Propaganda and Islam: from The National Archives

The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war in November 1914 posed a great danger for the Allies.  Both Britain and France had empires with substantial Muslim populations and important supply routes and strategic interests were potentially threatened.   The declaration of a jihad against the Allies raised the possibility of mass insurrection.

No such insurrection occurred.  Muslim leaders in French Africa and in the British Empire issued statements of loyalty and the French Government, seeing the propaganda value in publicizing these more widely, published those from West Africa, Algeria, Tunis and Morocco in volume 29 of the Revue du Monde Musulman (December 1914).   In June 1916, the British Government discussed issuing a propaganda volume containing assurances of loyalty from Muslims in Nigeria, the Malay States, Sierra Leone, East Africa and so on (The National Archives, CO 323/719, 520-522) .

However, such statements were not to be relied upon.  A note of caution was added to the file.

Somali loyalty

At about the same time, the British War and Colonial Offices were considering how to use a document that, it was claimed, had been captured by General Smuts’ forces at Moshi (German East Africa) in March 1916 (FO 141/666/2512).  This was in the form of a directive, hostile to Islam, supposedly sent to District Commissioners by Dr Schnee, Governor of German East Africa, in winter 1913.  The document included suggestions that circumcision be banned, preaching in Mosques prohibited and pig-breeding encouraged.

An Arabic translation by the British Directorate of Special Intelligence (MI7) was circulated in Egypt in May 1916 but, unsurprisingly, the British Residency reported back that ‘…in Egypt people generally have been unwilling to believe in its authenticity.  They consider it as a fabrication – and not a very clever one’.  The text was ‘corrected’ by T.E. Lawrence in June but there does not seem to have been any further attempt at general circulation.

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