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Here’s Why PM Imran Khan’s Fondness For ‘Ertugrul’ Is Worrying

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A democratically elected prime minister of a society, which ostensibly claims itself to be based on modern ideals of peace and avoidance of violence within the society is asking its citizenry to learn from a tribal society of medieval period, where violence within the society and with rival communities was the norm, writes Umer Farooq.

I belong to a generation which grew up watching ‘Akhri Chattan’—the dramatised version of Naseem Hajazi’s famous novel with the same name—on Pakistan Television (PTV) during the era of military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s. In Akhri Chataan, Hajazi depicts the Central Asian conquests of Genghis Khan and his destruction of the Khwarizm Sultanate. The novel and the PTV drama based on it also depict several Muslim warrior heroes of that period who resisted the conquest.

‘Akhri Chattan’ was broadcast at a time when Afghan tribal warriors were engaged in an armed struggle against Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistani military government and intelligence services were acting as a conduit for the supply of modern weapons, equipment, finances and training to these ‘Warriors of God’ provided by American CIA and several other intelligence services of Muslim and Non-Muslim states.

The wonders of media revolution that we see now in our society were still two decades away. PTV was the only channel that Pakistanis used to see in those days so the drama “Akhri Chattan” created a lot of waves in the society. Jihad became a buzzword—apart from its theological significance for Muslims, in Pakistani society the word jihad was popularised with the twin-action of PTV broadcasting ‘Akhri Chattan’ and Pakistan’s Urdu newspapers popularising the armed struggle of Afghanistan’s tribal militants against Soviet Occupation. Muslim warrior heroes, taken from the pages of Naseem Hajazi’s, fictional novel, which is an overdramatised blinkered version of history, became the ideal Muslim.

This ideal Muslim was the creation of twin-action of PTV broadcasting ‘Akhri Chattan’ and Pakistan’s Urdu press, especially newspapers, presenting the ‘heroic deeds’ of Afghan tribal warriors as modern manifestations of the deeds of ‘ideal Muslim’ from the past that was idealised and with a blinkered approach by writers such as Naseem Hajazi.

Parallel to this cultural activity, a very dangerous game was being played in the power corridors of Pakistan. Pakistan’s military government was aiding the Afghan armed struggle against Soviet Occupation and besides, building a parallel Jihadi network in Pakistani society. With the help of American dollars, the structures of jihad were being created in this region. If we juxtapose this cultural activity—that included making the broadcast of ‘Akri chattan’ and Urdu press glorification of Afghan tribal warriors—with the not so secret policy of Pakistani military and intelligence services providing weapons, training and creating parallel jihadi network as a support system for Afghan Warrior, we get a very good idea about the direction Pakistan was heading in those days.

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Now let’s fast forward to April 2020, when Pakistan Television has imported a Turkish action packed serial, Dirilis, which is based on stories of the Muslim Oghuz Turks, fighting invading Mongols, Christian Byzantines and the fanatic Knights Templar Crusaders in Anatolia (now modern-day Turkey) of the 12th century.

Ironically, Prime Minister Imran Khan wants Pakistani youth to watch this action packed drama serial as in his views this would provide youth with ideas about Muslim history and ethics—strange ideas indeed. A democratically elected prime minister of a society, which ostensibly claims itself to be based on modern ideals of peace and avoidance of violence within the society—at least we and our government pay lip service to these ideals—is asking his citizenry to learn from a tribal society of medieval period, where violence within the society and violence with rival communities was the norm.

What ethics our impressionable youth will learn from warrior class of 12th century Turkey where governments and empire were made and dismantled with the power of swords, arguments were settled by resorting to duel fights? We are living in a society where killing a person could or should attract the full wrath of the law. In tribal society of 12th Century Turkey this was a bit different. If Prime Minister Khan really wants to teach our youth Islamic ethics, there are other avenues open to take this course. Let me remind the PM that Islamic ethics of love, Muslim fraternity, social justice and compassion were developed by a class of people who rose in Islamic societies as a direct reaction to warrior classes’ deviant behavior and attitudes. These groups were the Sufis, scholars and philosophers who rose in direct opposition to the warrior classes and reaction to the activity of Empire building.

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Better show our youth something about these Sufis and philosophers, instead of dramatising the adventures of some obscure Muslim warrior.

I will not be overstretching my argument if I try to draw some parallels and some differences between the Pakistan of Zia-ul-Haq era, when ‘Akhri Chattan’ was broadcast and Pakistan of Today when PTV has started broadcasting the Turkish serial about some obscure Muslim warrior. Both then and now Pakistani army top brass was in a very assertive mode politically—both eras are defined by tight control of the military over the levers of power. Who are our heroes? Who, from the past, should be revered? Who should be declared outcast? Who should be our friend and who should be our enemies? Army and its cultural machine answer all these questions.

The step to broadcast a serial in which heroes are depicted as warrior is momentous decision. Especially when the decision appears to be made by prime minister of the country himself. Not only that the PM is advertising the drama serial and asking his citizenry to watch in order to learn from it—lets hope its not the warrior ethics that they learn.

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Naya Daur