The Turkish historical TV drama Dirilis Ertugrul (Ertugrul’s Resurrection) has been all the rage in Pakistan since the state broadcaster began airing a dubbed version in April.
The show’s immense popularity has polarised opinion in Pakistan. Some feel it is a threat to local culture and promotes violence, while others applaud it for glorifying Muslim heroes.
But it’s not just celebrities and analysts who are commenting on the show – the country’s politicians are also actively involved in the debate.
This is not the first Turkish drama to have become popular in Pakistan. But what is different about Ertugrul – often described as the Muslim Game of Thrones – is that it’s being promoted by Prime Minister Imran Khan, for reasons thought to be both personal and political.
Counter-narrative against ‘Islamophobia’?
Mr Khan is, arguably, one of the main reasons why this foreign series is creating waves in Pakistan.
He not only recommended the show and told PTV to air it, but claimed the show would help Pakistan understand the significance of Islamic civilisation.
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Ever since his remarks, the series – which is being aired as Ertugrul Ghazi (Warrior) in Urdu – has been breaking records for viewing figures in Pakistan.
Critics believe Mr Khan has backed the show because he relates to its promotion of Islamic values and it chimes with his goal of establishing Pakistan as an ideal Islamic society.
Since he became prime minister, Mr Khan has been saying he wanted “to create a Pakistan which is in line with the first Muslim society created by Prophet Muhammad in Medina”.
But it seems to be more than just a matter of personal interest.
An article in the leading daily Dawn suggests that “the reason may lie in a much-publicised, behind-the-scenes meeting, where Prime Minister Khan met with Turkish President [Recep] Tayyip Erdogan and [then] Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at the UNGA (UN General Assembly).”
In September 2019, Mr Khan along with Mr Erdogan and Mr Mahathir floated the idea of launching a TV channel to create a counter-narrative against what they called rising Islamophobia.