Pan-Islamic Yearnings And Pakistan's Newfound Love For Ertugrul

Pan-Islamic Yearnings And Pakistan's Newfound Love For Ertugrul
These days a Turkish series that draws upon some historical themes is the talk of the town in Pakistan, from national TV to social media websites.

Ertugrul Gazi was the father of Osman (Ottoman), the latter being the warlord who laid the foundations of the Ottoman caliphate. On the orders of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan Television (PTV) aired a Turkish drama from the 1st of this Ramazan. With the passage of time, a hype was created on social media about this series.

Both liberals and conservatives have their own concerns about this series. The concept popularized by the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders and supporters is that by knowing "our" rich and brave "history", we will able to conquer and rule the world once again.

On the other hand right-wing voices on Pakistani social media appear to have been criticizing Engin Altan Düzyatan (who plays the role of Ertugrul's character) and Esra Bilgic (Haleema Sultan) on their social media accounts, claiming that simply by living their normal lives in modern Turkey, they are distorting the image of great and heroic characters of “our history”. Esra is being harassed more than Engin: through disrespect and abusive comments on her recent Instagram posts. Some fake accounts are also circulating on social media, using  the names of the Turkish stars. They are impersonating especially Bilgic, depicting her as thankful to “the Pakistani nation” and especially to controversial Pakistani TV religious figure Aamir Liaquat, while promising she will soon visit Pakistan.

It appears that a number of viewers are unable to distinguish between historical-themed fantasy as depicted on Turkish TV and real contemporary life.

Another thing that many Pakistani conservatives forget is that the Ottoman Empire and its founding fathers are poor representatives of “our culture”. The real-life historical relations between the Ottoman Empire and, say, the court of Tipu Sultan in Mysore were far from the fantasy of Muslim unity that Pakistani TV viewers want to see. In any case, the Ottoman empire was a military empire like many others of its time – meaning that the blood of many people was on its hands, irrespective of race or creed. Pakistani viewers seem to need reminding that many in the Arab world have a less rosy picture of the Ottoman imperial past.

Most importantly, while there is nothing wrong with pan-Islamic sentiments, Pakistani viewers of the Turkish show would do well to remember their own founding fathers' ambivalent, even critical relationship, to romantic pan-Islamic politics.

Both Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal, founding fathers of Pakistan, showed little interest in the Khilafat movement after World War I.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is a great fan of Allama Muhammad Iqbal along with a majority of Pakistanis, ought to be informed that Iqbal was a fan of Mustafa Kemal, not the Ottoman rulers.

So it might be necessary for the Pakistani PM and ordinary viewers who find “Islamic values” in the Turkish show to clear their mind: are they sure who they uphold as heroes? Are Mr. Jinnah and Allama Iqbal their heroes or the semi-mythical Ertugrul? We know for a fact that the founding fathers of Pakistan supported the Turkish Kemalists - who PM Imran Khan might today call “khooni liberals”.

The Turkish TV show may be great watching for entertainment, but the PM should be cautious about promoting it for anything beyond that.