Are There Non-Sectarian Parties in Syria: The case of the SSNP?

Antun Saade

Antun Sa'ade

“Are There Non-Sectarian Parties in Syria?”
By Joshua Landis

The following post originated in the comment section. I brought it to the front page not only because “sectarianism” is endlessly fascinating to our readers, but because it remains the central strumbling block to the formation of geographically based nationalism in the Middle East. I am responding to a comment by Nour:

Dear Nour,
You write:

The only truly secular parties in Lebanon are and have always been the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Communist Party. However, their ability to attract members has been historically hampered by the deep sectarian nature of Lebanese society which has only been strengthened and reinforced by the political system insisted upon by the sectarian, tribal chieftains of the country.

What about the Baath Party? Like both the SSNP and Communists, the Baath is secular and even anti-sectarian in ideology. Of course, it has not been so in reality.

I raise this question of the Baath, which is much more familiar to us, in order to challenge you on the other two – the SSNP and Communists.

Flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist

Flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist

I have always thought of the SSNP (Syrian Social Nationalist Party ) or PPS (Parti Populaire Syrien) as a party founded on a Greek Orthodox sensibility, even though it attracted many non-Orthodox. Yes, it builds on “Greater Syrian” nationalism, which is geographically based and not obviously sectarian, but hasn’t it appealed to Greek Orthodox first and foremost – as the anti “Arab” party? What I mean by “Arab” was understood by Greek Orthodox to be a code word for Muslim? It was attractive to other minorities, such as the Druze, Shiites, and Alawites as well, for the same reasons. They too were frightened of the Sunni ascendency. (Of course in the 1950s, the party developed a much more nuanced approach to Arabism, but I am talking about its origins here. Baathism later grew up to challenge the SSNP for the allegiance of many of these groups because it promised to establish an Arabism that was not dominated by the hegemonic Sunni moral outlook as was the National Bloc and its off spring.

At the time of the First World War, when the British were trying to appeal to the Arab Sunni majority by supporting the Hashemite version of Arab nationalism, which was infused with Sunni legitimacy, the Comite Central Syrien, a largely Greek Orthodox inspired organization grew up to challenge this conception of the M.E. It presented Greater Syria as the alternative to a Hashemite led Middle East and appealed to the French – particularly during the Paris Peace Conference after the War. People like Jacques Tabet, Chucri Ghanem and Semne, leading members of the movement – as well as the many chapters in the mahjar, Latin America, Europe and North America, did not want toe-picking backward Arabian Arabs to take over. They also depicted Arabism as a scary fanatical movement coming from the desert that wanted to re-impose a caliphate on the Middle East and had no conception of modern nationalism. They tried to scare Christian Middle Easterners and Europeans alike about the ultimate results of empowering a largely Muslim, neo-Umayyad, Arabism in the region.

When one scratched below the surface of the Greater Syria alternative, one found an imperial Byzantine sensibility and conception of history that had been built upon readings of the bible and sought to reunite regions of the Middle East where large populations of Greek Orthodox lived. Greater Syrianism didn’t just grow up as an anti-Arabist movement, it also emerged as an anti-Pheonicianist movement. It was an effort to present a nationalist conception of the region that suited the sensibilities and demographic of the Greek Orthodox in opposition to the largely Sunni and Maronite nationalist conceptions that were emerging.

Antoun Saade, whose father Khalil Sa’adah was a prominent Arabic-language journalist in Brazil, was well versed in this conception of the Middle East. I do not have proof that his father belonged to the Comite Central Syrien of the First World War era, but I would wager he did. He was a publisher and intellectual. Antoun grew up in a politicized and literate milieu.

He brought these ideas back to Lebanon in the 1930s and gave them an overlay of national socialism (fascism) which was the fashion of the time, replacing the liberalism of the original members of the Comite Central Syrien.

In short, what I am arguing is that all the “secular” parties of the Middle East, such as the SSNP, Baath, and Communit Parties, had a disproportionate appealed to various ethnic or sectarian groups and became “sectarianized” because the nationalist struggle in the Middle East could not be isolated from the religious and communal struggles that were and remain such a fundamental part of identity politics in the region.

Best, Joshua

Greater Syria

Greater Syria

Comments (86)


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51. jad said:

Nour,
I agree with you that instead of looking at the secularism idea and it’s beauty in uniting all of us, guys here are discussing how many Christians, Sunnis and Shiaa are REALY in Syria forgetting that Turkey with it’s 99% Muslim population are pro secularism…that is really sad

Sagir,
Last time I checked, Christians in Syria where less than 1%!???
For god sake don’t come up with % from your own mind and personal observation.
(Ethnic Syrians are of Semitic stock. Syria’s population is 90% Muslim–74% Sunni, and 16% other Muslim groups, including the Alawi, Shi’a, and Druze–and 10% Christian. There also is a tiny Syrian Jewish community. )

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November 24th, 2008, 5:12 pm

 
 

53. SAGHIR said:

The 5% figure that I have cited is not from my imagination or personal analysis. I would be happy to share with you where I got it from and to prove to you that it is far more accurate than the 10% number that is cited everywhere, including wikipedia

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November 24th, 2008, 6:08 pm

 

54. Qifa Nabki said:

Nour said:

So before mockingly creating an imaginary conversation with a Cypriot, QN, why don’t you actually try speaking to one and see what their take is of Cypriot culture and history.

