Hindostan and El Dschihad

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Description

Hindostan and El Dschihad were propaganda newspapers for South Asian, Caucasian, and North African prisoners of war in the Halbmondlager in Wünsdorf and the Weinberglager in Zossen. These periodicals were produced by various authors in Hindi, Urdu, Russian, Tartar, and Arabic. The authors, native speakers as well as Germans, were employed by the Information Service for the East (Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient, NfO), a special propaganda bureau founded in 1914 and directed by the German Foreign Office. Although the different issues followed essentially the same propaganda doctrine and aimed to create a pro-German attitude amongst prisoners of war, the content of the newspapers varied according to their respective readership. For example, the Hindostan issue shown here reports on Roger Casement’s operation to instigate insurrections against the British in Ireland. The Arabic issue does not mention the incident, probably because North African readers were considered to be more interested in anti-French propaganda. Similar in all issues, however, was the desire to present Germany as superior to the Entente states. So articles on the state of the economy or the educational system, for example, are in essence the same and this can be seen in the article 'Germany and England and France', which appears in all four issues.

Context

Documents held by the German Foreign Office suggest that it was the Tunisian propagandist Salih al-Sarif al-Tunisi (1869–1920) who came up with the idea of creating a camp newspaper with the purpose of informing Muslim prisoners of war on the Central Power’s perception of the war. Together with Max von Oppenheim (1860–1946), who served as the head of NfO until 1915, al-Tunisi developed the concept on how to implement a strategy of propaganda within the periodicals. The strategy aimed at instigating anti-colonial uprisings against the English, French, and Russians across the world. Since their approach towards Islamicate countries contained the Caliph’s proclamation of a 'jihad', the newspaper's name was of symbolic importance. The Berlin Indian Independence Committee (IIC) along with two South Asian prisoners at Wünsdorf, Har Dayal (1884-1957) and Mohamed Barkatullah (1854-1927), expressed strong reservations about El Dschihad. They were nationalists and rallied for anti-colonial uprisings, but they were less in favour of the pan-Islamic movement that the Germans and Ottomans hoped to instigate. Instead of El Dschihad, they suggested Hindostan as an appropriate title for the Hindi and Urdu editions of the periodical. The articles in Hindostan and El Dschihad were often concerned with the role of Germany as a cultural nation ('Kulturnation'). Germany was presented as a country prospering both culturally and economically, with friendly inclinations towards suppressed peoples across the world, and a strong ally of Muslim countries that were suffering under colonial rule. Authors also published articles on the progress of the war, the latest technological developments, and the insurance industry in Germany. From the start of April 1915 until 21 August 1918 a total of 84 issues appeared in Hindi and Urdu. The 83 issues of the Arabic edition of El Dschihad were published from 5 March 1915 until 11 October 1918. The Russian edition comprised of only 50 editions and was published from 5 March 1915 until January 1917. Unlike other propaganda material produced by the NfO, the newspapers were published in comparatively small numbers. The total circulation of Hindostan and El Dschihad was 15,000 but by October 1915 this figure was reduced to 8200. With only minor exceptions, these newspapers were distributed exclusively within the Halfmoon Camp. El Dschihad did not attract its expected readership and early criticism by POWS suggest this was in part due to the newspaper's use of standardised Arabic, which many of the prisoners of war were simply not able to read. Others found the newspaper too formal. In 1916, the NfO developed a newspaper written in Maghrebi in reaction to the criticisms. The style of this was more informal and more images were published to deal with the issue of illiteracy. Nevertheless, El Dschihad was published until 1918 and, to combat the problem of an illiterate audience, it was read aloud to those who could not read.