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)

George Ajjan said:


How does your Greek Orthodox theory account for the inclusion of Mesopotamia as part of Syria, in the eyes of Saadeh?

November 23rd, 2008, 5:50 pm


sam said:

Tah ya Souria.

No Jordan, No Isreal, No Libnan, No Iraq. Just Syria baby. Atleast we will recognize your big cities, Beirut, Amman, Quds, Baghdad. You can keep your identity that way.

November 23rd, 2008, 5:52 pm


Nour said:

Dear Joshua,

I think such an interpretation of the SSNP ideology is based on an inherent view of the Near East in purely sectarian terms. In other words, many people cannot possibly imagine any movement or group in this part of the world as having anything but a sectarian identity. Therefore, even though the Syrian Social Nationalist Party has presented a purely secular ideology both in theory and practice, people such as yourself cannot accept that it is a genuinely secular party without any tie to any particular social, ethnic, or religious group.

The fact is that Syrian nationalism was prevalent in our region even prior to Antoun Saadeh, although he was the first to base it on a scientific principle and organize it around a disciplined, intellectual movement. Many of the first Syrian Nationalists were actually not Greek Orthodox but rather Maronite. Figures such as Boutros Bustani, Ameen Rihani, Gibran Khalil Gibran, May Ziadeh, etc. were all advocates of Syrian nationalism but were not Greek Orthodox. In addition, your argument fails to take into account the basis of Saadeh’s philosophy and the development of his thought. Rather, you reduce his entire school of thought into a mere sectarian tool that intended to oppose Sunni Islam and appeal to “minorities.” This is a distortion of the Social Nationalist movement and shows a clear lack of knowledge of its history.

I don’t want to go into an entire dissertation over Saadeh’s thought, but I will summarize by stating that Saadeh’s conception of a nation in general, and of the Syrian nation in particular, was not based on a single historic event or on a single time period in history. Rather, it was based on the continuous, natural interaction of peoples across a specific geographic territory, which over time, and through a process of evolution, develop characteristics differentiating it from other groups. Based on this definition (and Saadeh was the only thinker in the middle east to give a clear, scientific definition to the term nation) the Syrians clearly form a nation complete in itself.

Furthermore, the Principles of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party have not a trace of sectarianism in them. They are purely, and genuinely secular principles based on the concept of the civic state, whereby all citizens are regarded as equal, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic origin. They are based on the idea of SOCIAL nationalism, which is a concept completely different from other nationalist thoughts, such as Fascism (political nationalism) or Nazism (Racial nationalism). Under social nationalism, all elements of society are seen as making up the nation as a whole; there is therefore no discrimination between one group or another.

Saadeh writes in the Fourth Principle of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party: “This principle would redeem Syria from the blood-tie bigotries which are apt to cause the people to neglect the national interests and to direct their energies towards internal strife, corruption and apathy. For those Syrians who believe or feel within the country or nation that they are of Aramaic extraction would no longer be actuated to fan Aramaic blood-loyalty, so long as the principle of Social Nationalist unity and the equality of civic, political and social rights and duties are guaranteed, and no discrimination between one blood or race in Syria is made.”

In addition, in practice, the SSNP has been the role model for true secularism, as never has it made any differentiation between any sects or social groups. It also includes members from all different backgrounds, and refuses to ever conduct a census to find out how many members of each sect it has. And when one joins the SSNP, one finds out just how little its members care about the sectarian or ethnic background of any of our citizens, as we all regard all Syrians as equal members of a single nation.

As for the Baath, while it does claim to be a secular party, much of its thought and ideology is based on “Islamic” principles, and regards Islam as the primary driving force of Arab Nationalism. Arab nationalism is usually based either on a racial/tribal nationalist understanding, linguistic nationalist understanding, or a religious nationalist one. The various Arabist thoughts have had a vague concept of nationalism with no clear definition to their conception of a nation.

In any case, my argument was made with regard to Lebanon, and thus the Baath cannot truly be regarded as one of the secular parties there, as the Baath party never had a real presence in Lebanon.

November 23rd, 2008, 6:12 pm


Alex said:

Joshua, Nour,

I heard that the flag/logo of the SSNP represented four crescents forming a cross … merging the Christian and Islamic symbols.

That information was in an old interview with a very old Lebanese SSNP member who was there when they came up with that symbol.

Regardless of what SSNP version 1.0 looked like, I think that in the future a gentler, more politically correct SSNP version 2.0 can provide a constructive platform for the development of a healthy, peace loving, and economically vibrant new fertile crescent.

And if some people will still be allergic to the first “S” in the name … then they can come up with a more neutral name. What counts is that those borders get scrapped … along with the unnatural and unhealthy competition and fears they generated.

In about 10 to 15 years : )

November 23rd, 2008, 6:20 pm


Nour said:


That’s not an accurate interpretation of the Zawba’a (hurricane) symbol. Saadeh would never have used religious symbols to represent the SSNP or the Syrian nation, as first, Saadeh did not see Syrian society as one where muslims and christians coexisting, but rather one where all members were equally SYRIAN, and second, Saadeh saw Syrian history as transcending both Christianity and Islam.

November 23rd, 2008, 6:31 pm


Off thre Wall said:

Dear Nour
I am not well versed in the SSNP Ideology, but having read some of the recent momoirs of early founders of the Baath party, I believe that you are correct in the “Islamic” falvor of the party. However, this flavour became more pronounced uppon the merger of the Baath (Aflaq and Bitar) with the Arab Socialist Party (Akram Horani) movement in 1952 after the dissolution of all political parties in Syia and the decision of both groups to move towards underground movement, especially within the military.

Ismat Abdel Mageed, the Egyptian Baathist thinker, attempted in the late 70s to invent or discover a dialectic theory of arab socialist nationalism, but he did not find much traction since by that time, the intellectual underpinning of the Baath party in Syria has become completely out of sync with reality. Which is rather common when any party achieves such a control over governance and the need for intellectual rigour as an attractor diminishes. Furthermore, his writing were rather complex and selective.

