft law on amnesty for child abuse perpetrators. All women stood against it and the bill was withdrawn after our protests,” Fidan Ataselim, the general secretary of the activist group We Will Stop Femicide, told The Guardian.
“If they dare to try again, we will fight against it again,” she said.
It’s not as if this wasn’t already a problem in Turkey, mind you. As the U.N. Children’s Fund noted in a report, “Despite the rising average age of marriage, child marriage remains an on-going challenge in Turkey and reflects a pattern of gender inequality that reinforces stereotypical roles for girls and curtails their education, compromises their health, and exposes them to the risk of violence and poverty.”
The U.K. Daily Mail reported that the bill would be voted upon by the end of the month.
While “marry your rapist” clauses aren’t unique — they exist in numerous countries, as a 2017 NPR report showed — a number of countries are closing them.
Such laws in Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia have been ended after protests.
Turkish officials, as usual, were paragons of sensitivity during the 2016 debate.
“There are people who get married before reaching the legal age. They just don’t know the law,” former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said then, according to The Guardian.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said during the 2016 debate that cases of sexual battery involving minors were “unfortunately a reality,” according to The Guardian. However, he said, that didn’t mean the men who perpetrated them were “rapists or sexual aggressors.”
Unfortunately, in some Muslim countries, child marriage can be a sad reality.
“Some Muslims who follow a conservative interpretation of sharia argue that Islam permits child marriage as the Quran specifies that girls can be married upon reaching maturity, which conservative scholars define as puberty,” the Council on Foreign Relations notes.
Furthermore, hyper-conservative Muslims will often point to the fact that the prophet Muhammed married one of his 11 wives, Aisha, when she was between the ages of 6 and 9.
That being said, the general consensus is that Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha was a political move designed to cement his relationship with the girl’s father, Abu Bakr, one of the most influential early converts to Islam, at a time when arranged child marriages were not uncommon. (European royalty engaged in arranged marriages for youngsters, too. Consummation did not happen until the children had grown.)
It wasn’t because he had raped Aisha and needed to marry her in order to keep himself out of a Turkish jail.
Turkey, at one point, seemed like a perfect example of a Huntington “cleft” society — a traditionalist culture and a potential candidate to join the European Union.
Now, it’s turned back around again and is running the other way.
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