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Imran Khan Expects ‘Ertugrul’ To Inspire The Moral Revolution He Can’t Deliver

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Expecting Turkish TV to provide the fuel for a moral revolution that Khan promised he would inspire through rigorous action is a shirking of responsibility. It’s an impulse that doesn’t inspire confidence. It stands at odds with Khan’s bluster about self-reliance and independence, writes Hamna Zubair.

Why shouldn’t I admit it? A generous proportion of my weekday evenings in 2019 were spent absorbed in the countless swordfights and high-stakes political intrigues that played out in front of me on TV. I was watching the Turkish TV drama Dirilis: Ertugrul on Netflix, and as it turns out I was an early adopter. At the time Ertugrul was only accessible on Netflix, but at the present moment this historical drama is playing on TV screens across Pakistan. Much of the credit Lfor this turn of events belongs to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is such a fan of the series that last year he suggested it ought to be dubbed in Urdu and broadcast on PTV.

“Our children know all about western heroes but they don’t know how Muslims came to be conquerors,” said Imran Khan during a speech last year. “The Turkish TV drama Ertugrul… for the first time they showed how Turkey came up, and how they conquered Europe.” In the same speech he expressed a desire to support the local film industry, lamenting that the Pakistani audience still preferred Hollywood or Bollywood blockbusters over indigenous productions.

It is clear that Imran Khan hoped this Turkish TV drama would stir some nationalistic fervor in Pakistani youth. After all, Ertugrul tells the story of a proud 13th-century Turkish tribe that produced the founder of the Ottoman Empire.

However, although it is not satire, this popular Turkish series has managed to expose the irony of Khan’s endeavor as little else has done before.

Let’s start at the beginning. Ertugrul was ostensibly aired to teach Pakistanis about Muslim history. A noble goal, but this project has been marred by the average Pakistani gentleman’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Ever since Ertugrul was broadcast on PTV, Pakistani men have taken it upon themselves to stalk the show’s Turkish actresses on Instagram. Upon discovering actresses like Esra Bilgic happily living their lives as 21st century women who wear dresses and use cell phones, Pakistani men have become outraged and despondent. They have left comments instructing these actresses to ‘dress modestly’, forgetting yet again that women are real-life, independent, complex individuals instead of abstract concepts like ‘honour’ or ‘modesty’ personified. This deep-rooted misogyny and ignorance has not been countered by the sitting government in any meaningful way (or any other before it, to be fair).

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Speaking of honour. Ertugrul’s core theme is judicial integrity; the show’s titular character is prone to making passionate declarations about the importance of justice above all else. The fair treatment of women and minorities is heavily stressed. I wonder how Imran Khan could hope for a TV show to instill a love of justice in Pakistanis when they’re so used to witnessing injustice be overlooked or even rewarded in national politics.

Just this month, for example, the National Commission for Minorities chose not to include the long-persecuted Ahmadiyya community amongst its members, a move widely condemned by human rights activists. Ironic, that.

Speaking of irony. Although Imran Khan said he wanted to support Pakistani TV and cinema, local cinema suffered a massive setback this year when Sarmad Khoosat’s production Zindagi Tamasha was barred from releasing due to pressure from the religious right. At the time Khoosat wrote an open letter to the prime minister asking for an intervention, providing an opportunity for the government to show unwavering solidarity with local filmmakers. Yet the prime minister said nothing, not publicly at least, and the situation became fraught with confusion due to mixed messages and inaction. As a result Zindagi Tamasha has not been released to date. As popular actor Shaan Shahid said soon after Ertugrul aired on PTV: “Why hasn’t the government ever tweeted on behalf of a local drama that was a hit? Even a small statement of encouragement can go a long way.”

The staggering gap between Imran Khan’s professed desire to support Pakistani cinema and any concrete action taken to achieve this on his part has led to much debate on social media over the past few days, with actors like Yasir Hussain going so far as to say that Turkish TV dramas like Ertugrul will undermine local content.

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This outrage by the local entertainment industry deserves its moment and a meaningful debate ought to ensue.

But to dwell on that point alone would obscure the most troubling implication of Khan’s TV recommendation, which is: the prime minister seems perfectly content to outsource positive societal change to an entity other than his own government.

Expecting Turkish TV to provide the fuel for a moral revolution that Khan promised he would inspire through rigorous action is a shirking of responsibility. It’s an impulse that doesn’t inspire confidence. It stands at odds with Khan’s bluster about self-reliance and independence. When I reflect on all the contradictions I listed above, I wonder if Khan realises that if he were written into the script of Ertugrul he would probably be a sketched as an ineffectual statesman rather than a steadfast savior.

The truth is, Imran Khan should not expect a TV serial to do the work that lawmakers, institutions and civil servants should be doing – namely, to educate our population to such a high standard that we need not look westward for history lessons.

To inspire justice by imparting it without bias. To sustain local industries by investing in our burgeoning talent. To encourage such a profound appreciation for culture that men view actors as artists instead of empty vessels to be filled with their lust, pity or scorn. To combat religious prejudice by leading by example.

This is the work that continues to be left undone, and it will remain undone as long as actions taken by the government contradict the goals outlined by its leader.

Passing the buck for all the above to a Turkish TV series is not governance – it’s just a big drama.

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