In 1798, soon after landing in Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte issued a remarkable document in Arabic in which he informed the Egyptians that he hard arrived to "restore your rights from the hand of the [Muslim ruling] oppressors" and called on them to remain neutral in the contest ahead, threatening them with dire punishment should they disobey his orders.1
In an unlikely and obscure echo of Napoleon's famed appeal, President Franklin Roosevelt in October 1942 issued a similar proclamation in the Arabic language, this one ostensibly addressed to the entire Muslim world, but to North Africans in particular.2 October 1942 was the moment when British forces stopped Hitler's Afrika Korps at El Alamein; for the first time in two years, the Allies felt confident that they would keep the Germans out of the Middle East, and they sought to take advantage of this change in fortune to win Muslim favor. Roosevelt's appeal was part of this effort.
Praise be unto the only God. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O ye Moslems. O ye beloved sons of the Maghreb. May the blessing of God be upon you.
This is a great day for you and us, for all the sons of Adam who love freedom. Our numbers are as the leaves on the forest trees and as the grains of sand in the sea.
Behold. We the American Holy Warriors have arrived. We have come here to fight the great Jihad of Freedom.
We have come to set you free. We have sailed across the great sea in many ships, on many beaches we are landing, and our fighters swarm across the sands and into the city streets, and into the wide countrysides, and along the highways.
Light fires on the hilltops; shout from your housetops, and from the high places, and say the sound of the drum be heard in the land, and the ululation of the women, and the voices even of small children.
Assemble along the highways to welcome your brothers.
We have come to set you free.
Speak with our fighting men and you will find them pleasing to the eye and gladdening to the heart. We are not as some other Christians whom ye have known, and who trample you under foot. Our soldiers consider you as their brothers, for we have been reared in the way of free men. Our soldiers have been told about your country and about their Moslem brothers and they will treat you with respect and with a friendly spirit in the eyes of God.
Look in their eyes and smiling faces, for they are Holy Warriors happy in their holy work. Greet us therefore as brothers as we will greet you, and help us.
If we are thirsty, show us the way to water. If we lose our way, lead us back to our camping places. Show us the paths over the mountains if need be, and if you see our enemies, the Germans or Italians, making trouble for us, kill them with knives or with stones or with any other weapon that you may have set your hands upon.
Help us as we have come to help you, and rich will be the reward unto us all who love justice and righteousness and freedom.
Pray for our success in battle, and help us, and God will help us both.
Lo, the day of freedom hath come.
May God grant his blessing upon you and upon us.
If the text of the appeal sounds more like the Qur'an than FDR's fireside chats ("Our numbers are as the leaves on the forest trees," "say the sound of the drum be heard in the land"), this is no accident. The text was written at the president's request by two Americans in Morocco attached to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Gordon H. Brown and Carleton Coon (the famed anthropologist), then it underwent an unexpected permutation. After Brown and Coon
had written the order in English, they gave it to one of their spies, an Arab code-named Pinkeye, and he began to read it aloud in the manner of a holy man reading the Koran. Struck by the lyricism that crept into the text as he declaimed it, the agents decided to use not their own text, but a revision based on Pinkeye's rendition.3
Also of note are such expressions as "the great Jihad of freedom" (a phrase not likely to be used today) or calling G.I.s "Holy Warriors happy in their holy work."
Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum.
1 The complete text was published in al-Jabarti, 'Ajai'b al-Athar fi't-Tarajim wa'l-Akhbar, English trans., Thomas Philipp and Moshe Perlmann, 'Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti's History of Egypt (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1994), vol. 2, pp. 4-6.
2 Published in Anthony Cave Brown Oil, God, and Gold: The Story of Aramco and the Saudi Kings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), pp. 104-105. It is not clear whether the Arabic translation of this text survives.
3 Ibid., p. 380.
Mar, 1, 2000 update: A personal addendum: Shortly after I took up Middle East studies as an undergraduate student in 1969, I had the opportunity for an "independent study" project with Carleton S. Coon (1904-81), in the course of which he guided my readings on peoples of the Sahara Desert. I rarely learned as much as in that one-on-one class.
Carleton S. Coon.
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