Al-Haqīqah: British Propaganda Newspaper for the Muslim World
At the outbreak of war, the British government established an organisation to produce propaganda. Initially known as Wellington House, it later became the Department of Information, and ended the war as the Ministry of Information. Its primary purpose was to convince allies and neutrals that Britain’s belligerency was just. It was not until 1916 that the propagandists turned their attention to the world’s Muslims - both those within and without the British Empire. When they did, their principal vehicle was the illustrated newspaper. The most significant of these newspapers was Al-Haqīqah (The Truth), printed in Arabic, Persian,Turkish, and Urdu.
British imperial rule was founded on assumptions of Western cultural, racial, and military superiority. However, in early 1916 Allied forces had ignominiously evacuated the Dardanelles and were under siege in Kut in Mesopotamia. In other words, they had lost on two fronts to Turkey, a supposedly inferior, ‘Oriental’, and Muslim power. Those in Whitehall were deeply concerned by the potential loss of prestige and its ability to undermine the foundations of British imperial rule. Whitehall saw propaganda as a means of recovering lost prestige and, having largely ignored the Muslim world in 1914 and 1915, these military setbacks galvanised them into action. Illustrated papers for Spain, Portugal, and Greece were already in publication and the Foreign and India Offices, together with Wellington House, thought something similar could work for Muslims, primarily in India and the Middle East, but also elsewhere.
The first edition of Al-Haqīqah was published on 10 March 1916 and it continued to be produced fortnightly for the remainder of the war. The propagandists did not attempt to target the educated, but focused on the masses - whom they assumed had little, if any, literacy - using big, impressive pictures and minimal text. The papers were the size of a broadsheet and often the photographs encompassed a whole page (such as the one displayed here of a howitzer). The aim was two-fold: to restore prestige by emphasising Britain’s military strength, resources, and heroism (pictures of the king were allegedly popular); and to show that Britain was Islam’s ‘special friend’, and understood and looked after Muslim interests. This latter message was transmitted, for example, through images of Muslim soldiers and dignitaries supporting the British war effort, pictures showing Britain’s respectful attitude towards religious practices, and pictures of Arab efforts to escape the ‘impious’ and tyrannical Turkish yoke and achieve self-determination.