October 20, 2022

Europe's Fascination With Jihad During WWI

An excerpt from, "Understanding the Origins of Pan-Islamism during World War I" By Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Foreign Policy Research Institute, May 12, 2021:

The German-Ottoman jihadization of Islam during World War I led to the development of the first Sunni theory of Islamism. It called for Islamic lands to run their regions under one global brotherhood and to fight enemies according to Islamic rules. Abd al-Malik Hamza Bey developed the theory during World War I; he favored an interfaith coalition with “friendly states” (the Central Powers) against “enemy states” (the Allied Powers of England, France, and Russia). Once glorious lands would seek peace when the colonialists left, assured Hamza, who justified an anticolonial jihad. Since his theory led Islamists into global struggles, it is important to analyze the text that he printed with his co-editor Abd al-Aziz Jawish.

Before the Great War, Hamza worked as a secretary of Egypt’s National Party, which Mustafa Kamil had built in 1907. In the 1905 Morocco crisis, as France wanted to dominate this not-yet colonized North African country, Kamil wrote an article in Berliner Tageblatt on “Kaiser Wilhelm and Islam.” He lauded him for his 1898 visit to Sultan-Caliph Abdülhamid II, who was shunned for prior Armenian massacres. In 1917, the Kaiser made a follow-up visit to the caliph’s successor Mehmed V and Istanbul’s Shaik of Islam Musa Kazim. Wilhelm acted as “protector of 300 million Muslims,” stressed Kamil. He touted Wilhelm’s speech in Morocco for defending that land’s integrity. On a horse given to him by Sultan Abd al-Aziz in Tangier, the Kaiser even proclaimed to protect Morocco’s independence and favored an “open door policy.” Paris was shocked, while Morocco and Egypt were enthused. Thus, Kamil suggested a joint action by Paris and Berlin against London to also secure the Nile state’s independence, since 1882 a de facto and 1914 a real British protectorate.

After Kamil’s death in 1908, Muhammad Farid took the helm to see the British leave Egypt. Both had advanced an enlightened nationalism, proudly tied to 3,500 years of Pharaonic civilization, where Islam was the cornerstone since 642. The nationalists were inspired, too, by French republican values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. To reach their goal, the Egyptians tried to game the Great Powers. After the Egyptians pitted the French against the British and Russians, the Germans offered more support in the second Morocco crisis of 1911 as the Kaiser ordered a German gunboat to Agadir as an answer to more French troop deployments there. This ended in a typical deal as France took over Morocco as a protectorate and made territorial concessions to Berlin in French Congo. Meanwhile, Hamza adopted some of Farid’s ideas after the latter took a trip to Germany. But global views carried local conflicts: European ideas collided with Islamic life and shed light on the minorities’ position.

An excerpt from, "The imperialist origins of Saudi Arabia" By Yanis Iqbal, MRonline, April 28, 2021:

In 1801, Ibn Saud’s army attacked the Shia holy city of Karbala, massacring thousands and destroying revered Shiite shrines. They also razed shrines in Mecca and Medina, erasing centuries of Islamic architecture because of the Wahhabist belief that these treasures represented idol worship. The Ottomans retaliated, occupied Hijaz and took charge of Mecca and Medina. The Ibn Saud-Wahhab alliance remained in the interior until the Ottomans collapsed after World War I. By 1926, the al-Saud clan–led by their new patriarch Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud–and their fanatical Wahhabi allies–the Ikhwan, or “Brotherhood”–once again seized control of the holiest cities in Islam, as well as important trading ports on the western coast of the peninsula..

Like the initial advances of the 1700s, it was a campaign defined by bloodshed, forced conversions, enslavement, and the enforcement of the strict and eccentric laws of Wahhabism. It was also a campaign that was grounded in an alliance between Abdul Aziz and the British Empire; a 1915 treaty turned the lands under Abdul Aziz’s control into a British protectorate, ensuring military support against rival warlords and uniting the two against the Ottomans. The intimate relationship between British imperialists and Abdul Aziz continued even after the dismantlement of the Ottoman empire, reflected in their close cooperation in the war against Sharif Hussein of Mecca, the Guardian of the Holy Cities, the chief of the clan of Hashem and directly descended from the Prophet.

Hussein had contributed the most to the Ottoman Empire’s defeat by switching allegiances and leading the “Arab Revolt” in June 1916 which removed the Turkish presence from Arabia. He was convinced to alter his position after Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, made him believe that a unified Arab country from Gaza to the Persian Gulf would be established with the defeat of the Turks. The letters exchanged between Hussain and McMahon are known as the McMahon-Hussain Correspondence. As soon as the war ended, Hussein wanted the British to fulfill their war-time promises. The latter, however, wanted Sharif Hussein to accept the division of the Arab world between the British and the French (Sykes-Picot agreement) and the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, which guaranteed “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine through a process of colonization done by European Jews. These demands were laid out in the Anglo-Hijaz Treaty–written by the British–which Hussein refused to sign. In 1924, the British unleashed Ibn Saud against Hussein. Lord Curzon hailed this as the “final kick” against Hussein.

An excerpt from, "Rival jihads: Islam and the Great War in the Middle East, 1914–1918" By Eugene Rogan, Journal of the British Academy, January 19, 2016:

Germany knew full well that the Ottomans were militarily exhausted even before the outbreak of the Great War. A Prussian general, Liman von Sanders, had been sent at the head of a German military mission to rebuild the Ottoman army at the end of 1913. The Ottoman army had been gravely weakened in the course of the Libya War with Italy in 1911, and in the First and Second Balkan Wars of 1912–13. Liman and the German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Baron Hans von Wangenheim, both agreed in July 1914 that the Ottoman Empire was ‘without any question still worthless as an ally. She would only be a burden to her associates, without being able to offer them the slightest advantage’, they concluded.

Yet Kaiser Wilhelm II, advised by a group of German Orientalists, believed the sultan-caliph’s call to jihad could make a decisive contribution to breaking the dead-lock on the Western Front. A religious war that turned colonial Muslims against the Entente Powers could force Britain, France and Russia to divert essential forces from the Western Front to restore order in their colonies. Their enemies’ ranks depleted, the Germans could achieve the elusive breakthrough on the Western Front that would force the capitulation of Britain and France, and allow the Central Powers to turn their full attention to defeating Russia. The kaiser believed the Ottomans thus held the key to ultimate victory in the Great War. Ironically, given how far-fetched the strategy seems today, this was a threat that played on the fears of the British and French as well.

The European fascination with the latent power of Islamic fanaticism was captured in John Buchan’s popular novel Greenmantle, first published at the height of the Great War in 1916. ‘Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other’, Sir Walter Bullivant, the spymaster in Buchan’s novel asserted. ‘Supposing there is some Ark of the Covenant which will madden the remotest Moslem peasant with dreams of Paradise?’ Variants of this fictive conversation, which Buchan set in the Foreign Office at the end of 1915, had been taking place for real in government offices in Berlin, led by an adviser to the kaiser named Max von Oppenheim. He called it Islampolitik and many Germans believed that the Ottoman Empire’s greatest contribution to the war effort would come through ‘Islam policy.'

When war broke out in August 1914, Oppenheim established a jihad bureau in Berlin to produce pan-Islamic propaganda to instigate revolts in French North Africa, Russian Central Asia and, the ultimate prize, British India with its 80 million Muslims. Oppenheim assured the German chancellor that, even if the rebellions failed to materialise, the mere threat of a Muslim uprising in India would ‘force England to [agree] to peace terms favourable to us’.