We’ve promised huge spectacles in honour of the 75th anniversary, but most celebrations will fail to mention that many more Arabs and Muslims died fighting for the Allies than for the Germans
By Robert Fisk
The Independent Voices
Roosevelt, Churchill and the representatives of Russia and China signed the United Nations Declaration on New Year’s Day 1942, two and a half years before D-Day. After that, those words “United Nations” became the formal name under which the allies were fighting Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Japan.
The declaration, which would cover the aims of the 6 June 1944 landings, declared that victory was “essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice”. It also supposedly – and very significantly – upheld the Wilsonian “principles of self-determination”.
I’m old enough to have met the soldiers of the First World War – at Ypres in the late Fifties with my 1918 veteran dad, when the men of Passchendaele returned to their former battlefields on holiday. And later I met, on my own Normandy holidays, the men of D-Day.
Their stories didn’t always match up with what we hear today. The 1914-18 men talked not so much about dead friends and trench rats and stupid British generals – though that threaded through their conversations – but about their outrage at the German invasion and plunder of Belgium. They spoke rather like the Americans I heard after 9/11.
And several of the D-Day men thought that the June 1944 invasion, far from being a tactical operational necessity was a political strategy – because if the Brits and Americans didn’t get a move on, the victorious Red Army would soon be sunbathing on the beaches of Spain.
And it’s not just because I’m writing this article in Beirut – but whenever I contemplate D-Day and the Second World War today, I think more and more of the Middle East.
The first great European war, of course, gave us the Treaty of Versailles and the creation of the modern Middle East. The second showed the effectiveness of the great military powers which would dominate the world – albeit that Britain and France would soon drop out – until our own day. If the Arabs and Muslims lost out after the first war, they were certainly oppressed after the second.
These days, we cut the Middle East out of our D-Day anniversaries. We prefer not to remember that Muslim Indians and Azerbaijanis and even Armenians were found fighting among the Germans in Normandy.
The Bosnian Muslim “hanjar” battalion was too busy helping the Nazis to suppress the Greek resistance. Its creator, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, had planned to “liberate” Palestine from the British once Rommel reached Sinai. And, needless to say, we absolutely have to forget that one of Rommel’s spies in Egypt – before the Desert Fox moved to Normandy – was that future peace-making president Anwar Sadat.
For quite different reasons, we forget that many more Arabs and Muslims died fighting for the allies than for the Germans. We totally ignore the fact that around 40,000 north Africans, most of them Algerians, fought and died for France – fighting in French uniform against the Nazis – in the last year of the war.