Arab Joy at Turk Defeats
[The Literary Digest; November 10, 1917]
The smashing success of the Turkish forces at Ramadie, in Mesopotamia, is hailed by the Arabic press with pæans of joy, and it is regarded as consolidating the capture of Bagdad and rendering that historic city the undisputed and permanent possession of the "Holy Alliance," as the Arab papers term the Entente. What an influence the possession of Bagdad has upon the Arab mind can be seen from the remarks of the editor of the leading Arabic monthly in Cairo, Al-Hilal, who writes:
"The entrance of the British troops into Bagdad is an epoch-making date in Near-Eastern politics. It was, indeed, the greatest blow at German aspirations in the East. But besides its political importance, Bagdad and the adjoining country can not fail to remind the student of history of a series of memories going as far back as the days of creation. Moreover, Bagdad is a familiar name to English-speaking peoples; this is especially due to the fact that the most widely read book of Eastern origin among them, besides the Bible, is the book of the 'Arabian Nights' Entertainment,' or, as it is more properly called, 'The Thousand and One Nights,' most of whose stories took place in Bagdad."
"But this event has more than a transient interest to the Arab world: it has created a new state of mind among the Arabs, and revived in them old but latent aspirations. The Arabic press see in it the dawn of a new era, the beginning of an Arab renaissance."
Another sign of the Arab renaissance, we are told, is the undisputed success of the new Kingdom of the Hejaz, founded by the Grand Sherif of Mekka, himself a descendant of the Prophet, who, since his revolt against the Turks, has conducted a victorious campaign against them, driving them almost completely out of western Arabia. Notwithstanding the sanctity of the Holy City of Mekka, Bagdad seems to exert an even greater influence upon the Arab mind. The leading Arabic daily of Cairo, Al-Mokattam, says:
"What magnificent visions are brought before the imagination of an Arab by the name of Bagdad! It reminds us of all the glory of ancient days, of the great Arab Empire founded on Justice and order, by our progressive and daring ancestors. who loved science and developed art, commerce, and agriculture. Such was Bagdad, the seat of glory and wealth, the capital of the Arabs and the whole East."
The writer then draws a parallel between Bagdad at that time and London to-day; the first was the capital of the great Arab Empire as the second now is the capital of the British Empire. He then proceeds to show the havoc the Young Turk Government has wrought in that magnificent inheritance.
"That is the glorious heritage of our ancestors, which has remained for twelve centuries an eloquent testimony of the grandeur of the East, until it fell into the hands of the Young Turks, who lost it as they lost other gems entrusted to them, while their troops were being marched outside of Turkey to defend foreign lands."
Turning to the future, Al-Mokattam says:
"Will the Arabs, after the war is over, awake from their long sleep, and regain their place among the civilized peoples of the world, or are they condemned to live only in past memories? Will they form a united nation or remain disunited and opprest as they have been for the last few centuries? Such are the questions which we hope will have a favorable solution at the peace conference."
Especially instructive and interesting is the attitude taken by the Moslem press of Egypt toward Turkey. From a legal point of view, Egypt was until the beginning of the war a Turkish province, and, what is even more important, has always recognized the Sultan of Turkey as the religious head of Islam. Now, however, the Moslem press are strongly criticizing all that is Turkish and Ottoman. Concerning the fall of Bagdad, the Wadi-el-Nil (i.e., the Valley of the Nile), the leading Moslem paper of Alexandria, writes:
"The British victories will have far-reaching results and their importance can not in the least be minimized by the pretension of the Turkish Government that Bagdad was evacuated on strategic grounds. Doubtless the Young Turks have already regretted their entry in the war."
As to the present condition of the city, we quote the following from Al-Hilal:
"The width of the Tigris at Bagdad is about 700 feet, four-fifths of the city being on the eastern bank. Its population is differently estimated at from 76,000 to 200,000, but the most correct estimate would be midway between the two extremes. Two-thirds are Moslems, most of the rest being Jews."
"Bagdad was a great commercial center before the opening of the Suez Canal. Since then its importance has diminished, but it is yet one of the most active cities of the East."
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald