Ertugrul Gazi – What it means for Pakistan

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By Amjad Mahmood:-

While visiting Turkey in 2013, I recall facing difficulty in connecting to internet while I with my colleagues was on roads for our official visits. The bus driver who happened to be an ex-Turkish military soldier (Selcuk Sahinalp, my Facebook friend too) on knowing our concern opened up his wi-fi (installed in the bus) for us as a good will gesture (Internet in Turkey is more expensive than many EU countries). While we thanked him for the gesture, he replied “when my country needed help; your women sent their jewelry to us, so this is nothing comparable”. This small incident defines the nature of historically well-knit relationship between people of Turkey and Pakistan.

On 25th Apr this year coinciding with the first day of Ramadan, PTV aired the first episode of the popular Turkish TV series “Resurrection: Ertuğrul Ghazi”. Often described as the Turkish Game of Thrones, the series is woven around 13th century Anatolia and tells the story of the Muslim Oğuz Turks centering around the life of Ertuğrul, the father of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. The success of this show in Pakistan was nothing short of astronomical. With over 1.4 million subscribers and 60 million views, the drama was set to break the record of most new subscribers in a month on YouTube. PTV had dubbed the series in Urdu after PM Imran Khan visited Turkey last year and was informed about the importance of the series. Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia also agreed to fight the rising global trend of Islamophobia, mainly in the West. The trio of nations also decided to launch a television channel dedicated to confronting challenges posed by Islamophobia and to produce films on Muslim heroes.

The huge success of Ertuğrul in Pakistan is due to many varying dynamics. Firstly, a very nationalist PM who repeatedly talks of Sate of Medina as his datum of governance had endorsed a media production and secondly, in all probability Pakistanis were able to relate many commonalities with the series e.g. From their troubled political history of seven decades marred by betrayals, current domestic situation involving people compromising national interests, shameless corruption and injustice, geo-political environment with existential threat, a deep affection for religion, inherent love for Turks and the desire to rise to the challenge posed by anti-state and liberal elements who target the social, cultural, religious and ideological boundaries.

The last three decades of Pakistan have been disastrous in many major domains, specially ruling period of two rival political dynasties. Slowly but surely, the graph of moral, religious, ethical, social, cultural and financial index of society continued to slide down. While few aspects were deliberately compromised for personal gains by ruling elite, many appeared as a byproduct and engulfed the country vertically and laterally both. The war on terror provided perfect environment for foreign hostile elements to support local franchise holders for embedding their assets in various streams e.g media, bureaucracy, business, politics, judiciary and at various levels of governance.

These all factors resulted in producing a range of mediocrity which further devastated the system inside out while average Pakistanis helplessly watched their country slipping in to an abyss. But more importantly, a significant part of new generation was drifting in to a psychological domain thereby accepting ascendancy of hostile neighbours, looking down on Islamic principles, disregarding the Muslim history, taking pride in aligning their lives with Western cultural values and disrespecting the vital family system of country. The national social and religious fiber was under a serious threat. Pakistan calls it a hybrid war against her.

Leo Tolstoy said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time”. After a painful and patient wait, time finally started to change for Pakistan. With swiftly transforming geo-politics in the region, exposure and downfall of shady political dynasties, rise of a new patriotic and pan-Islamic mindset in Pakistan coupled with an extremist sentiment in neighbouring India, time was ripe for a counter response by the state. The influence of liberal and secular elements which had achieved a deep ingress in our society started to recede. Their effort to prove Pakistan’s independence from India a mistake, advocating a cultural and religious closeness with Hindu mindset, creating fake impressions on issues of human rights, minorities and religious freedom were are all smashed by Modi regime.