November 23rd, 2008, 6:35 pm


Off the Wall said:

Josh, Alex, and Nour

In my discussions with some enlightened Syrian and Lebanese expats, who are able to overlook recent bickering, I found that, while not completely aware of it, their political inclinations are more in line with the SSNP ideas of Greater Syria than with the Baath Ideas. It just sounds more natural to them to think of Greater Syria as a cohesive unit (generally not including iraq), than say for example a Unified Arab State. Again, and as usual, my social circle is a too small and unrepresentative to constitute a scietific sample. The other current is off course the Islamic current. I think that the next intellectual and ideological struggle in the region will be between Islamist, Current States nationalist who accept the current states as Nation States, and those more in line with SSNP philosophy. It is now a tripolar argument, with Islamists seem to have the upper hand at the moment.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

November 23rd, 2008, 6:52 pm


Alex said:

Thanks Nour. I understand.

Although from my experience, symbols are often designed to communicate different things to different people.

I think the gentleman was speaking about the symbol being seen as encompassing both Islamic and Christian symbols … for those who care about their religious symbols, and not in the eyes of hard core Syrian nationalists who did not want religion to be part of the definition of the Syrian nation.

After all … most Syrians and Lebanese did take their religion seriously.


You are absolutely right.

The Iraq war managed to destroy one of the major leading Arab states …. as a result, Arabs are either more defensive about protecting their existing states, or or now thinking that since the mess already started, let’s think of how we can redesign things in a more logical way.

Of course fundamentalist Islamic parties want nothing to do with all of the above … Islam is the answer to all challenges.

November 23rd, 2008, 6:55 pm


jad said:

Excelent exchange.

What do you think the future of the SSNP will be?
How do you promot such great secular idea to the public base who is stuck in the middle of a sectarian and radical atmosphere now?

What is the real meaning of Zawba’a?

Thank you

November 23rd, 2008, 7:02 pm


Alex said:


I want to be honest with you about something I realized after I got to know many of the people who are writing on Creative Syria or on Syria Comment.

The majority are in one way or another attracted to a modified, modern, version of the SSNP principles.

And I think this is one of the unspoken obstacles preventing peace between Syria and Israel.

Many leading Syrians really want to see one secular state surrounding Israel. Israel wants to be a Jewish state.

Can our dream for a secular fertile Crescent (forget the name “Syria” for now) exist next to a strong Jewish Zionist Israel? or will Israelis feel threatened living next to a new large “Arab” state?

November 23rd, 2008, 7:44 pm


Shai said:


That’s a very brave, and fitting question to ask. And as I cannot claim to understand “your side” as well as I understand mine, I don’t have a definitive answer. But I can say a few things. First, it is my own belief that once peaceful conditions exist, people tend to look inward, more than to the heavens, and that includes Jews, not only Syrians. It is far easier to convert, or recruit, people into religion when times are hard, than when peace and prosperity replace bullets and hardship. If welfare and education received far higher priority (and funding) in Israel, I doubt the Shas party would have even half its strength of today. What did it do to achieve its power? Same as Hamas (probably the other way around), it gave poor people another option, a warm meal for their kids, and a good school, and care. It depicted religion as the salvation to their misery, and they bought it, as anyone in their shoes would.

So I’m not sure that Israel will necessarily continue to grow more and more religious, even after peace is made with the Arab world. I’d like to think that quite the opposite will occur. Will Israelis ever change the definition of their state to something other than “The Jewish State”? Probably not anytime soon (not in the next couple of decades), but the de facto definition of the State of Israel may be very different than it is today. Over the past 60 years, Arab Israeli population has grown dramatically in proportion to non-Arabs, and its 20% of today is likely to become much closer to 50% in 30-40 years from now. If we assume Jews in Israel will not be able to carry out a “transfer” of non-Jews (that would lead to civil war, and probably a complete disintegration of Israeli society), the Jewish character of Israel will change dramatically in this time period.

But in the end, I also don’t think Syria or Syrians, or any other Arabs for that matter, should be bothered greatly by the titles “Jewish Homeland” or even “Jewish State”, as long as the natural demographic evolution is allowed to take place, as it has within Israel since its birth in 1948. I am of course making an assumption here, that the entire Arab world, including the Palestinians, come to accept a two-state solution, so that Israel is no longer considered an Apartheid that withholds equal rights from some 3 million people under its rule.

There is another question, however, that Israelis might ask themselves, and that is, will Israel be able to live in peace with a Greater Syria, or a Fertile Crescent, around her, in some unified form? If the direction is towards my so-called UME, then I think it may be possible to bring Israel in, by first forming such an alliance (sort of like how the EU began to form). But if this unified body alienated Israel in its various policies, then it of course could achieve the opposite effect. The real question, I think, will be whether Jews and Arabs could ever reconcile. Whether they could ever put their bitter history behind them, and move together into the future. My guess is, that the young people that are now learning how to surf the internet, at age 4 and 5, across the fertile crescent, and the Jewish state, will look at their life, and their future, very differently than you and I do. They’ll probably (hopefully) have a lot less patience for the kind of intolerance that our people have had in the past 60 years. And my hope, is that they will also be far more secular than we think they will.

November 23rd, 2008, 8:07 pm


off the wall said:

what was the- Address for the mobile versionof SC

November 23rd, 2008, 8:37 pm


Nour said:


To answer your questions, first, with respect to how we can promote our secular ideas in the current atmosphere, this is a very good question, and something we work on and discuss everyday. There is no doubt that we are confronted by numerous challenges, probably the biggest of which is the current sectarian and tribal nature of our society. What we are trying to do is to show that the only way to protect every group and person’s rights is with a secular system that treats all citizens as equal members of a single nation. The problem we face is that we currently lack the resources to compete with much of the poisonous media that continuously and consistently bombards our people with divisive ideas and instills in them fragmentary and reactionary concepts. We also can’t deny that religious institutions play an important role in this, as religious leaders do not want to see their power decreased under a secular system.

