During World War One and its immediate aftermath, members of the Arab diaspora were singled out from amongst Muslim colonial subjects by British authorities as being worthy of more systematic scrutiny. While the majority of Arabs in the British Straits Settlements were generally deemed pro-British, most Arabs in the Netherlands Indies were thought to be anti-British and pro-Turkish, and therefore conspiring against the British during World War One. The population of Arabs were thereafter starkly divided into two: pro-British or anti-British on a very short spectrum with little nuance.
Intense British colonial surveillance of Arabs during World War One produced a list known as the ‘Index of Arabs’. The Index effectively extends British imperial imaginary to the Netherlands Indies and Arabia. The use of Arab informants complicated surveillance however, as reports demonstrate that these informants manipulated British interests in their favor against their own personal rivals in pre-existing quarrels and emerging feuds.
Fadzilah Yahaya is an Assistant Professor of History at the National University of Singapore. She is a legal historian who focuses on the Islamic World. She has published in journals such as Law and History Review, Muslim World, and Journal of Women’s History. After receiving her PhD in History from Princeton University in 2012, she held a Fellowship in Islamic Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Her book entitled Fluid Jurisdictions in the Indian Ocean – Arab Diaspora under Colonial Rule will be published by Cambridge University Press next year.
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The Leiden Indian Ocean Lectures series is organised by Leiden University, KITLV and IIAS.