Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Narendra Modi
Representational image | Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Narendra Modi | YouTube
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A Turkish drama series brimming with tribal intrigues, blood, murder, and conquest — all wrapped in pious religious idiom — has taken Pakistan by storm. Filmed in Anatolia, Dirilis: Ertugrul is a 150-episode fictional account of Ertugrul Ghazi, father of the Ottoman Empire’s founder. As of yesterday (Friday), the YouTube count for the 30th Urdu-dubbed episode had already clocked up 5.5 million views on Pakistan Television.

Even those who made Dirilis are astonished — and hugely pleased — at its tumultuous welcome. Tribal Turkmen fighting for a homeland can’t be expected to capture the imagination of millions in some far-off country. But Pakistan is different. Transfixed, entire families are spending evenings watching it together. They think it is wholesome entertainment and genuine Islamic history.

What history? This is a free-wheeling caricature of 13th-century Anatolia of which we know next to nothing. Facts are not important, says Mehmet Bozdag, the man who wrote and produced the series. To quote: “There is very little information about the period we are presenting — not exceeding 4-5 pages. Even the names are different in every source. The first works written about the establishment of the Ottoman State were about 100-150 years later. There is no certainty in this historical data… we are shaping a story by dreaming.”

That this serial is frankly propagandistic and ideologically motivated is beyond doubt. It has been manufactured for a purpose. But what purpose?

Faked history fuels revivalist dreams, creates false hopes, & suggests the way forward is through the sword.

If it seeks to project Islam as a religion of peace and to counter Islamophobia, then the very opposite is achieved. The first scene of the first episode begins with sword-making and sword-sharpening in the background of nomadic tents. The tribe’s adversaries are Christians and Byzantines whose bloodied bodies lie scattered here and there after every fight. The hero, Ertugrul Ghazi, not only beheads several Knight Templars but also former associates from his tribe, such as Kurdoglu Bey, who he suspects of disloyalty.

Should we be surprised if IS-like organisations find this inspirational? Is glorifying the sword glorifying Islam? Islam can surely be represented in ways more positive than putting a spotlight on power struggles within a tribal society. Far better, for example, would be to build upon Turkish scholars like Ali Qushgi, Taqi-al-Din, or Al-Jazari. Without Islam’s early scholars the colorful tapestry of Muslim culture — and Turkish culture as well — would have been far poorer, its claim to being a great world civilisation weak and unconvincing.


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I suspect Dirilis’s real goal is less about Islam and more to vent Turkish nostalgia for a long-lost empire. Production demanded massive funding by the Turkish state. A horse farm was created, together with a special zoo-like area for the sheep, goats, nightingales and partridges that appear on the show. A Hollywood stunt team was hired to train actors for the movie’s staged fights. Erdogan and his family have repeatedly visited the filming site.

Understandably, from within the bastions of Sunni Islam the reaction to this blockbuster has been fiercely negative. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have condemned and banned the series, and Egyptian authorities have issued a fatwa decrying this “insidious attempt to re-impose Turkish tutelage” over Arab countries formerly under Ottoman rule. Currently, Saudi Arabia is reportedly funding a $40m counter series called Malik-e-Nar of which trailers have already been produced. Though inadequate it does make the point: Arabs cannot celebrate Turkish imperialism.

Most peoples don’t like invaders, but Pakistan’s psyche is somehow special. Perhaps overwhelmed by Erdogan’s aggressive style, Prime Minister Khan proudly tweeted that Turks had ruled India for 600 years. Historians will raise their eyebrows — this is between quarter-true to half-true only. But it must be rare for a prime minister to hail imperial rule over his land.

Khan is not alone. Pakistan celebrates all post-eighth century invasions beginning with Mohammed bin Qasim’s conquest of Sindh in 712 AD. Urdu novelist Nasim Hijazi’s books, devoured by millions, are an ode to the Arab conquest of India. Like filmmaker Mehmet Bozdag, Hijazi’s strength lay in creating imagery unconstrained by facts.


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How should one look at ancient invasions and imperial conquests? To laud or vilify them is equally irrational. India is a stunningly clear example of just how much a society can degenerate if it does that. Hindu revivalism is fixated upon the wicked foreign invader who shattered the seraphic heaven of Mother India. Suddenly all Muslims and Christians became unwelcome. As Narendra Modi’s right-hand man recently declared, foreigners are termites infesting a poor man’s grain store.

