At the start of the holy month of Ramadan, PTV started telecast of famous Turkish historical fiction and adventure drama series ‘Dirilis: Ertugrul’. The drama series is based on the 13th-century Pre-Ottoman era, with the main story revolving around the life of Ertuğrul — the father of the founder of the Ottoman Empire Osman I.
Identity crisis from Ertugrul, not from Mera Sultan and Ishq e Mamnoon
It was shocking to see criticism of the drama series by certain segments of the society. Some actors called it a threat to local culture, which sounded more like “cultural imperialism”. While some politicians considered it an identity crisis where Pakistanis are ‘finding their identity and roots in Arabs and Turks’. While some critiques said that it glorifies violence.
This is why TRT series “Dirilis: Ertugrul” is so popular in Pakistan pic.twitter.com/vXjlUe6xS7
— TRT World (@trtworld) May 14, 2020
All these objections on the series are very inappropriate. First of all, in the Post-Modern era where the world is talking about globalization and is moving towards uniform culture; considering these sorts of programs as a threat to local culture is nothing new. Over the past few years, many segments labelled the content by Bollywood and Hollywood as cultural invasion or threat to local culture. The same is the case here as well.
Airing of Turkish dramas in Pakistan is not a new trend. From “Ishq e Mamnoon” to “Mera Sultan”, over the years many Turkish dramas became popular in Pakistan but no one criticized them or considered them a threat to local culture. Moreover, when talking about culture and media who is stopping the Pakistani entertainment industry from producing films and dramas promoting local culture? Another topic which is inter-linked with this; is the idea of “culture”. Culture is fluid rather than static; it evolves. Culture is not based on any principles but is based on different aspects of society that transform, evolve, and change over time. So, we must not give sweeping statements when talking about such issues.
Secondly, criticizing Turkish dramas, for they pose an “identity crisis” is as illogical an argument as the previous one. Since people have this very blur idea of identity just like the culture. When talking about identity many mix “race” and “ethnicity”. Moreover, some even add ideology into this. For example, if someone asks you about your identity, where would you begin? Would you consider ancestral roots in defining your identity or will you consider your nationality or will you consider your religion?
Identity is how an individual or group of individuals view themselves. One can have multiple identities, one can be an Afghan/Turk/Arab, Pakistani and a Muslim at the same time. Just in case Turk, Turkish and Afghan, and Afghani are two different things. So, when talking about identity and culture we need to understand the fact that in both identity and culture, religion can be the defining factor. Especially in the case of culture, religion is an important aspect which helps in defining cultural norms and principles.
Focus on the lifestyle of real-life heroes, not film heroes
Moreover, when Pakistanis or Muslims around the world talk about Muhammad Bin Qasim or Salahudin Ayybubi or Ertugrul or Alp Arslan or Yusuf bin Tashfeen, that doesn’t mean they are tracing their roots to Arab, Kurds, Turks or Africans. Instead, it means they are considering the roots in the Ideology of Islam. Ertugrul was a hero of Turk’s but his struggle against the Mongols in defence of oppressed Muslims made him the hero of Muslims not just of Turks. Same is the case with all other heroes be it Salahudin Ayubi or be it Alp Arslan.
Another segment is unhappy with both the drama and the cast, where some from the ultra-right gave ruling that it is not permissible to watch the series. While some critiques talked about the contrast in the lifestyle of the actors in the drama and real life. The problem here lies in deep-rooted rigidness. We must only judge artists by their art, not by their lifestyle. Actors are just performers, not reformers. You can look up to them in the respective field but not always in every aspect of life. But having said that, when discussing culture and ideologies let’s not forget how Orientalism played its part in fulling “Islamophobia” in the 19th century.
Rise of Al-Jazeera; propaganda tools from the West
Interestingly, Post 9/11 Muslims across the globe witnessed a similar campaign based on slogans like “Islamic terrorism” by the powerful media. But soon after Al-Jazeera came in, things changed very much in the media. As it came up with the counter-narrative, but faced strong criticism by some segments within and outside the Islamic world. The same is the case with the Turkish entertainment industry where it is playing its part in showing different aspects of Islamic culture and history. This is all happening in a world where everyone was okay with Americans selling propaganda in the name of entertainment, from American Sniper to Games of Thrones.
The never-ending examples of glorification of violence to justifications of war crimes. Not only just America but different countries across the globe have hijacked the entertainment industry where it serves as a propaganda tool rather than a source of entertainment. With all this, we have this wave of anti-intellectualism which gave nothing but polarization and now this fire is after Art and culture as well.
Talha Ahmad is a Freelance Journalist and blogger. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.