British propaganda in Allied and neutral countries. Note by Lord Cecil from the Foreign Office, 29 December 1916
Dated 29 December 1916, this report by Lord Cecil from the British Foreign Office comprises evaluations of British propaganda conducted in both Allied and neutral countries and among Muslim communities worldwide. The report contains a section on Holland and also refers to Java when discussing the propaganda for Muslim audiences. To read the full report, please click on the source above. The section on 'Holland' is on page 13, the one on 'Moslem peoples' is on page 16.
This report reveals the great importance that British officials attached to maintaining neutrality and relative peace in the Dutch East Indies. Three quarters of the section on Holland is dedicated to propaganda in the Dutch colony and only one quarter to the Netherlands itself. German and Ottoman officials used the Dutch East Indies mostly to import weapons, pamphlets, and Indian revolutionaries to British India. As the Dutch East Indies had probably the largest Muslim population at that time, German and Ottoman agents did not refrain from distributing pleas for jihad among indigenous peoples of the Archipelago.
Throughout 1915, British officials traced back these German-Ottoman schemes to this neutral Dutch colony. They started to put considerable pressure on the Dutch governor general in Batavia and on the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to counteract the German-sponsored distribution of anti-colonial pamphlets. Alongside this, British officials at Wellington House designed propaganda specifically for Muslim communities worldwide, as discussed in the report 'Great War: Particular countries - The 'Moslem World' dated 20 December 1916. For example, British agents distributed the 'Moshi document', a document allegedly found in Tanzania that showed German officials forbidding local Muslim subjects to profess Islam and forcing them to breed pigs. This document was circulated among Muslim communities worldwide as evidence of alleged German disrespect of Muslims. Muslims within the British Empire were targeted first and foremost, followed by Muslims in Java. British officials feared Islamic-inspired revolutions against a white, Christian dominance in Asia, which they believed could spread quite quickly from the rather turbulent Dutch East Indies to India.
Such British Muslim propaganda, as this report shows, clearly made use of diverse media, such as illustrated newspapers (Al-Haqiqah) in diverse languages, Reuter's telegrams, newspaper articles, and also the famous cartoons of the pro-Allied Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers. These cartoons were published with Arabic text. Films like The Battle of the Somme were not mentioned in this report.
Cecil mentions that British officials had to stop temporarily the distribution of Muslim propaganda among the Javanese, as Dutch officials tried to curb any form of belligerent propaganda among their Indonesian subjects. In this case, we see how British propaganda officials were confronted with the boundaries of Dutch neutrality. However, some Dutch officials believed that British propaganda campaigns, such as loyalty statements from Muslim leaders to the British Empire, were counterproductive. These testimonies were badly received by local Malay-language newspapers, which largely based their articles and interpretations of the war on Ottoman and German telegrams (Van Dijk 2007, 307-313).