Since last summer, channel Urdu1 has enjoyed top TV ratings with its multiple daily airings of the Turkish soap opera Ishq-e-Mamnu, or “Forbidden Love", according to the New York Times. Afraid of being left behind, Geo Entertainment, part of Pakistan's biggest media empire spawned by recent media revolution in the country, has joined the bandwagon with its prime-time airing of Noor. It's a rags to riches story of a woman, and her adoring husband, played by the blue-eyed former model Kivanc Tatlitug.
|Ishq-e-Mamnoon Cast Members|
This latest trend contrasts sharply with what has been happening in the country for several decades. Since 1980s, Pakistan's cultural transformation has been led, in part, by Pakistani workers traveling to and returning from Arab countries. These workers have brought with them Arab notions of Islamic piety and hard-line Wahabi beliefs to Pakistan. This phenomenon has contributed to the proliferation of radical madrassas funded by Saudi money in many parts of the country.
Arabs, seen as model Muslims by many Pakistanis, are themselves soaking up Turkish culture. Back in 2008, Saudi-owned Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) bought Noor and broadcast it across the Arab world to win its hearts and minds. Now Turkish shows are dominating the Arab airwaves. Even Greece, traditional rival of Turkey, has become so hospitable to Turkish soaps that they "are gaining a worshipful following in Greece", according to Mary Andreou who writes for the Greek newspaper Adesmeftos Typos.
Magnificent Century – Turkey’s most popular and most talked-about but controversial soap is about the lavish lifestyle of Suleiman The Magnificent who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566 at the height of its glory and is still revered as Kanuni, or Lawgiver. His empire included large parts of Eastern and Central Europe and the entire Middle East. It is watched in 43 countries by 200 million people, according to David Rohde in The Atlantic. The Hurriyet reports that Turkish soap opera exports have grown from US$1 million in 2007 to nearly US$100 million today. Around a hundred different Turkish serials are exported in dubbed or subtitled form to North Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America.
In Pakistan, Turkish presence extends beyond television entertainment; there's a network of Turkish schools being operated by Gülen Movement, a transnational religious, social, and possibly political movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. It's been described by New York Times as coming "from a tradition of Sufism, an introspective, mystical strain of Islam". Currently, Gulen Pakistan is operating 14 Pak-Turk schools serving over 3000 students in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Khairpur, Multan, Peshawar and Quetta.
|Pak-Turk School, Jamshoro, Pakistan|
Growing Turkish influence in Pakistan has its critics. Local actors and producers decry the new competition of Turkish soaps for "destroying our society". Others see as part of the American conspiracy. Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey, was warned by a mosque near where he works never to return wearing a tie, according to a news report.
Today's Turkey is a modern democratic and secular state run by moderate Islamists. It is seen by many Muslims, including Pakistani Muslims, as a model pluralist society that offers many lessons for the rest of the Islamic world. But it has many detractors as well. For example, there is significant resistance to growing Turkish cultural and educational influence in Pakistan. The Turkish influence is still small but rising rapidly, and the resistance from entrenched orthodoxy is increasing with it. It does offer hope as an anti-dote to the radical Saudi influence that is at least partly responsible for growing violence in Pakistan. While I do see signs of hope with the emergence of Turkey as model for Pakistan and other Muslim countries, only time will tell as to how this culture war unfolds to shape Pakistan's future.
Here's a video clip of Ishq-e-Mamnoon:
Ishq E Mamnoon OST Title Song Full 720p HQ from Prince Mughal on Vimeo.
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