Resurrection: Ertogrul. Countering Orientalist Travels

So I must have been one of the exceptions to the rule in not having seen any of the massive output in pop culture- especially through the medium of TV soap operas- that have made Turkish contributions to the genre famous and beloved across the world, including its legions of fans across Muslim lands. So I decided to travel back in time and space to the pre Ottoman era and stories of the Kayi tribe whose entry into Anatolia in the late 12th century AD served as the foundation stone for the building of the Ottoman Empire that spanned the regions of south east Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa; the Turkish descendants of the Kayi tribe ruled this powerful Islamic state from the 14th till the 20th centuries.

While the 100+ episodes of the series called Resurrection: Ertogrul — are cartoonish in the black n white depiction of characters and the heavy handed music and cinematography reinforces this black/white view of the world with the brave Kayi leader Ertogrul and his Alps being too good and mighty and always on the side of virtue, and the Templar knights the epitome of all cruelty and vice possible—the series serves an important function: it’s a caravanserai for travelers weary of knowing the history of our world from the point of view of the West. A point of view that Edward Said termed “orientalist.”

And so perhaps there are some lessons to be learnt from these anti-orientalist travels. For instance, I loved seeing the women’s work: the rug weaving, the dyeing of colorful cloths for sale in the Aleppo Bazaar, showing the male and female roles working in complementary fashion to help the Kayi Tent survive the harsh conditions of their existence. Viewers also observe the respectful and loving relationships between men and women despite the heavily patriarchal nature of the tribal society. These representations are a good counter to stereotypes about Muslim male treatment of women that both Muslim men and those who stereotype them would do well to observe.

What I’ve enjoyed about this representation is that it counters the lack of historical knowledge about the pre Ottoman world and its conflicts. I also like the centralisation of the character of the Muslim mystic Ibn al Arabi and the world view he brings to the table of binaries; he counters the oppositional framework that structures that world and which continues down to our own day sadly—through adumbrating an Islamic cosmology that is spiritually elevating because it is humanistic at its core, in a pluriversal way, embracing as it does, all of the life forms that sustain our worldly existence. It is a mythology we need to be aware of, especially as we also witness the internal conflicts in the Muslim world of those times which parallel what’s going on in the contemporary Muslim cosmos. And it’s useful to be reminded that just as no nation or people or place in earth has the lock on the good— so too, fanaticism is not the purview of any one religious group or ideology; the Knights Templar being a case in point, the “fundamentalists” of the Christian world who were as reviled by their saner counterparts as the extremists of the Muslim world today are seen as outliers and are disavowed by the majority of Muslims.

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