But do Hindutva’s mindless ideologues not know that all human civilisation began in Africa and there is no such thing as son of Indian soil? That every single human society on earth today is the result of countless conflicts, wars, and foreign invasions over tens of thousands of years? That even precision DNA tests cannot tell the difference between Hindus and Muslims? These basic lessons are for all, not just Pakistan’s rulers.

A mature attitude towards ancient foreign invasions would be to simply accept them clinically as facts of history. They should be investigated and absorbed without either glorification or condemnation. Doing otherwise is utterly pointless. No one living today can be held responsible for the actions, good or bad, of his or her ancestors. Moreover the mists of time have forever hidden true facts from view.

The creators of Dirilis: Ertugrul want us to wallow in the past glories of others and celebrate imperialism. Hook, line and sinker, we are mindlessly swallowing their proffered bait. This poisonous substance can only reinforce the dangerous delusion that going forward actually means going backward.

Instead, the way forward is to ask that Pakistaniat spring from Pakistan’s native soil. It must be rooted in the diversity of all our peoples and historically formed cultures. The year 1971 showed decisively the limits of pan-Islamism. Aping Saudi culture failed to create a viable Pakistani identity; aping Turkey won’t get us much further. Instead a strong national identity can emerge only if Pakistan embraces pluralism, accepts that Punjab is just another Pakistani province, and helps all citizens achieve a sense of belonging based upon a commitment to equality and justice.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad. Views are personal. 

This article was first published in Dawn.

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19 Comments Share Your Views

19 COMMENTS

  1. What the author (who is a respected Physicist) is trying to highlight is the sense of entitlement which arises from being rulers and victors in the past.
    1. The Ottoman Turks conquest of the Byzantine empire and it’s capital Constantinople in 1453 makes modern Turkey feel entitled to lead the Muslim world.
    2. Conquest of Indian lands by Timurid, Ghaznavid and Turko-Mongol rulers beginning in the 11th century and lasting upto the 19th century makes modern Pakistan feel entitled to being separate and superior power in the subcontinent.
    3. Having an ancient and flourishing civilisation makes Indians feel as if they are forever entitled to greatness and riches inspite of now being one of the poorest societies on Earth.
    When these fantasies meet current realities then societies escape into recourse to religious and racial superiority, attributing current status to past angst and collective dreaming of return to great power status by electing demagogues and strong men thugs. The author has made his point with skill and is relevant to India as well as his native country.

  2. How is Mr Modi condeming foreign rule when he is itching to send poor indian soldier to be slaughtered in Kashmir and Ladakh just to disrupt CPEC and for his personal report with Western capital?

  3. The reality is that from 8th century A.D., hindus have been defeated repeatedly for centuries until the rise of modern India. It was our bad time in history as we were a highly divided people based on caste, ethnicity and petty politics that were willing to back stab and betray their own nation at the drop of a hat. We had zero strategic vision, never bothered to have a joint defence of the northwest, never invested in modernizing weapons or warfare and had little interest in science and technology. Any 17 year old with a few people on horseback could conquer us.

    We hindus defend against this shameful history by latching on to hyper nationalism, as a way to compensate for that pathetic past. Our muslims brothers, who pretty much know they are ex- hindus who became muslims as a result of this sorry history, take the other way to compensate, which is to deny the obvious and pretend to be a Turk, Arab etc. Actually both are trying to reconcile and compensate for the collective shameful history of defeat. I bet that if Islam had arrived here via traders or sufis in a peaceful manner, neither hindus or muslims would have such extreme, primordial reactions and we would be much more like Malaysia or Indonesia.

  4. Indian Hindu revivalism calls vasudhev kutumbkam ie all earth is a family
    Gaazni Gauri taimur were all invaders and called so by Indian historians in independent India
    I studied the same 25 to 30 years back
    This face of Hindu revivalism ie aggressive has its roots in whats up and face book revolution
    Trying to know ones own history or evaluating it is not always religious nationalism
    If it becomes so it is a dangerous trend should be opposed
    But this is also true that pseudo secularism which decries all mention of word Hindu as facism and using words like Hindu terror state etc is equally dangerous in fact it is this pseudoseculsrim labelling all mention if Hindu as dangerous has what has led to liberals become staunch Hindus you fail to understand that Indian society s under lying strength is universal integration despite diversity and Hindu nationalism is reactionary to pseudoseculsrim

  5. Pakistan do not have it’s history n culture. Pakistanis up to now considered themselves arabs n now they are trying to be turkish n perhaps in near future they will consider themselves chinkies. They have difficulty to identify with the Indian heritage from which they originated from. No matter how they try to be something that they are NOT but at the end of the day their DNA is Indian and shall be for centuries to come.

