WWI Through Arab Eyes
Above Photo:Al Jazeera English/ Youtube Screenshot
World War One Through Arab Eyes – Episode One: The Arabs World War One was four years of bitter conflict from 1914 to 1918. Called ‘The Great War’ and the ‘war to end all wars’, it is often remembered for its grim and relentless trench warfare – with Europe seen as the main theatre of war.
But this was a battle fought on many fronts. There is a story other than the mainstream European narrative. It is not told as often but was of huge importance during the war and of lasting significance afterwards. It is the story of the Arab troops who were forced to fight on both sides but whose contribution is often forgotten.
They fought as conscripts for the European colonial powers occupying Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia – and for the Ottomans on the side of Germany and the Central Powers. The post-war settlement would also shape the Middle East for the next hundred years.
In this three-part series, Tunisian writer and broadcaster Malek Triki explores the events surrounding World War One and its legacy from an Arab perspective. Arabs troops from North Africa were among the first to be exposed to the Germans’ poisonous gas soon after the start of World War One.
Some reports also suggest that they were subjected to the ancient Roman military practice of ‘decimation’. This was the almost random execution of every tenth member of a unit for collective failures of army discipline – and the French are alleged to have used it against their North African troops.
Galliopoli was one of the biggest Allied defeats of the war. But it is not well-known that as many as 300,000 of Mustafa Kamal’s Ottoman forces in the campaign were Arabs from Greater Syria – present day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.
But the Ottoman entry into the war was accompanied by a call to jihad by the Grand Mufti in Istanbul to all Muslims across the world.
Muslim was forced to fight against Muslim; and the German propaganda machine seized up the tension this created in the Arab world by seeking to undermine the morale of the north Africa troops fighting for the western Allies.
It even set up a show camp near Zossen in Germany where Muslim troops were given preferential treatment in an attempt to persuade them to change sides. The Half Moon Camp was the site of the first ever mosque in Germany.