Actually, Nour, I lived for twelve years in Cyprus so I’ll wager that I’ve spoken to a few thousand more Cypriots than you have.

Not a single one of them ever expressed to me that they feel “Syrian” by any stretch of the imagination. As far as they’re concerned, habibi, they’re Greeks, period.

As for the SSNP flag… your description of it makes it sound as if this flag and its symbolisms are as old as Syria itself. The color red signifies “giving”? Black signifies “stability”? Says who, and since when? The zawba`a is a symbol of Syria? Again, says who?

I think the vision of Greater Syrianism that you are articulating is a liability for the less extreme one that the other commentators are comfortable with.

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November 24th, 2008, 6:46 pm

 

55. MSK* said:

Dear Nour,

Since you haven’t answered my question yet, may I pose it again?

Would you please provide a definition of:

(a) Syria

(b) Syrians

Ya’nii, what characteristics does Syria and do Syrians possess? What does a place have to have in order to belong to Syria, and what does a person have to have or be like in order to be considered Syrian? What distinguishes, in your view, Syria and Syrians from other places and people/nations? What are the borders of Syria, and on what grounds?

Thank you.

–MSK*

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November 24th, 2008, 7:06 pm

 

56. jad said:

Saghir,
I’m not interested at all in taking my conversation into a sectarian debate with you, which is absolutely going no where but to separate us more than unite us.
Even if you don’t have any Christians in Syria, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a secular system.
Islam is a religion, it’s a way of living, tradition, spiritual and values on a very PERSONAL level and the moment you live your house you are in a society that you can’t force to live your way unless you are not looking to build a true free society.
Islam is not going to be the one and only reference and solution for your country’s contemporary problems, it doesn’t work this way.
Keep your faith inside your heart and deal with your countrymen using your brain and reason?

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November 24th, 2008, 7:18 pm

 

57. SAGHIR said:

JAD,

Who can argue with the spirit of your note? Of course we can all dream about an imaginary region where secularism reins supreme.

The facts on the ground are, however, otherwise.

Whether you like it or not, and whether you want to admit it or not, the fact of the matter is that our region is highly sectarian and is likely to remain so.

Where sectarianism is not so apparent to the naked eye is simply due to the fact that those natural tendencies are being suppressed and prevented from making it to the surface.

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November 24th, 2008, 8:06 pm

 

58. Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

My first girlfriend was from Cyprus. I met tens of her relatives and friends and none of them reacted in any special way when they knew I was Syrian.

But, on the other hand, I found out that the Buthaina Shaaban of Cyprus (their senior press secretary) went through Creative Syria and she signed our guest book.

(testimonials on top right of the page)
http://www.creativesyria.com/

So maybe some Cypriots do have something for Syria : )

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November 24th, 2008, 8:08 pm

 

59. Alex said:

Saghir, Jad

It depends … there are times when sectarian feelings and fears are more prominent than others. People do get influenced by their environment.

In 1975, Damascus was much more liberal and secular that it is today.

Cairo too (to a lesser extent).

By taming the sectarian winds blowing from Iraq and Lebanon and Saudi Media … the secular Syrian leadership will be able to gradually and positively influence the whole region and not only Syria.

Hillary Clinton is strongly against religious extremists of all types. Let’s see if she is convinced to work with Syria to help the region become more secular.

Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel will need to cooperate … they are the Sunni, Shia, and Jewish fortresses of the region.

Syria, and Turkey will be the more positive players in this respect.

After peace of course.

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November 24th, 2008, 8:14 pm

 

60. jad said:

Thank you Alex, you are right.

Saghir
(Whether you like it or not, and whether you want to admit it or not, the fact of the matter is that our region is highly sectarian and is likely to remain so.)
I don’t think in all my comments I said that I don’t think sectarian are not there, and to answer your comments, Yes I HATE sectarianism with the bottom of my heart.
What I wrote in all my previous comments was that Secularism gets weaker or stronger depending on us and our reaction to it and it is our duty to keep it stronger because it is better to concentrate on our similarity than our differences.
I think you miss interrupted my comments

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November 24th, 2008, 8:29 pm

 

61. SAGHIR said:

JAD,

Story of my life 🙂

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November 24th, 2008, 8:38 pm

 

62. Jon Masouh said:

With all respect it is funny discussion. I grew up in a SSNP family, I was SSNP but not any more, not because of the ideologies but because of the politics. Again, with all respect most of the ideas in the article or the comments have been mis-leaded by some Internet web sites. The course of the SSNP does not include most of this ideas, it is mostly from analytical studies-and Arabs are champions with that-the founder of the party was Christian, but not all members are Christians, some SSNP statistics show that all over the world the Muslims members are more than Christians(please don’t ask me for the source, i do not have it, it is from official in the party).