However, let us also not forget that a lot of these issues were also prevalent during Saadeh’s time and many people thought Saadeh would be lucky to gather a handful of people around such a concept. Yet he was able to attract tens of thousands of Syrians from all the different entities. But of course to convince people to leave behind their traditional social attitudes and sectarian mentalities is an uphill battle because in the end it is much easier to incite hatred than it is to build love and tolerance. We just have faith that with time, our ideas will be solidified across the nation and we understand that no great idea was accepted overnight, but took many generations and required serious struggle.

Second, regarding the meaning of the Zawba’a, it is an old Syrian symbol representing continuous dynamism. It expresses the Syrian nation’s constant energetic movement toward advancement and development. It is also symbolic of the Social Nationalist movement’s aim to transform our society from its current stagnant form to its original dynamic self.

November 23rd, 2008, 8:39 pm


Rumyal said:

Dear Nour, (Joshua),

In the past when I visited your blog, I was puzzled by the inclusion of Cyprus in the map of Greater Syria. At least for a modern observer not steeped in Cypriote history, this country seems either Greek or Turkish, and not Syrian (in language, culture, trade etc.). Therefore, it would seem like the inclusion of Cyprus in Greater Syria is at least somewhat supportive of Joshua’s theory. That is, maybe it was added to the Syrian Nation in order to strengthen the Greek-Orthodox hand, or at the very least add more credibility to the position that Sunni-Arabian Arabism is not as dominant in the relevant geographic unit as the Sunnis would have claimed?

Regarding the SSNP flag, at first blush it reminds me of the flag of Nazi Germany. I don’t know if it was designed to evoke this affinity in the 30’s, but whatever the reason for that was, I think they would probably want to change their flag to something more appropriate for our times.

November 23rd, 2008, 9:04 pm


Shai said:


I’m going to be a little controversial here, and many will hopefully forgive me for this comparison, but it is something that suddenly crossed my mind, as I read your comment and looked at the map up above.

As Greater Syria seems to include most if not all of modern-day Iraq, could it possibly be that Syria and Iran have, between them, made agreements of the Molotov-Ribbentrop type? That is, pacts of non-aggression that also, in secret stipulations, include the future division of Iraq into Syrian and Iranian spheres of influence? Do many Syrians actually opt to form this Greater Syria, and if so, are they ready to do so also by force?

I must say that I know very little about Greater Syria in respect to anything East of Syria’s borders, so do forgive my ignorance (or my suggestion).

November 23rd, 2008, 9:21 pm


Nour said:


First, Cyprus was indeed historically part of Syria. It was settled there by the Canaanites and always formed an integral part of the various Syrian states that arose. In addition, Cyprus has had a much stronger tie to the Syrian coast than it has had to either Greece or Turkey. Today, it is caught in a struggle between Turkey and Greece because Cyprus forms a strategic location on the mediterranean. And although the Cypriots do speak Greek, they are not Greek in origin; rather they adopted the Greek language after the Hellenistic period, but they maintained their ties to the Syrian coast. Not everything has to have a sectarian undertone. Saadeh didn’t include Cyprus to increase the number of orthodox within the Syrian nation. In fact Saadeh didn’t include any part of Syria within Syria, he merely clarified the concept of the nation and uncovered the reality of the Syrian nation.

Second, just what symbols are “approriate for our times” in your opinion? The Cyclone is a symbol inherent in Syrian culture and history and the SSNP is a Syrian party not one from any other part of the world. It thus expresses Syrian culture and values. The symbol of our flag should not be one that suits the tastes of foreigners, but rather should be representative of the Syrian psyche.

November 23rd, 2008, 10:35 pm


MSK* said:

Dear Nour,

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.


November 23rd, 2008, 10:48 pm


qunfuz said:

Using violence to ‘achieve unity’ will of course guarantee further splintering. Been there, done that.

I must admit to finding the SSNP idea deeply attractive. For a start, I do feel that we Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians and Iraqis are people with a huge amount in common. In the gulf or egypt I am still with my arab brothers, or perhaps cousins, but not really at home. But the fertile crescent people really have so many similarities in their type of humour, use of language, love of narrative, jokes, history, quick intelligence. We have a shared history from long before monotheism. In terms of the sectarian issue, being part of a pan-Arab unit would mean Sunni Arab dominance while the present splinter-states set-up means endless squabbling by sects to take control and lord it over the others, but the Fertile Crescent state would mean a balance between Sunni and Shia, and the balance would allow space for Christian, offshoot Shia and Jewish groups to flourish. The existence of a balance could make the sectarian scramble for power irrelevant, and faith would become a matter of faith alone. And yes, of course I would include Israeli Jews in the nation, if only they would want to be included. (And why not – aren’t Babylon and Ur as crucial to Jewish history as Hebron).

Cyprus is silly. And so, probably, is the rest of the SSNP dream. Probably we have to make do with the mess that we have. But still, I dream. I wish the end of the mandates had led to the Fertile Crescent stae. I think it really would have had a much better chance of working.

November 23rd, 2008, 10:53 pm


qunfuz said:

can we change the date from November to tishreen at-tani?

does seem wrong to have Sumerian Mari in a different country to Ur, and the Phoenician capital (Ras Shamra-Ugarit)outside of Lebanon, and most of the Maronites in a different state to Homs, where Mar Maron came from, and the home of cuneiform in a different country to the home of the alphabet, and the blood-red river of Adonis (Asi – Orontes) in a different land to the place where Dumuzi the shepherd (also Adonis) was worshipped.

these remarks go some way to answering MSK’s questions. But I do agree with what may be his point, that ALL borders are artificial, that you can’t separate ‘Syria’ from ‘Turkey’ or Greece or Persia or Mongolia…

Still, if you have to posit borders some where, in a calm and contingent way..

