Gülsen at a performance in Istanbul.Image Getty

    You’d almost think it’s all orchestrated. The video clip of the song Lolipop, released in March this year, begins with the arrest and incarceration of singer Gülsen. Two female prison guards handcuff the woman and lead her to a cell, the barred door of which slams shut. The rest of the video is spent by the Turkish pop star dancing in her tiny cell, dressed in varying costumes that literally don’t amount to much. A young man tries to kiss her bare belly through the glass of the visitor’s room. In between, a blue lollipop is treated orally by Gülsen.

    On Thursday, the Turkish singer was arrested at home in Istanbul by the police and transferred to a women’s prison in the city after questioning. Her offense: At a concert in April, she had introduced one of her musicians with a joke. He had attended an Islamic Imam hatip school, which is why he was so ‘depraved’.

    It was only last week that Gülsen became the target of a hateful social media troll army after the right-wing newspaper Sabah posted a video of the joke online. A day later, justice took action. The singer is suspected of ‘inciting hatred and hostility’.

    Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag spoke of Gülsens ‘backward’ mentality as shame. “Putting one part of society against another with discriminatory language by an artist does not show respect for art,” he said.

    Why the fuss?

    In the first place, of course, because Gülsen had made fun of Islamic education. The imam hatip schools are a hobby of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They were once established to train imams, but under Erdogan – himself a product of the imam hatip – considerable investments were made in them. His intention is to make it a regular form of secondary education, delivering a ‘pious generation’.

    Religious scent trail

    The symbol value is large. Erdogan and his AK party flirt with their Islamic credentials, but this is often limited to rhetoric. The alleged ‘Islamization’ of Turkey is hardly translated into concrete policy. There is absolutely no question of introducing Sharia-like laws. But with the imam hatip education, Erdogan can leave a religious scent trail.

    Hence, in the storm of criticism that followed Gülsen’s arrest, a direct line was drawn to politics. According to opposition CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the aim is to polarize society so that the AKP will remain in power after next June’s elections. Other critics also believe that the conservative voter is being placated.

    And then Gülsen is apparently seen as a suitable prey. The singer, born 46 years ago as Gülsen Bayraktar, stands out with her daring, sexy clothing. This contributes to her popularity, but also brings her a lot of criticism. When she performed in Istanbul three weeks ago in an orange sweater that exposed the lower half of her breasts, a fan’s mother responded on Twitter: “My eyes bleed when I see this.”

    During the same performance, she took an LGBTI flag from the audience, proudly paraded it around and said, “We give this a special place in our hearts.”

    Female rights

    Gülsen is less politically outspoken than a Beyoncé, but it is clear that she is more in touch with the secular public than with the religiously minded part of Turkey. She also works for social causes (elderly, children, education) and speaks out for women’s rights and against violence against women.

    She also recalls that, as a 17-year-old, she was attacked on the street by a potential assailant along with a friend. It didn’t suit the man well: Gülsen has a black belt in karate. After her divorce from her first husband in 2000, she said, “He didn’t hit me. I beat him, I have a black belt.’

    At the beginning of this year, she parried the criticism of her sexy clothing in an ‘essay’ on Instagram with a feminist slant. “As a free person, I decide what I wear, not someone else,” she wrote.

    This popular power woman’s joke about Islamic education must have arrived in Ankara as a karate kick. The imam hatip schools are not doing well at all. They are now known as the qualitative drain of the Turkish education system.

    “It’s a mess on the imam hatip,” Iren Özgur, author of a book on the form of education, told de Volkskrant. In July, half of the students at imam hatip schools indicated that they wanted to switch to public education. President Erdogan hasn’t coined the term “pious generation” for a few years now. Today he talks about the formation of a ‘capable generation’.

    3x Gulsen Bayraktar

    Gülsen Bayraktar studied Turkish classical music at the Istanbul Teknik Universitesi, one of the best universities in Turkey. She stopped doing that when she got success as a singer. She was 19 when she made her first album.

    According to Veysel Ok, a lawyer specializing in media law, Gülsen is being tackled ‘because she embodies secular Turkey and supports the LGBTI movement’. He expects her to be released soon.

    Gülsen experienced its peak years in the period 2013-2015. She was voted Turkey’s best female artist, lyricist and composer. Her albums Beni Durdursan Mi and Bangir Bangir scored record sales.

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