Anyway, with all respect again, instead of spending all the energies on an expired ideas, lets talk how can we help the people that are oppressed by government, hunger and ignorance. look at the west’s educational curriculum and compare the Arabic’s, one will know whay we are backward.

thanks,

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November 24th, 2008, 8:54 pm

 

63. Nour said:

QN,

I’m willing to wager that you never spoke to any Cypriot about this issue in particular. There is no doubt that Cypriots realize they have a link to the Syrian coast. After all, they are geographically much closer to Syria than they are to Greece. And if you’ve ever been to Greece, you would know that the Greeks themselves do not consider the Cypriots Greek and actually view them as an entirely different people. But Greece and Turkey both know the strategic significance of Cyprus and that’s way they are struggling to impose their influence there. Yet, our people feel as if we have no say in the matter even though Cyprus is, and has always been, a very important island for Syria.

As for the Zawba’a, you would know it’s a Syrian symbol if you visited any of a number of Syrian historical sites, including Baalbak, where you can see both the zawba’a and the swastika on the ruins there. It is also found in historical sites in Antioch as well as Sumer and Babylon. The colors of the flag are indeed rooted in Syrian history and are expressed in tablets found in Ugarit and Ebla. They have also been maintained across generations. Historically, in Syria, the color black represented stability because it’s the most solid color, while the color white represented purity, which is true across many cultures, and the color red, which is the color of blood, represented giving.

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November 24th, 2008, 9:16 pm

 

64. qunfuz said:

Strange to find myself so much in agreement with QN today! But I am, especially on this: “I think the vision of Greater Syrianism that you (nour)are articulating is a liability for the less extreme one that the other commentators are comfortable with.” Sorry, Nour, but I do think you’re getting obsessed with signifiers. Symbols can come or go. So can flags. They have no inherent meaning. The swastika you can find at Baalbak and elsewhere is an old indo-european (not semitic) symbol. It has just as much to do with India and Greece as with Syria, which seems to undermine your argument. And, as you yourself imply, if white means purity and red means blood sacrifice/ giving, and these associations tell us something about ‘syrianness’, then the Scots are good Syrians.

The fertile cresent nation is a lovely idea. let’s not ruin it before it’s born with silly politics.

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November 24th, 2008, 9:48 pm

 

65. Nour said:

Dear MSK,

Sorry I didn’t get to your question earlier. The way you phrased your question is a little confusing, as you seem to be concentrating the definition of Syria and Syrians on the parts rather than on the whole. That is, you can’t take a single part of Syria and say that because it has this and that characteristic, then it must be Syrian. Rather, the Syrian homeland is that geographic territory that the various Syrian groups inhabited and on which they interacted with each other as well as with the land, thereby forming characteristics differentiating them from other national groups. As Saadeh defined it, “THE SYRIAN HOMELAND IS THAT GEOGRAPHIC ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THE SYRIAN NATION EVOLVED. IT HAS NATURAL BOUNDARIES WHICH SEPARATE IT FROM OTHER COUNTRIES EXTENDING FROM THE TAURUS RANGE IN THE NORTHWEST AND THE ZAGROS MOUNTAINS IN THE NORTHEAST TO THE SUEZ CANAL AND THE RED SEA IN THE SOUTH AND INCLUDES THE SINAI PENINSULA AND THE GULF OF AQABA, AND FROM THE SYRIAN SEA (MEDITERRANEAN) IN THE WEST, INCLUDING THE ISLAND OF CYPRUS, TO THE ARCH OF THE ARABIAN DESERT AND THE PERSIAN GULF IN THE EAST.”

As for what characteristics make someone a Syrian, again you can’t reduce characteristics to individuals, but you can view an overall, general national psyche that defines the Syrians as a whole. This national psyche has manifested itself in various forms across generations and centuries and has a unique, consistent feature found in Syrian literature, art, architecture, etc. The Syrians have always had a unique, spiritu-materialistic outlook on life, as opposed to the more extreme spirituality of the east and the higher degree of materialism in the west. The Syrian environment was one which gave back, but only with struggle and exploitation. This led the Syrians to become more innovative than many of their neighbors, as they were forced to develop ways to make the land on which they lived more productive. As such, Syrians are generally seen as a more serious people than other parts of the Arab World.