November 23rd, 2008, 11:05 pm


qunfuz said:

Nour – I do know what you mean about Cyprus, but the fact remains that the Cypriots don’t consider themselves to be semites/ arabs/ syrians. the lebanese, for instance, do, and one could (just about) imagine a scenario in which lebanese, palestinian, syrian, iraqi people would find common cause. of course if, in 50 or 100 years, the Fertile Crescent state (let’s not call it suri so as not to scare non-syrians or to become confused with the present syrian state) has been established and is a great cultural, economic and political success, then the cypriots may want to join in. that wd be great. but in the meantime having cyprus on the flag would only scare cypriots and encourage fertile crescentish demagogues to threaten to ‘unify’ the state by conquest.

as for the symbol – it’s only a symbol. If it looks a bit like a swastika (and it does, and it was chosen at a time when fascism was an important intellectual movement amongst jews, arabs and europeans) then let’s get rid of it. a symbol only helps if it’s attractive and if it explains an idea well to people. like the word ‘suri’ the current symbol could be counterproductive. if there’s one thing we should be emphasising in the fertile crescent tradition it is tolerance and diversity (alright, two things).

November 23rd, 2008, 11:20 pm


norman said:

OTW, Qunfuz,Nour,

The area of greater Syria is like the area of New England in the US , yes the people of that area are similar and far from the people of Texas, or the heart land but they all part of the American nation and it is the American nation not because they are all white or black or Mexican , they are American and part of the American nation because they live in America, So are the Syrians or the people of the greater Syria , They are similar and far different from the people in Egypt or Sudan or KSA but they are still part of the Arab nation not because they are Muslims , Sunni or Shia, or Christians or even Jews they are Arabs because they live in the Arab homeland (( Alwatan Alarabi))We can only succeed if we recognise our destiny and work for the whole nation ,

So the SSNP is just a separatist party,

And that is my take.

November 24th, 2008, 12:07 am


trustquest said:

Thanks Joshua for the sharp report and analysis.
You have blow up completely the SSNP, and shake up partially the foundation of the Baath party with this report, if people got to read this.

I always felt that I do not completely belong with them. I had friends from some dominant families of SSNP and I could not understand why this movement attracts mostly special minorities and why it is rooted only in some parts of the country. I think in the end such party will never get majority or support from public at large.

Now it makes sense to think why the regime in Syria has extended hands and strongest desire in having unity with Lebanon especially the minorities in the Baath party and not to forget mentioning the recent disfigured arab unity with Iraq.

I would like also to mention to SSNP members that they are mainly rejected because of their elevation of their founder to sacred level?, don’t you think that people nowadays have repulsive feelings against that especially after the 40 years of dictatorship.

This where we belong things is not going to fool anyone more. Syrians is Syrians who lives on the Land of current Syria, these dreams from the dreamers and the distracters from building his own homeland. You wonder when they will learn to talk about future without keep looking back?

November 24th, 2008, 12:41 am


Majid said:

I was introduced to the SSNP ideology longtime ago by one of its members, a Lebanese immigrant from Akkar. He gave all the books of Saade to read for the purpose of inducting me into this party. I was interested out of curiosity and read the books several times and absorbed their contents as best as I can. I came to the same conclusion as Joshua did. The SSNP is actually seeking to re-establish a Byzantine polity in the Fertile Crescent where the Greek Orthodox would restore their lost power. As time went by, the SSNP friend asked me to join by handing me the script of the oath. I politely returned it to him. He wanted to know why I’m refusing to join. I told him almost the exact words that Joshua presented in his article. I said to him: Byzantine is gone and there is no way for its revival. I basically told him Saade is a fool without really saying the word. Needless to say, the guy refuses to talk to me ever since.

November 24th, 2008, 12:52 am


Alex said:

Nour, Qunfuz, Rumyal

Words and symbols are part of the problem.

I am also for changing the SSNP symbol … I can tell you that every time the symbol was discussed, everyone was a bit uncomfortable with the way it resembles a swastika. If you are a SSNP supporter trying to explain your party’s ideology to outsiders, you will start on the defense … you need to start explaining that the swastika-like symbol is not was it looks like.

Of course the swastika itself is originally a very different, positive symbol. … but too late… bu now the rest of the world sees it as Hitler’s symbol.

Similarly, the word “Syria” to MSK who has mostly Lebanese (M14) friends quickly translates into “backward” … “hegemony” … “no thank you, Lebanon is much better off alone”

We can call the whole are “the Levant” … and of course it should include the Israeli Jews … one day, when they don’t feel like outsiders anymore.

MSK … I understand you … but it is coming one day… 10 years from now.

Now that you asked Nour to define “Syria”, I want to ask you: “What is Lebanon? … why should Lebanon remain a country separate from Syria”?

I had this discussion with a number of Lebanese friends who started by finding my question excessively insensitive! … as if I’m asking them “how can my country take your country?”

But … the answers I got from ALL the Lebanese I asked were:

1) Lebanon is Christian
2) Lebanon is more open minded and more tolerant of minorities
3) Lebanon is much better off economically
4) Lebanon has more freedom of press, we don’t get thrown in jail if we do not blindly support our government.
5) … I don’t know! … but I love Lebanon and there is no way I’m letting it disappear.

The first four will, can, or should, become obsolete within the next ten years.

What will remain uniquely Lebanese is .. the word “Lebanon and the Lebanese flag.

I think that by then, the same way many Syrians wanted to unite with Egypt in the 50’s, and with Iraq in 1977 … many Lebanese will want to unite with Syria by 2018

50% at least will go for it.

Within the same 10 years, “Israel” and “Palestine” can also be forming another natural group, similar to Syria and Lebanon’s group to the North… After the Palestinians feel confident that they are genuinely independent from Israel.

Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski proposed last week keeping Jerusalem an open city while it turns into two capitals .. an Israeli Capital and a Palestinian capital.

Everything could move calmly in the right direction … When everyone is ready.

Basically … Every country should be allowed to prosper and to live peacefully for few years … until fear is not the predominant factor in decision making for any of the people of the Levant.

Then we’ll talk about the UME, the new Levant, or Greater Syria.