  6. The writer’s chimera that Pakistan should embrace pluralism is like hoping to hunt polar bears in the forests of FATA. The country which is formed on the basis of religion to the exclusion of all others cannot think of a pluralist society. So far as the TV serial is considered it has nothing to do with India so adding India to this article seems mischievous.

  7. Factual mistakes, surprised. Didn’t expect this from the likes of Dr Hoodbhoy. Amit Shah said, “illegal ‘infiltrators’ are like termites” and not foreigners. When atrocities are committed in the name of religion, nobody can accept that. For more than 700 hundred years Muslim rulers forcibly converted, raped and massacred the Hindu population especially in Kashmir. That’s why their DNA will be same as they are all just converts from Hindus. The fear is just and understandable, no one will accept this as ancient history but as a continuous Holocaust inflicted on the Hindus of India, it becomes part of human psyche. We won’t forget, we need to remember it so that it doesn’t happen to us or to anyone else again, ever.

  8. Factual mistakes, surprised. Didn’t expect this from the likes of Dr Hoodbhoy. Amit Shah said, “illegal ‘infiltrators’ are like termites” and not foreigners. When atrocities are committed in the name of religion, nobody can accept that. For more than 700 hundred years Muslim rulers forcibly converted, raped and massacred the Hindu population especially in Kashmir. That’s why their DNA will be same as they are all just converts from Hindus. The fear is just and understandable, no one will accept this as ancient history but as a continuous Holocaust inflicted on the Hindus of India, it becomes part of human psyche. We won’t forget, we need to remember it so that it doesn’t happen to us again, ever.

  9. Factual mistakes, surprised. Didn’t expect this from the likes of Dr Hoodbhoy. Amit Shah said, “illegal ‘infiltrators’ are like termites” and not foreigners. When atrocities are committed in the name of religion, nobody can accept that. For more than 700 hundred years Muslim rulers forcibly converted, raped and massacred the Hindu population especially in Kashmir. That’s why their DNA will be same as they are all just converts from Hindus. The fear is just and understandable, no one will accept this as ancient history but as a continuous Holocaust inflicted on the Hindus of India, it becomes part of human psyche. We won’t forget, we need to remember it so that it doesn’t happen to us again, ever.

  10. Mr. Hoodbhoy is a keen observer. I respect his views even though there are differences. Good luck professor.

  11. Pakistanis always seek to equate themselves with India and try to drag India down, for first count it is not true that India is following Pakustan’s way of extremism and secondly there was no need bring is India in this article. Pakistan suffers from massive inferiority complex, it hates its own ancestors, its native culture and language, It seeks to link itself with Persia, Saudi and Turkey when not even 10% of its population can claim such heritage. It idolizes the very same invaders who killed, maimed and raped their own people… India takes pride in its civilization, culture and history, this makes the Pakistanis nervous, so be it. India is democratic and secular because its majority believes in it “Saravjan hitay sarvajan sukhay”

  12. My thinking is that why Pakistani are more energetic to watch this serial Episode, Indian politician always use such language that they will destroy Pakistan ..so there is sense OS insecure.. Just like erturagal tent feel heat from Byzantine governer.
    In India, Muslims.. Especially teenager and youths think that.. Modi is bad for them and dangerous for Islam.
    After the CAA and NRC discussion…it becomes more serious issue about the existence.

  13. Not sure why the author brings in India when the article is about Pakistanis worshipping invaders. Governments in India whether of the past or present never encouraged invader worship although each one may have promoted their own favourite heroes albeit all Indian. Meanwhile Pakistan has always looked abroad for inspiration be it the Arab countries, Turkey or China. The author needs to focus on what he wants to say rather than wading into India bashing.

  14. I checked this article on Dawn and no where there was a mention of Modi. Even the title of the article is different. Did the print change it to include Modi ? If yes, this is shameful.

  15. First of all there is no need bring is India in this article. Pakistan is the only country that worships the people who invade and rape their land… India call invaders as invaders. Where Pakistan worship Ghauri, Ghazni, abdali all who invaded what is called toady’s pakistan. For a Pakistani its painful to see their selected PM is praising foreign culture. Do not bring in India to reduce that pain. Modi calls invaders as invaders

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