In Syrian religious beliefs you can also see a common trend across generations and within the same eras, where we see common deities and religious literature across the whole of Syria and with the consistency of the basic religious tenets throughout the ages, even with the change in the particulars of the religions. For example the idea of the holy trinity is actually rooted in old Canaanite philosophy of the three steps required for the transfer of knowledge. Many of the same religious rituals have remained, including the celebration of the Christmas tree, which is originally a celebration of the goddess Ishtar.

There is also a general Syrian physical characteristics, although again, this should be looked at in a general sense from the viewpoint of the whole, rather than individuals. But if you go to other parts of the Arab World, they identify us as “Shamis” based on our common physical, as well as psychological characteristics. So the bottom line is that, while there is no single characteristic that makes a single person or a particular geographic region Syrian, the Syrian homeland does indeed form a single geographic unit, and the Syrians do indeed form a single, complete nation.

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November 24th, 2008, 9:51 pm

 

66. Nour said:

Qunfuz,

I don’t believe that I am the one obsessed with symbolisms, rather those who are insisting that the Party should change its symbol appear to be the ones preoccupied with such things. If symbolisms come and go, then why should we demand that the SSNP change its symbol? What if its new symbol is then used by some other group that engages in despicable acts, should then again change its symbol to suit the sensitivities of other? That’s the ultimate question.

As for symbols themselves, there is no doubt that certain symbols overlap across cultures and nations, but that doesn’t mean that they are not rooted in a particular national heritage. It is the same even with languages, where you will find certain words that are common in many languages, yet that doesn’t mean that those words have no relation to a particular language. In addition, while a symbolic shape may be consistent in two separate cultures, its significance may not be. That is, for example, while Indian groups have also used the swastika as a symbol, its symbolic meaning is different than that of the Syrian swastika.

All nations and peoples have a degree of pride and attachment to their symbols. I guarantee you that if you asked Americans to change their flag because you found it offensive, they would not be willing to entertain your request. The same is true with most other nations.

Now, let me just emphasize that I do not believe that the symbol is what matters, but I am opposed to amending and adapting our symbols everytime someone has a problem with it. And I also wanted to clarify that the SSNP flag and symbol are indeed rooted in Syrian history and heritage.

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November 24th, 2008, 10:00 pm

 

67. Guillaume said:

Nour ,is that true that Saadeh had good opinion of Mu3awiya Ibn Abi Sufian?Who is placed by him among the great syrian nationalists.

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November 24th, 2008, 10:16 pm

 

68. jad said:

I think this will answer everybody’s question about Syrian identity and make you all have a laugh for a change;

كيف تعرف السوري من بين سكان العالم ؟؟؟

• ‏بيفهم في الطب وبيشخص المرض وبيوصفلك الدوا وبيفهم في الكهربا وتصليح السيارات والطبخ والسياسة والقانون والواجب و الدين و الحسابات والكورة وهو أبيض ياورد .
• ‏بيحط الريموت كونترول في كيس نايلون حتى ما يتغبر ولا يضيع
• ‏بيوقف يتكلم على الباب نص ساعة بعد إنتهاء الزيارة والسلام
• ‏في خزانة المطبخ عنده عشرين مرطبان مربى فاضي منشان اذا احتاج يستخدمها ومازال مُصِر على جمع المزيد.
• ‏ييجي بعد الموعد بساعة وربع دون ان يعتذر.
• ‏يتكلم بصوت عالي في المكالمة الدولية منشان التاني يسمعه .
• ‏بيعتبر حاله أفضل واحد في الشراء والمفاصلة ثم يكتشف إن الشي في المحل اللي جنبه أرخص من غير مفاصلة.
• ‏بيحتفظ بأكياس محلات اللبس والأحذية وورق الهدايا تحت فرشة التخت لسنوات.
• ‏عنده صينية مكسرات مقسمة لتلات او أربع أقسام منشان المزاج لكن لايستخدمها ابدا.
• ‏بيشتري قبل الإفطار في رمضان مواد استهلاكية متوفرة عنده في البيت
• ‏عنده منقل شوي للرحلات يستخدمه مرة واحدة كل عيد .
• ‏بيفكر إن أي حدا بيشتغل في الخليج بيغرف مصاري من غير حساب وأغنى واحد في الدنيا.
• ‏بيكون مشغول بقيمة البقشيش طول العشا.. ياترى 25 أما50؟
• ‏تخانق ساعة دفع الحساب بحرارة شديدة على إنه هو اللي لازم يدفع.
• ‏بيفرش شرشف التخت على طقم الكنب منشان الكنب ما يتوسخ، ولما يجوا الضيوف يترك الشرشف وما بشيله.
• ‏دائما يعيش ضمن الحلم ولا يقبل بان يخرج مما يحلم.
• ‏اكثر واحد عنده كرامه في العالم

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November 24th, 2008, 10:43 pm

 

69. Joachim Martillo said:

My name is Joachim Martillo.