November 24th, 2008, 12:56 am


Ras Beirut said:

Sectarianism & Fuedalism has been the greatest destructive force in the ME’s recent history. Though it is very easy to see why the fertile crescent is still in the midst of it in this modern day. It is a very powerfull force that unfortunately hasn’t been tamed. On the contrary, it has become stronger, and it is very unfortunate, because it is a very destructive force.

I happen to believe that the vast majority of the fertile crescent ancestors are of the same semite/canaanite/phoenicians ancestory, that over time happen to choose different religions.

However, history have dealt us a very heavy hand. The region is origin to three major religions, that along with it has been competition among the three for centuries, especially from outside of the area forces. The jews’ escape from egypt, the numerous crusades, the muslim forces expansion etc. Bottom line, when it comes to sectarianism the fertile crescent is unfortunately in the eye of the storm. The region’s states and players have not been able to shake it. Just look at Iraq recently. Sunni & Shia are killing each other, not to mention what is happening to the christians there, as they are being driven out. How about the Copts in egypt. It is very sad.

I do fault the Otoman empire for not having a better program over 400 yrs to eradicate secterianism, but they were too busy abusing all the tribes in order to maximize their profits.

Sectarianism is a very powerfull force, that take herculian efforts to subdue and also has a golbal reach. Westerners were embroiled in it for centuries. Take the endless crusades for instance. Heck, the Catholics & Protestants killed each other for centuries. Even until recently, in Ireland they were still going at it. So, it’s not just a ME thing. Look at China & Tibet & the muslim provinces, or look at Iran and some of the arab/sunni provinces. Syria has it’s own version too, where you have a minority Alawites in control, while the majority is Sunni.

I just wish that one day the ME can follow the suit of Europe, Canada & the US and get rid of setarianism and its destructivness. I know it’s a tall order.

November 24th, 2008, 1:22 am


norman said:


You can have two states or 22 states with their own laws but one country with federal laws that are for all the states.

And that is my take.

November 24th, 2008, 2:33 am


SAGHIR said:

I agree with Professor Landis.

Christians in general and the Greek Orthodox in particular have been attracted to the SSNP as a buffer ideology against the ever increasing tidal wave of Islamic fundamentalism.

The Christians of Syria have also regarded the so-called secular Baath party as a similar buffer against Islamic fundamentalism.

The truth is that the fundamentalists are not going away. They are merely in hibernation waiting for their moment. The seculars of this region will not win in the long run. It is only through draconian security measures that the region’s leaders have been able to stop the tide. This is akin to winning the battle but in the long run the war is sure to be lost.

November 24th, 2008, 2:38 am


Majid said:

I would suggest that secularims be taken out of this discussion. Because, in reality there is no secularim in the Middle East. I believe some commentators, including Dr. Joshua and others, have alluded to this fact. It is safe to say that, the culture(s) of the region is (are) anti secular by in large. So, in order to analyze reality and arrive at some reasonable outcome, we should face this fact head on.

November 24th, 2008, 3:22 am


Rumyal said:

Dear Nour,

I’m sorry I was talking out of ignorance, I didn’t know that the Zawba’a or tornado sign has a history in Syria. I don’t think it resembles a swastika that much, except that it has four “hands”.

However, the black-red color scheme and the rest of the design are so similar to the Nazi flag such that anybody who looks at it for t the first time would wonder whether the similarity is accidental or purposeful. Whether this is a matter for you to care about or dismiss is your business… I’m just volunteering my first impressions as someone who has no vested interest in the matter.

November 24th, 2008, 3:55 am


jad said:

I’m surprised that some people here instead of praising the idea of secularism as the best solution we have for melting all different ethnic and religion groups of Syria, you are discussing the religion of the person who creates SSNP or Baath party, that is taking us nowhere.
I think some of you toke the historical discussion in the wrong direction concentrating on what part of our society prefers what political party, forgetting that you can’t have one choice for every Syrian? And that our diversity dictates our personal choices.
Majid, (I guess you are not Syrian, are you?)
like it or not, Secularism, was, still and will always be the best idea we ever got in our history and we better support it in any way we could. Religion is not going to give us any solution for our country’s problem but the opposite it will take us backward.

November 24th, 2008, 4:16 am


norman said:


I agree with you ,Ideas should count , we should have a rule not to mention the religious affiliation of anybody when we talk about something , Can you believe what will happen in the US if they mention the religious affiliation of the members of congress , The American people will find that at least 10% of them are Jewish which far more than their share of the total number of Americans.

And that is my take,

November 24th, 2008, 4:23 am


Majid said:

I was not disputing the merits of secularism. I was just stating a simple fact which I think many would agree with. Beginning with the end of the 19th century the Middle East felt the winds of secularisnm from Europe. In order to due where is due is warranted Saade was the first to promote these ideas packaged as fascist nationalism modeled on Nazi experience. For those of you who notice a similarity between the SSNP symbol and the Swastika and yet are not sure whether the similarity was accidental or purposeful, I would like to draw their attention to striking similarity between the full names of the SSNP and the Nazi parties. They are both called Syrian/German Socialist Nationalist Party. It is worth pondering is the similarity in the names also accidental or purposeful? However, as mentioned by Dr. Landis and myself, Saade made use of European secualrism in order to appeal to sectarian sensibilities, namely Greek Orthodox sensibilities. When he failed, others felt the blowing and tried to make the best use of it. It is the void left by the collapse of the Ottomans, as Ras Beirut poited out, which opened the door wide for such ad hoc import of what you may call pseudo secularism. The Baath party is in fact the inheritor of the failed SSNP and it emerged somewhat later and it embraced the idea of Arab Nationalism in order to stem the grievances of the vast majority making up the Fertilke Crescent. Bitar and Aflaq were shrewd enough to realize the fooloshness of Saade but pragmatic enough to see the merits of secular conversion. Did they succeed in secularizing Syria, Iraq etc. I would say they failed miserably. That is why I am saying we have to begin by acknowledging the anti secular nature of the culures making up the ME. Can you prove the opposite?

