Forgotten Muslim WW I Warriors for Britain
November 12, 2017 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Million of Muslim soldiers came to fight in the savage trench warefare. Most people have no idea that there were any Muslims at all fighting on the western front for the allies but a new foundation has begun getting the story out and more people are going to the French national cemetery to visit the graves. The new foundation has a link in this article but most of its introduction is in the news story. It's definitely a story that should be better known.
posted by MovableBookLady (11 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
"came"? I'd buy "were brought" or "were bought". I doubt that 'voluntary' was much of the mix. But I'd be happy to take instruction on the issue. It's unlikely they were all involuntary conscripts. Or incentivized somehow.
posted by SteveLaudig at 12:45 PM on November 12

I've studied the Great War period for decades, and knowledge of the colonial troops serving in the trenches was well known. But I never really thought about it from a religious perspective. Yes, there were lots of Muslims fighting on behalf of their colonial masters on all fronts of the war. Considering the level of respect paid to their own citizens who served, the lack of attention given to African and Asian troops is hardly surprising. Good to see it's finally gaining some attention.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:52 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]

How colonial violence came home: the ugly truth of the first world war
Nearly a century after first world war ended, the experiences and perspectives of its non-European actors and observers remain largely obscure. Most accounts of the war uphold it as an essentially European affair: one in which the continent’s long peace is shattered by four years of carnage, and a long tradition of western rationalism is perverted.

Relatively little is known about how the war accelerated political struggles across Asia and Africa; how Arab and Turkish nationalists, Indian and Vietnamese anti-colonial activists found new opportunities in it; or how, while destroying old empires in Europe, the war turned Japan into a menacing imperialist power in Asia.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:29 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]

I can't speak for the rest of the British Empire, SteveLaudig, but at least from India, 1.3 million professional soldiers, of whom about a third were Muslim, served in WW1. I suppose you could say they were "incentivized" by getting a salary, but I'm not sure that makes their sacrifice any less heartbreaking than those of their volunteer European brethren.

(Thanks to human ecologist for linking to this article in the first place.)
posted by basalganglia at 2:42 PM on November 12

Relatively little is known about how the war accelerated political struggles across Asia and Africa

One thing that is known is that the Peace of Versailles, with its maintenance of colonial empires for the winners despite all the talk of self-determination, convinced a number of pivotal future Chinese leaders who had been attracted to Western liberal democracy that Lenin's analysis of imperialism was correct and Communism was in fact the only path to freedom for China.
posted by clawsoon at 3:35 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure of their religious make up, but the worst British losses outside of the War outside of Europe were in Mesopotamia, and the bulk of those soldiers were from the Indian Army. They also suffered the majority of the deaths (maybe 30,000, not including the 9000 prisoners from the Siege of Kut, who were used as prisoner labor by the Ottomans with further high rates of death).
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:35 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]

The British army Muslims were among the people for whom Housman wrote his Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries. When the war started, England called back its professional army from the far reaches of the empire, and Hindus, Muslims, Scots Presbyterians, and Irish Catholics came to France to die. They were badly outnumbered, and were generaled by incompetents who disliked them, but were professionals. They bought time till the English could raise a volunteer and conscript army. The Germans, who were using conscripts, referred to the colonial troops as mercenaries. Housman, a classicist familiar with Simonides' epitaph for the Spartans and Philip's epitaph for the Theban Sacred Band, wrote this.

These, in the days when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and the earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
posted by ckridge at 5:56 PM on November 12 [8 favorites]

Around 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in WWI.

Most famously, at Gallipoli.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:25 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]

One thing that is known is that the Peace of Versailles... convinced a number of pivotal future Chinese leaders...

Not just Chinese, either. Ho Chi Minh attended Versailles and tried to get an audience to discuss Vietnamese representation in the colonial French government. After he was rebuffed he helped found the French Communist Party.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:13 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]

Fine link.

I'll note this about the oft-neglected eastern front:
400,000 Indians (British Indian army)
200,000 Algerians , 100,000 Tunisians, 40,000 Moroccans, 100,000 West Africans, 5,000 Somalis and Libyans (French army)
5,000 American Muslims
*1.3 million Russian Muslims*"

We can add to this topic the German desire to start an international Muslim jihad against Entente powers. Plus the fact that one third of the Central Powers was the Muslim-centric Ottoman empire. Which leads to Muslims fighting Muslims at Gallipoli (HT snuffleupagus) and in the Caucasus Campaign (battles of Sarikamish and Erzurum, notably).
posted by doctornemo at 9:19 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]

That's really interesting, ckridge. I've known that poem for a long time (and Hugh MacDiarmid's scathing response) but I had no idea it was about the Indian army. I always just assumed it was about actual mercenaries, rather than troops from India. In light of it being about the latter, MacDiarmid's response does't seem quite so clever.
posted by YoungStencil at 2:39 PM on November 13

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