I run the organization and site named Ethnic Ashkenazim Against Zionist Israel.

Not only do I have a thorough background in Jewish as well as Eastern European studies, but I am working on increasing my knowledge in Islamic and Arabic scholarshp.

Because of my activities, I have to have a lot of familiarity with German Nazism and the Holocaust.

Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (NSDAP, National Socialist German Workers Party, the German Nazi Party) does not strike me as a name particularly similar to Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), but I can understand why such a claim might be made for tendentious purposes.

The Swastika is as much a Semitic as an Indo-European symbol and was used as an abstract representation for the class of angels known as Cherubim.

Swastikas were among the decorations on Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem.

More to follow.

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November 25th, 2008, 12:41 am

 

70. Stuart said:

If Prof Landis will be kind enough to let me post this here:

I am keen to develop a collaborative discussion group that has guest columnists at my blog http://www.mydailyclarity.com and so am interested in receiving submissions from authors. The site is a young publication but already have regular readership in over 30 countries (and also interestingly in Langley, VA and Washington, DC). We are looking for articles of interest to an educated and international audience – of particular interest are articles from experts in a specific geopolitical region, an interesting take on an issue relevant to our readers, or scholarly works on current international issues. Submissions can be in the form of one-off guest articles or could be pitched as an ongoing guest column. Please contact us at dalilyclarity@gmail.com with your ideas. These are non-paying submissions but will get your work read further read in the international community and we will promote author links to any articles published by us. We also have to add that our decisions on content selection will be final and binding.

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November 25th, 2008, 1:14 am

 

71. sean said:

I’m going to have to emphatically agree with QN and Qunfuz here. Nour’s dogmatic insistence on dictating Cypriots’ national identity with a blatant disregard for how they actually feel and for the last millennium or two of history does much more harm than good to the idea of Bilad ash-Sham.

To my mind, this insistence on Syrian Cyprus is a symptom of how SSNP partisans have it exactly backwards when they speak of ancient historical ties. These “ties” disregard history and the changes that it brings about. There is no pure nation. And while some national borders are drawn from the center and applied to the periphery (turning peasants into Frenchmen, for example) and others are imposed from the outside (or drawn on the back of napkin in the case of Jordan), it doesn’t seem to make much sense to talk of one as being more “real” than the other. And I’m not even sure that it’s useful or even accurate to talk about legitimacy in these cases. Is it more legitimate for the Mahdi to tell a Darfuri or Southern farmer that he’s Sudanese than it is for a Brit to do so? History matters, and colonialism is part of history. Try telling Eritreans that their national sentiments are mistaken because they are rooted largely in differences that may not have existed if it hadn’t been for Italian colonialism.

What makes the European Union successful and interesting, to my mind, is that it is forward looking. While Nour is focusing on Canaanites, the EU is making norms on human rights. The EU doesn’t need some sort of chauvinistic mythology to define itself. It’s a modern union based in the common interests of diverse peoples.

Personally, I’m all for some sort of union or confederation for the peoples of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Jordan so long as it’s democratic and can get beyond exclusionary ethnic and sectarian ideologies and practices, as well as the center-periphery dynamic that has created so many problems in places like Sudan.

To look at the idea of a regional union from a Jewish/Israeli perspective, it’s interesting to look at Uri Avnery’s book, “Israel without Zionists.”

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November 25th, 2008, 10:39 am

 

72. Qifa Nabki said:

Wonderfully put, Sean.

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November 25th, 2008, 5:56 pm

 

73. Qifa Nabki said:

Strange to find myself so much in agreement with QN today!

Qunfuz,

You are caught in my tractor beam… don’t fight it. Sooner or later you will come over to the dark side! Resisting Qifa Nabki is a quintessentially quixotic quandry, my dear Qunfuz.

😉

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November 25th, 2008, 6:09 pm

 

74. Nour said:

Sean:

The Syrian identity is not based on any single ethnic origin or single historical period. As such, the Cypriots are not Syrian solely based on their Canaanite origins. For example, many in the Maghreb countries have Canaanite origins, due to Canaanite settlement there, but we would never consider them Syrians, as they are part of a separate society altogether.

The Cypriots are Syrian because they were part of the Syrian socio-economic life-cycle throughout the ages. They interacted and intermixed with other Syrian groups consistently; more so than they did with Greece, because, as I said, they were closer to and had stronger ties with the Syrian coast than they did with Greece.

But in any case, we are not dictating anything on anyone. I am not imposing anything on the Cypriots. They can be and do whatever they wish. I am merely presenting my viewpoint. If they do not accept it, then I totally respect that. But many people here are attacking me and the SSNP merely for suggesting something they do not agree with. I am not saying they have to agree with me, but I do believe my opinion and view should be given the same respect and regard as any other view on this site and beyond.