November 24th, 2008, 4:42 am


Majid said:


I was not disputing the merits of secularism. I was just stating a simple fact which I think many would agree with. Beginning with the end of the 19th century the Middle East felt the winds of secularism blowing from Europe. In order to give due where due is warranted Saade was the first to promote these ideas packaged as fascist nationalism modeled on Nazi experience. For those of you who notice a similarity between the SSNP symbol and the Swastika and yet are not sure whether the similarity was accidental or purposeful, I would like to draw their attention to striking similarity between the full names of the SSNP and the Nazi parties. They are both called Syrian/German Socialist Nationalist Party. It is worth pondering is the similarity in the names also accidental or purposeful? However, as mentioned by Dr. Landis and myself, Saade made use of European secularism in order to appeal to sectarian sensibilities, namely Greek Orthodox sensibilities. When he failed, others felt the blowing winds and tried to make the best use of it. It is the void left by the collapse of the Ottomans, as Ras Beirut pointed out, which opened the door wide for such ad hoc import of what you may call pseudo secularism. The Baath party is in fact the inheritor of the failed SSNP and it emerged somewhat later but it embraced the idea of Arab Nationalism in order to stem the grievances of the vast majority Sunnis making up the Fertile Crescent. Bitar (a Sunni Bourgeois) and Aflaq (a Syrian Christian) were shrewd enough to realize the foolishness of Saade, but pragmatic enough to see the merits of secular conversion. Did they succeed in secularizing Syria, Iraq etc? I would say they failed miserably. That is why I am saying we have to begin by acknowledging the anti secular nature of the cultures making up the ME. Can you prove the opposite?

(This is a repost because I couldn\’t make edits and correct some errors)

November 24th, 2008, 4:50 am


jad said:

Thank you for understanding my point.

As long as we have people putting their personal religion ahead of their own country’s benefits, secularism wont progress, however, I strongly disagree with you that secularism failed in Syria, it didn’t, and it won’t, it may get weaken when you have a rise of religion strength, but it is there to stay and it is working on many levels, it’s up to us to make it work better.
The anti secular movement you are talking about is only happening in countries where religion has the upper hand over people lives and where diversity is to the minimum, Syria the country is way more diverse.
God forbid, if religion tried to take over the driver seat of Syria, you will have the worst sectarian war the Middle East ever saw, it will last very long and have an effect on every group in the whole region. Just think of Lebanese and Iraqi civil wars together on one land, but it’s highly unlikely to happen for many reasons.
BTW, from your debate I can tell that you are not a Syrian…..may I ask what your backgrounds are?

November 24th, 2008, 7:38 am


Apollodorus said:

Why should we think for alternatives to the Islamic ideal ?
All these so called non sectarian parties were created as means to erase the Islamic supremacy in Syria and other than Syria.

Paradoxically after that these parties took the power ,Christian influence in Syria has been erased,there is no doubt that the Christians from Muawiya to the Ottomans had always been an active and important communities ,in number and in influence,they were the educators of the Muslim elite who were mostly sons of Sheikhs.
Today we can say for good that Christianity in Syria is reduced to a small and dissolved minority without any importance,the prestige of the Christian community in Syria is lost .

It must also be noticed that historically ,the Arab Greek Orthodox were always closer to the Muslims than to the Byzantines and Catholics.It explain why that they were neighbors of the Muslims in all the Cities of Sham.Sunnis and Arab Greek Orthodox always lived together and both are very close culturally and the respect between both communities has never been hurt.

November 24th, 2008, 7:57 am


Majhool said:

I tend to agree with Joshua’s analysis. I have to admit that I find the sentiment expressed by some of the regulars in this blog towards “Sunni” Arabism troubling. This sentiment only enforces Josh’s hypothesis.

Now I understand how my “Syrian Nationalist tendencies” never aligned with those of the SSNP. For most urban Syrians, the Levant is a locality, culture, customs, and traditions, but always as part of the larger Arab Muslim context.

Joshua’s used the National Block of 30s and 40s to describe our leanings. He is more correct than the diehards around here who equated this Arab Muslim context with Extremism.

This context (Arab Muslim) is here to stay. Energy will be best invested in modernizing and democratizing it as apposed to pronouncing it an enemy.

November 24th, 2008, 8:31 am


jad said:

Isn’t the whole idea of secularism to melt religions in one national pot?
I don’t think the Christian Syrian community will agree with you at all that there role is lost…they are thinking of what they are doing to be for the benefit of Syria not of their own, And if observers think of that otherwise, they are mistaken.
Regarding the Christian role being the engine of education for Umayyad and Ottoman periods is because both were coming from a less civilized culture to Damascus that considered being New York or Paris of that time.
About your comments of Greek Orthodox and Muslims, you forget that Antioch Orthodox Christians aren’t the one who moved in they are the native of that land called Syria long time before Islam.
Finally, The Christian Syrian role is an old and a continuous one, they are the torch holders of culture, education and enlightenment and it has never been a leading role for them outside those area.

November 24th, 2008, 8:49 am


Qifa Nabki said:

In my humble opinion, the concept of Greater Syria completely loses its credibility when people start talking about Cyprus.

Canaanites? The Hellenistic Period? Who are you kidding?

Unless one believes that “Syria” is some kind of Platonic ideal that has existed before Islam, Christianity, Judaism, labneh, jibneh, and mujaddara (i.e. before the Big Bang), then what sense is there in talking about Canaanites?

I completely agree with MSK. What makes someone “Syrian”? And who are we (a bunch of snobbish elites living in the West) to tell the average Cypriot farmer that he is actually not “Greek” but “Syrian”? I would love to see that encounter.

SSNPer: Excuse me, sir?

Cypriot farmer: Kalimera.

SSNPer: I would kindly point out that you should remove that Greek flag from your tractor.

Cypriot famer: Eh?

SSNPer: Yes, you see… you are not actually Greek. You are Syrian.

Cypriot farmer: Eh?

SSNPer: Yes, indeed. Your Syrian ancestors were colonized by the Greeks a mere 2300 years ago, so… you are in fact Syrian. But I’m sure you already know this, and feel it in your bones.

