The strange case of British Colonel Cyril Wilson and the Jihadists


The 1916-1918 Arab Revolt fighters

From OUP Blog by Philip Walker the author of Behind the Lawrence Legend: the Forgotten Few who Shaped the Arab Revolt (Oxford University Press, 2018):

The aftermath of the Arab Revolt of 1916-18 and the settlement in the Middle East after the First World War still resonates, world-wide, after a century. It is not only the jihadists of the so-called Islamic State and other groups who rail against the Sykes-Picot Agreement—the secret arrangement between Britain, France, and Russia that carved up much of the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Many moderate Muslims have a rankling feeling of betrayal, being aware that Sykes-Picot contradicted the British promise—albeit a vague one—of a large independent territory for Sherif Hussein of Mecca, the leader of the Arab Revolt, if he would rise up against the Ottomans, Britain’s wartime enemies.

Yet jihadists are not a new phenomenon. On 14 November 1914, encouraged by German intelligence, the Ottoman sultan and caliph declared jihad, or holy war, against the Allies. The British were anxious about the threat: there were about seventy million Muslims in British India, a fifth of its entire population, and anti-British plotters had been active amongst them for many years. The British nightmare was that this small minority could be swelled by a huge number of newly fired-up Muslim jihadists. They were also concerned at the prospect of a rebellion by the Muslims of Egypt, a British protectorate: this could threaten the Suez Canal, Britain’s vital life-line to India. The British clung to the hope that given their support for Sherif Hussein, a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed, their own Muslim citizens in India and elsewhere would find it difficult to rise up against them.

As if these threats were not enough, the British had another headache. In Jeddah (captured from the Ottomans in the early stages of the revolt) their representative, Colonel Cyril Wilson, knew that pan-Islamic jihadist agitators were amongst the hundreds of British Indian Muslims who lived in the town and also in Mecca. These men were organised in underground societies, and were scheming against Hussein for daring to throw in his lot with the infidels. They resented Hussein’s rebellion because they saw the Ottoman sultan and caliph as the bedrock and heart of their religion.

Read the rest of the post at OUP Blog

Categories: Middle Eastern History, World War One

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