Other than that, I actually completely agree with what you say. I do believe that our unity should be based on democratic principles and that it must be willful and voluntary. I believe that any forceful unification is completely counterproductive and downright harmful. In fact, Saadeh himself opposed forceful unification, and the SSNP does not aim to impose its views or its solutions on anyone.

QN,

Forget about Cyprus for now. I would like to ask you, what you propose as the solution to our ailments, whether you believe we are all one nation or not. I know you disagree with the SSNP view, so let us have your view and your opinion on the matter.

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November 25th, 2008, 8:46 pm

 

75. qunfuz said:

ya sayyid nasrallah…save me from the lure of Qifa Nabki!

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November 25th, 2008, 10:03 pm

 

76. Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Nour,

Before I answer your question, I’d like to just address the definition of the Syrian nation that you gave to MSK. In my opinion, there is something circular about this concept. Syrians are Syrian because they live in Syria? Syria is defined by the fact that Syrians live in it, and by certain ‘natural’ borders? I guess I feel that the borders selected are rather arbitrary, and if we look at the history of the region, we find that these borders hardly served to insulate a uniquely “Syrian” civilization from other uniquely “non-Syrian” neighbors.

Someone else might choose an entirely different set of borders and make the same point about a different ethnic configuration — Phoenician, Semitic, etc. Do you see what I mean? It’s just too loosey-goosey for my taste. All the stuff about a national psyche and spiritu-materialistic outlooks sounds quite subjective to me.

With the historical span that is operative here (thousands of years), we are talking about so many different languages, dynasties, religions, cultures, sub-cultures, invaders, empires, importations, exportations… how can one imagine that anything essentially “Syrian” could be preserved over the centuries, and then used as a viable unifying thread for the formation of a modern state? I just don’t see it.

As for my solution to our ailments… I am attracted to the idea of a unified Levant. The sources of this unity are rooted in common languages, common customs, common ideological vocabularies, common values, etc. Some of these commonalities may go back thousands of years, but this is beside the point. What matters is that they are felt to be fresh and vivid today. I feel infinitely closer to a Damascene — on a cultural level — than I do to a Cypriot, merely because we eat the same food, speak the same language, laugh at the same jokes, are moved by the same poetry, and use the same body language. The same goes for Palestinians, and (a little bit less so) for Jordanians. Interestingly, I also feel very much at home with my Israeli friends (who, granted, resemble Shai in their political views), even though we don’t speak the same language…

As for how we get there… I am not nearly as optimistic as Alex about the time frame. We have to see the people of our region agitate for their basic human rights on more mundane grounds, not the lofty theoretical exercise of imagining a unified Levant. Once we see strong democratic regimes emerge in the Levantine countries, regimes which provide for their citizens and cultivate strong economies, literate populations, etc. then things may well proceed of their own accord in the direction of unification.

But it will take more than 7-15 years. 🙂

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November 25th, 2008, 10:12 pm

 

77. Qifa Nabki said:

qunfuz said:

ya sayyid nasrallah…save me from the lure of Qifa Nabki!

too late… I think we are both caught in his spell!

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November 25th, 2008, 10:17 pm

 

78. sean said:

Ya QN: Thanks for the kind words.

Nour: I was just using the Canaanite link as a symptom, an example of the backwards looking mythologies that the SSNP seems stuck in. It’s unimportant to me whether it’s based on ideas of being Canaanite, Phoenician or a “socio-economic life-cycle” (whatever that means). I agree with QN that your conception of what it means to be Syrian seems to be a little fuzzy to me, which would be fine if it weren’t for all the talk about Saadeh’s “scientific definition.”

But finally my point is that EU thinking seems much more constructive to me in that it’s forward thinking, yet also manages to take into consideration the national identities, languages and cultures of its members. (With perhaps the exception of printing some of the blandest bank notes I’ve ever seen — I, for one, miss the 50-franc note with le Petit Prince.)

Finally, I also share QN’s hesitance for hasty optimism on how to get there. Of the 5 nations involved, one is dysfunctional sectarian democracy, another is a secular dictatorship, the third a semi-religious monarchy, the fourth an occupied nation that’s nominally democratic but territorially and politically split and thus pretty dysfunctional, and finally the last country is a democracy based on exclusive ethno-religious nationalism that’s occupying another nation. In order to create a union of these groups that are all frankly pretty screwed up, there are going to have to be some serious changes.

First and foremost, there will have to be some sort of resolution to the question of Israel/Palestine. Personally, I believe in a one-state solution, but if a two-state solution were to be a stepping stone to a larger regional union, I’d could get behind that. Second, all of these nations will need to be fully democratic. Spain under Franco and Portugal under Salazar could never have been proper EU members. (And this is the bar we should be aiming for. It won’t due to create a dictator’s club like the Arab League or the OAU.) Then will come the tedious legwork that Europe spent decades on to get where it is now. But if Europe could make the change from the bombed out and bloody war zone it was in 1945 to a peaceful union in half a decade, there’s no reason the Levant (and even the greater Middle East) can’t also.