Cypriot farmer: Eh?

It is somewhat arrogant, in my opinion, to whitewash the diversity of our region’s subcultures by reducing them all to some kind of ethnic (or cultural? political? philosophical? astrological?) genotype called “Syrian”.

Having said that, I do think that Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine are incoherent entities and would really function much more efficiently if they were under the supervision of a single government… provided that it was democratic and not authoritarian.

November 24th, 2008, 9:19 am


Shai said:


Eh? 🙂

November 24th, 2008, 9:24 am


Qifa Nabki said:


My point exactly! 🙂

November 24th, 2008, 9:36 am


qunfuz said:

I’m not hostile to Sunni Arabs. In fact, officially speaking, I am one. I recognise they are the majority in the Arab world (but not in the Fertile Crescent area). But our area is tremendously diverse in sectarian and ethnic terms. Added to this, we’re going through the stage of elites capturing nation states and trying to homogenise them. Saddam Hussein, for instance, tried to erase Kurdish and Arab Shia cultural identity and to impose a Sunni Arab identity on Iraq, even though Sunni Arabs are a minority there. This guaranteed a resurgence of particular identities. Asaad was more intelligent – as Josh has shown with his article on Islamic education in Syria, the Baath tried to impose a vaguely Sunni identity, because the Sunnis are the majority. In the Fertile Crescent state there would have to be power sharing, and then I think sect would become less relevant.

The current savagery of sectarianism started as the Ottoman empire entered its long decline. It isn’t inherent to the area. Historical process can intensify and also diminish sectarianism.

Thanks to the above poster for making another valid point – on the deification of Saade. The SSNP as a party leaves a great deal to be desired, in its cult of personality, its symbol, the use of ‘suri’ in the title. As QN points out, the Cyprus link is absurd. The Fertile Crescent state is a great idea, but needs to be liberated from quasi-fascist blood-and-soil ideas (inherent also in Baathism and Zionism) which deny historical process. Nothing is eternal and unchanging except perhaps God.

As to us all being Arabs – OK to an extent, but Arabism has failed in its lack of inclusiveness and flexibility. At least half of the population of Morocco is ethnically Berber. What about Assyrians, Kurds, Baluch, Lawati, Zanzibari blacks, Armenians etc? Linguistically, Moroccan Arabic is as different from Syrian Arabic as French from Italian. Culturally, Gulf Arabs really are very very different from Lebanese, and always have been. Economically, oil states with imported working classes are totally different from countries with a tradition of small businesses (I include Iraq in the latter). And vast, diverse, geographically stretched-out states rarely work – look at Pakistan and Bangladesh. America is different because it was invented so recently.

But one identity need not exclude another. You can imagine a Fertile Crescent state, the Gulf, Egypt and Sudan, al-maghreb al-arabi working together as four units of a European-Union type organisation. In turn, this could be part of a larger Islamic organisation.

November 24th, 2008, 10:01 am


Apollodorus said:

Jad , tell me where are the Christians in today Syria?
When i meet the rare unveiled girls in Damascus,i thought first that they were Christians but i quickly discover,they are mostly Alawites and some Sunnis and few Christians.
In 50 years of time they moved from a prestigious ,big and influent minority to a tiny “archaeological” community ,a small vitrine in order to show “tolerance” of secular government of Syria.What we have today is in fact only an alteration of an alteration of the Syrian society that we inherited from our fathers.Most of the Syrian villages which were Christians before 1980 are today Muslims (like in Al Jazeera and Rif Dimashq) ,Wadi Al Nassara Christian villages (more than 70)are empty ,most of their original inhabitants have moved to the Americas.
So let us to be like Saint Thomas Aquinas and believe what we see.

November 24th, 2008, 10:01 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Bravo Qunfuz… couldn’t agree more.

November 24th, 2008, 10:17 am


MSK* said:

Ya Alex,

You said:

Similarly, the word “Syria” to MSK who has mostly Lebanese (M14) friends quickly translates into “backward” … “hegemony” … “no thank you, Lebanon is much better off alone”

We can call the whole are “the Levant” … and of course it should include the Israeli Jews … one day, when they don’t feel like outsiders anymore.

MSK … I understand you … but it is coming one day… 10 years from now.

Seeing how you don’t know me well enough to know who the majority of my friends are (not EVERYone’s on FaceBook, dear) and how you and I never had any conversation, about anything, I am somewhat amused by your assertion.

All I did was to ask Nour for his definition. Call it intellectual curiosity, if you will.

Sometimes, a question is really just a question.


November 24th, 2008, 11:27 am


Akbar Palace said:

Alex said:

We can call the whole are “the Levant” … and of course it should include the Israeli Jews … one day, when they don’t feel like outsiders anymore.


How do you know that “Israeli Jews … feel like outsiders”?

Methinks you’ve been caught again unfairly projecting your views on that of a whole people. How do you do that?

The Israeli Jews I know feel right at home in Israel and don’t feel like “outsiders” at all.

Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski proposed last week keeping Jerusalem an open city while it turns into two capitals .. an Israeli Capital and a Palestinian capital.


You mean like the GOI/Barak proposal at Camp David 2000? How original Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski are!;)

November 24th, 2008, 12:06 pm


Alia said:


Very nice analysis.

[But one identity need not exclude another. You can imagine a Fertile Crescent state, the Gulf, Egypt and Sudan, al-maghreb al-arabi working together as four units of a European-Union type organisation. In turn, this could be part of a larger Islamic organisation.]

Even Islam under the loose admisnistrative blanket of the early Caliphate was only able to keep these areas together for a short while. The predominantly Muslim Arab-speaking countries have had historically little to do with the non-Arab-speaking Muslim countries, until the recent rapprochement with Iran.