India inherently had ruined its huge investment in Pakistan herself. Indian policies of extreme hate towards Islam and Muslims, tarnishing history by portraying Muslims as evil through movies defied what anti-Pakistan elements stood for. The famous aerial combat over Kashmir on 27th Feb 2019 proved to be a watershed in reviving confidence of Pakistani nation against far larger Indian armed forces in which two Indian fighter aircraft were shot down and a pilot captured (later released by Pakistan as a goodwill gesture).Indian annexation of Kashmir, notorious nationality laws targeting Muslims, a row with Gulf states on social media over state brutality and ridiculing Islam all acted in favour of ideology of Pakistan. After God gifted kinetic responses, it was time for a virtual riposte.

Then on 1st of Ramazan in Pakistan, Ertuğrul happened….a near perfect recipe to many ills spreading in society. Despite a certain level of obligatory dramatization and addition of sensational spice for enhanced viewership, fact remains that 600 years of Ottoman Empire spread over three continents is a testimony of the events that more or less happened in almost similar manner as reflected in the TV series. Significance of a humble group of people rising to the pinnacles of glory by virtue of its religious convictions and self-belief is not a new phenomenon in the history of Islam. The very inception of Islam had itself shined from the darkest of the eclipses.

Ertuğrul is not a mere Muslim warrior and his tribe not merely a community of poor shepherds striving to secure a peaceful land of their own but reflect a far greater concept. The series speaks of a handful of Muslim warriors who dared to contest all the brutal hegemonic powers of their time with a faith and belief visibly similar to initial struggling days of Islam and Prophet (PBUH).

Depiction of the daily life of Turks is noticeably simple, decent, enriched with repeated references to Allah swt, drawing motivation from Prophet (PBUH) and his sahaba, deep respect for other prophets, family elders and siblings. Seeking divine help and spiritual guidance from a great scholar of the time Ibn-al-Arabi, striving for justice and praying for righteousness remain the hall mark of the series. The events also describe how nations can be harmed by disunity and let down by traitors who fall for lust of power and money. The end of drifted, twisted, disloyal and sold out elements is also an eye opener for many.

Ertuğrul captured the minds of young Pakistanis by bringing them a lost chapter of the rich, courageous and glorious past of Muslims. More importantly, conviction of the religious beliefs, strength of personal character and determination to stay on righteous path as defined by the series were a pleasant and welcome surprise. Though alone a TV series cannot be entrusted with changing mindsets, however can be an effective tool in creating a reversal and establishing a platform for change.

This is exactly why liberal, secular and sold out quarters who had invested many years through mal-intended education empires, fake narratives to inject false sense of inferiority found themselves at a back foot. After Ertuğrul became a house hold name in Pakistan and people started to relate to the Muslim history and glory reviving the lost pride and confidence, liberal and secular elements mocked the nation by reminding them that they have nothing common with Turkish or Arab history and Pakistanis need to associate themselves with Indian history. On the other hand, while the series was a success in Asia, Europe, Americas and Africa, it was banned in some Muslim countries. On February 10, 2020, Diriliş: Ertuğrul was banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (quite understandable as Arab states were part of the Ottoman Empire and revolted to gain independent status). Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaaeven published a statement accusing Turkey of trying to create an “area of influence” for itself in the Middle East using its soft power, according to Yeni Şafak English.

Irrespective of what individual nations or people may perceive, history can neither be amended nor denied. In the light of last sermon by holy Prophet (PBUH), “all mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good actions. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood”.

In essence, words of last sermon imply that Turkish or Arab history is as much ours as is theirs; it also implies Muslim rule over Indian subcontinent as much a pride for Pakistanis as for Turks, Arabs or Egyptians. This also makes us share the glory and grief of UMMAT in different periods of history. If this was not true, world would not have labeled Pakistani nuclear bomb as “Islamic Bomb”. Fact remains that irrespective of how much secular, enlightened, liberal or westernized Muslims become, world shall always view them from the prism of religion.

While arguments and counter arguments shall continue, the conflict between left and right shall linger on, let us enjoy and absorb the message of Diriliş: Ertuğrul Ghazi and give a shout out to Turkey…..Eyvallah.

(Amjad Mahmood holds a Master degree in Strategic Studies from National Defence University, Islamabad. He has varied interests from geo-politics, music, sports to flying.)