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November 26th, 2008, 7:16 am

 

79. Qifa Nabki said:

I fully agree with Sean.

It’s a 40 year project. (Which is actually just a blink of an eye). Yalla people, get cracking.

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November 26th, 2008, 9:36 am

 

80. qunfuz said:

Sean – you speak perfect sense. I’ll read your blog. And yes, QN, Alex is far too optimistic. In the best of circumstances it would take half a century, and I fear that circumstances will be difficult. If climate change predictions are right things are just going to get worse and worse.

Nour – I’d be interested in hearing the SSNP position on the Kurds. Are they members of our nation? If so, does this mean that eastern Turkey and north western Iran would be within our borders?

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November 26th, 2008, 9:53 am

 

81. Nour said:

QN,

I really don’t see how my explanation of the Syrian identity is circular. The concept is that this geographic region is well-defined and connected, and the groups which inhabited it have historically interacted and intermixed on it with each other and with the land on which they lived. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the literature, languages, religious beliefs and rituals, deities, etc. have been virtually identical across this region, yet become completely different once you exit its borders. In addition, there is a reason that historically most of the political entities that arose within this homeland tended to extend to its natural boundaries and stop there. Look at the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires, as well as the Seleucid Syrian state in its later form. Analyzing such history from a scientific, and objective viewpoint clearly leads to the conclusion that this region formed a single socio-economic unit.

I would suggest that you take the prejudicial shades off for a minute and look at the Social Nationalist ideology from an objective viewpoint. You yourself are admitting that you have a lot in common with the Damascene and the Palestinian. Well, do you think this commonality developed overnight, or was it a byproduct of thousands of years of interaction and social evolution? And all that you described is part of the national psyche that I mentioned. Yet when I say it, you deem it “loosey goosey” while in reality you are agreeing with it, albeit in a more limited sense.

In addition, why do you suppose that other peoples within the Arab World view us Syrians, or “Shamis” as they refer to us, as a single people with a single identity? Don’t you suppose that they see common traits in us that display a common identity? You see, if you approach our view from an objective, reality-based perspective you will see that it is not as far-fetched as you would like to believe it is.

As for the time frame you mentioned, I don’t disagree with you at all. I don’t believe this is something that can happen overnight. But I do believe that it is important that we realize and recognize the benefits of our unity and cooperation. I would even propose that we start, not by forming a political unity, as that is a secondary matter in my opinion, but rather at least a common market, thereby removing all obstacles to our natural socio-economic interaction.

And finally, I would just clarify that contrary to popular belief, Social Nationalists are indeed normal people who love their country and want the best for it. Moreover, we are also pragmatic and completely understand current social and political conditions. We do not aim to impose anything on anyone; but we do hold firmly to our ideals and we do believe strongly that our only salvation is our unity and cooperation.

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November 26th, 2008, 3:12 pm

 

82. Nour said:

Qunfuz,

Because the SSNP adheres to a SOCIAL nationalist philosophy, it holds that all elements within our society are part of our national composite. As such, all groups that inhabit our homeland and melt into our society become Syrian nationals. This would also apply to the Kurds who live in Syria. However, this does not mean that if other members of such ethnic groups also inhabit other countries that they would be Syrian; rather they would be members of their respective nations. A Kurd from Iran, in our understanding is Iranian.

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November 26th, 2008, 3:23 pm

 

83. Qifa Nabki said:

Nour,

This is a fascinating exchange. I have to think about your response carefully before I can pin down my exact objections.

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November 26th, 2008, 5:46 pm

 

84. Qifa Nabki said:

Nour,

I think that ultimately, it comes down to a different view of history. To me, history creates cultural linkages but it also effaces them. The geographic region that you refer to is not an island. It’s not like “Syrians” have been cooped up together in the middle of the ocean for millennia. On the contrary, this region has been an incredible crossroads for a bewildering range of tribes, races, sects, etc. from all corners of the globe. When the Mongols invaded the central Islamic lands in the 13th century, did they become Syrian once they arrived in Bilad al-Sham? What about the waves of Turkic tribesmen who preceded them, crowding out of Central Asia and into Syria and Anatolia? What about the Crusaders who arrived and established principalities, only to be driven out by Arabs and Africans led by a Kurd?

All manner of peoples — with their various customs and beliefs — traipsed through this region. As such, what you call “Syrian” today is the product of an enormous cultural melting pot. This is great, but the thing about melting pots is that they produce a concoction that is dominantly flavored by the most recent addition to the broth, if I am not over-taxing this metaphor. So, the commonalities I share with my Damascene friend are rooted mostly in more recent ‘spices’ (i.e. the history and language of the past few centuries, not millennia). Certainly, far older legacies undergird our commonalities, but then again the farther back you go, the more you share with people from other cultural spheres.

