Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç caused a social media firestorm when giving a speech commemorating the end of Ramadan, the month-long period of religious fasting and contemplation in Islam.
During his speech, the minister argued for a return to the principles of the Quran, objecting to anything from sex in TV shows to the importance of women talking to people face to face - instead of on phones . But he really landed in hot water by saying that women should not laugh in public.
Turkish women have responded with a viral online campaign, posting pictures of themselves laughing at the government official. They may be smiling in the pictures, but for them, this laughter is certainly no joke.
According to the English-language Hurriyet Daily News, the minister’s comments came as a part of the speech directed against what he sees as “moral regression” happening in Turkey.
In the speech, Arınç described the ideal man and woman, saying “Where are our girls, who slightly blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their face, becoming the symbol of chastity?”
He also said that women tend to “spend hours on the phone to swap recipes" and go out driving unnecessarily. The last straw came with the comment that a woman should also not laugh publicly.
"She should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times,” he said, according to TheGuardian.
According to the Washington Post, Arınç is a founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (or AKP), which is a moderately conservative religious group that has been accused of attempting to do away with the secular principles on which Turkey was founded.
While the AKP does have roots in Islamic political thought, it does not call itself an Islamist political party, and objects to such portrayals in Western media. In 2010, Hüseyin Çelik, former minister for the party, said that the AKP is largely secular, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. "Yes, the AK Party is a conservative democratic party. The AK Party's conservatism is limited to moral and social issues."
Arınç’s remarks, whether condoned by the AKP or not, has sparked a viral campaign across Turkey. According to the BBC, hundreds of thousands of people have tweeted photos of women laughing with the tag “#kahkaha,” the Turkish word for laughter. Other tags include "Resist Laughter" (#direnkahkaha) and "Resist Woman" (#direnkadin).
According to the BBC, one of the first people to tweet a picture of herself smiling was writer and political commentator Ece Temelkuran.
"It was an extremely outrageous and conservative statement," she said, “My whole timeline was full of women laughing – which was extraordinary, and kind of beautiful."
Arınç later defended himself, saying that his speech was 1.5 hours long and complained that “some people pick a section of [the speech] and criticize” it, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
However, he chose to stand by his words, arguing that what he was really against is “artificial” laughter, not genuine laughter.
“There are some artists who now laugh artificially and send me their photos. Real laughs relieve a person, but these are artificial ones. Those who go for a vacation with their lovers while leaving their husbands behind and can’t wait to climb poles when they see one,” Arınç said, probably referring to the wife of a Turkish soccer player who reportedly went on vacation with a pop singer and recently posted a photo of on Instagram with a dancing pole.
“I personally think the act of adultery shouldn’t be committed and I condemn it,” said Arınç.
Many remained unimpressed by the minister’s defense of his words. The Twitter and Flickr campaign against him is still going strong, and has drawn some big names in Turkish politics, including the current Prime Minister’s top challenger in the polls, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, according to the Washington Post.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy parliamentary head Pervin Buldan, had this to tweet on the subject, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. "From now on, we will respond to all statements by Arınç by laughing.”