I don’t know if this makes sense. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think you need to reach so far back to make the straightforward case that the people of the Levant today basically share a very similar culture, not to mention a common language and closely-related dialects. This alone is enough to convince me that they should live together under a single political entity.

I have more to say, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

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November 26th, 2008, 8:44 pm

 

85. Ahmad Aown said:

As a new member, I will try to catch up with all the points raised in this long and constructive discussion.

It is Clear that most of you have Read Saadah, yet you bypassed so many critical points in his Ideology which in a very confusing manner you are using such points to querry the SSNP performance and ability to achieve its Goals.

at some points of the Discussion the debate turned into an attempt to justify secterianism through the call for Secularism,, in other words you accused Saadah of something he never even mentioned in all of his writtings or sayings, This is absurd. Saadah Called for National Unity, he did not call for a byzentine empire or what ever you are claiming to understand, he never criticised Sunnis or Shiites or minorities or Majorities in Syria, he rather called for a modern state that puts all its citizens under the Umbrella of equal rights and national duties towrds the Nation,, isn’t this what the advanced Nations today is all about..

Q N, With due respect, I see a lot of contradiction in your Views, you admitted that the EU has managed to achieve Unity But with the preservation of each National Character,, Yet you disagree with Saadah who called for the Same to the Arab World. Saadah considered the Arab World as four Nations, and he Called for a an Arab Front that structures economic, Cultural and Stratigic agreements to secure National Interests, Isn’t this what the EU is doing today. Can you call an Italian a Frenchman? would he accept it, But the Euro is a Means to maintain and achieve a better economical Front ” at Least this is their Vision”.

When it comes to Cyprus, It is clear that you are debating the issue without any Scientific Norms here,, Especially when you admit that you did not understand the meaning of “Socio-Economical Cycle” Which is the Back bone of every Nation.. Allow me to raise a question here:
What Ties the North Communities to the South Communities of any Nation?

Mainly it is the Socio-Economical Cycle that imposes Unity amongst the generations of Nations.

What makes the phillipines a Nation? and how many Islands is it consisted of?
Whay is China Claiming Taiwan as Part of it?

Why is England Claiming Irland as Part of the British Nation? and many why’s..

Yes Cyprus is Part of the Syrian Nation when you consider the Socio-Economical Cycle that embraced it throughout History, and yes, history is what makes the Future,, contrary to the General Trend that is going on in this discussion, History is the Only reference that any Nation Builds its Criteria on for a better future, and that is what Saadah Did..

Saadah did not talk Politics, he addressed Ethics, National concepts, Social Bindings, Cultural evidence. Saadah addressed something called The National Character which most of you have missed in your Views and you went debating a silly issue like the Zawbaa Symbol as if Symbols are a major Criteria to establish Nations!!

Yes the Zawbaa is a Syrian Symbol that originated with the Sumerian civilization (The First Civilization ever in the history of mankind) which makes it purely Syrian, and it does not matter whether Indo-europeans adapted it or any other cultre, it is still originated in Syria and this makes it Syrian.
Now whether the Syrian People Chose to Keep it as their National Symbol or decide to change it this is a Minor Issue compared to the Unity of Syria and it is not worth using the Zawbaa as a block wall in the Unity trend.

It is strange how people are using the EU as an example of how Syria should be, disregarding the fact the the European Nations have reached a national conception about their History and National Chracters which makes them elligable to seek a front like the EU, while the Syrians are yet to get there.
Saadah refused any Fake Unity, whether it is a Byzentine Unity or Arab Unity or any other Fake Unity. He Emphasised on a true Unity based on a Historical and Scientific Criteria, concluded as a National Character Derived from the Socio-Economical Cycle throughout history that catered for making us Laugh to the Same Jokes and use the Same Body Laguage, But most of all have the same Destiny and way of life, adapting the same Values for Life…

Saadah talked about Music, Art, Cultrure, as means of expressing National Characters yet he did not Deny other achievements, but he emphasised on the Fact that if we do not have our own identity we can not be respected amongst other Nations. The Reason why he started with the question (( Who are We?))
And he answered that we are Syrians and we are a Complete Nation based on the Criteria I mantioned above.
He did not answer that we are Byzentines or Arabs or Lebanese or Palestinians.. His Broad Vision Bypassed Political circumstances that imposed the political Fragmantation of the Syrian Nation, because circumstances tend to change but the reality that Syria is a One Nation can Not change, and the trend will always be that the Syrians will move towards such a Unity if they chose to have a better Life.

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December 12th, 2008, 6:28 am

 

86. DominicItaly said:

Sieg Heil!

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February 27th, 2009, 12:44 am

 

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