The notion of an Arab nation, extending from the Arab Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean, did not succeed at a time where its definition as an additional identity (secondary to the religious sectarian one), became astonishingly acceptable and desirable, for a large percentage of the population. Still the complementarily of interests of the nations, their “common” heritage, their common “destinies” were not arguments strong enough to keep them together in the face of corrupt regimes and post-colonial struggles. I too think that this cause is definitely over.

On the other hand, the European Union did not become a reality until the countries involved had lost a few bloody wars against one another. France and Germany having lost the most are the ones who worked to cement the Union, making the necessary sacrifices, understanding it as a matter of life and death for both, while the other countries flirted with the idea, considering primarily the economic advantages they may secure through it. We see still now, that the work of the European parliament, the streamlining of foreign policy issues lag considerably behind the economic union.

We really do not have realistic models for Union across countries, and I do not see that we are ready to learn from those who preceded us. There are no stable alliances, in the ME, that could pull such a federation. We will be lucky enough if by the end of this century, we have all established stable nations/states built on secular principles. (I know Alex is more optimistic : ))

November 24th, 2008, 12:52 pm


jad said:

I’m not sure where are you going with your comments and what you want as a result of this sectarian conversation;
First; to convince us that a Christian Syrian is better off under an ideal Islamic state, and that they were in much better condition under the ottoman and the Islamic period than being under a secular state, that wasn’t the case, they were a second class citizen with few rights and lots of duties and taxes. Who will accept getting back under a shariaa law after having their own civil law; you will probably loos all minorities and the diversity of our Syrian society by doing that?
secondly, the drop of Christian population in Syria ( now they are 10%) has many reasons; economical, social and the fact that an average Christian Syrian have 1-2 children while non Christian have 4-5 is another factor, and it’s not in any way related to secularism which was the main subject we are talking about here.

November 24th, 2008, 4:02 pm


SAGHIR said:


The Christian population of Syria is not 10% of 20 million. It is closer to 5%.

November 24th, 2008, 4:32 pm


Nour said:

I am truly saddened to see how inherently sectarian many of our people are, that they see nothing except through sectarian lens. The idea that Saadeh founded the Social Nationalist Movement in order to advance Greek Orthodox interests is so absurd that it shows a clear and utter ignorance of any of Saadeh’s writings and thoughts. People need to get over their sectarian sentiments and see that secularism is the only viable solution to our nation’s ailments.

Moreover, I would at least expect people to have some knowledge about the SSNP and it’s philosophy before making ridiculous comments, such as the one Majid made with regard to the so-called “similarity” between the name of the Party and that of the Nazi Party in Germany. Majid, obviously you’ve never read Saadeh, and even if you have, his writings, went way over your head, as you read them from a prejudiced viewpoint. The name of the Party is the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (al-7izb al-souri al-qawmi al-ijtima’i) whereas the Nazis were part of the National Socialist German Workers Party. While one was SOCIALIST in its economic leanings, the former is a SOCIAL NATIONALIST party that has nothing to do with SOCIALISM, but is merely a description of the type of nationalism advocated by Saadeh, which is one that incorporates all elements of society into the national mix, as opposed to racial nationalism (nazism) or political nationalism (fascism).

Now, with respect to Cyprus, with which everyone seems to be having a fit. Cyprus has historically been part of Syria and their ties have always been to the Syrian coast, not to the Greek coast. This is a fact that cannot be changed no matter the wishes of some of the posters here. In addition, many Cypriots do feel that they have stronger bonds with Syria. I have personally spoken to Cypriots who have communicated to me their complete awareness that their strongest ties are with Syria. Yet, they wish to remain independent today, as do many of our entities. 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. Remember also, that Cypriot was always part of the powerful, advanced Syrian states that arose, both because of the people’s natural tie to Syria and due to its strategic significance. Furthermore, the SSNP had a close relationship with President Makarios of Cyprus, who also felt strongly that Cyprus was a natural extension of Syria. These are historical, social, and cultural facts that we are not going to change based on the trends and whims of a particular era. We are not saying that we are going to go capture Cyprus just like we reject any and all acts of forceful unification, but we are not going to deny history and sociology to please certain people.

Now, regarding the symbol of the party. It is a purely SYRIAN symbol rooted in SYRIAN history. To say that we must change our symbols everytime someone might have a problem with it is utterly nonsensical. Why does everything have to revolve around the Nazis and Nazi Germany? Many people have a major problem with the US flag, which they see as representing imperialism and oppression of other peoples. Others have a problem with the English flag and the French flag. What does that have to do with us? Are we not to use red, white and blue colors because people might get offended? Our flag has a clear symbolic meaning that is based on our culture and history. We do not amend our symbols based on the sensitivities of other, because, first, sensitivities will change with different times and events, and second, we would be adapting our very identity to the views and opinions of others.

The colors of the flag are derived directly from the significance of these colors in Syrian culture. The red represents “giving”, the white represents “purity” and the black represents “stability.” The cyclone itself, as I stated before, is symbolic of continuous dynamism and movement, and its four corners represent the four pillars of the social nationalist ideology found in its motto, namely Freedom, Duty, Discipline, and Strength.

Finally, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party has been a prominent movement across Syria since the early 1930’s. It has housed many intellectuals and thinkers, who come from all backgrounds. Never was the Party confined to a particular sect or social group. It enjoys widespread presence in most regions of our nation and among all groups. To suggest that it is a Greek Orthodox party is so utterly ludicrous that it can only be done by people who are sectarian themselves or who have an entirely distorted view not only of the SSNP but of our people as a whole.

November 24th, 2008, 4:58 pm


Off the Wall said:


Your posts on this subject are excellent. I really liked you argument that a Lavent state will have an ethnic and sectarian mixture that will have a better chance at challenging a hegemonic role of Sunni Arab majority. I believe you are right. I also agree with QN and others pointing to the absurdity of Cyprus issue in SSNP constitution of Suria Al Kubra (grater Syria) and the fact that even more than a half century after the murder of Saadeh, there apears no clear contender his intellectual place within the party. Granted, alliances have shifted, but the party has remain the same ideologically, at least as far as I know. I believe that those who assassinated Saadeh knew that his martydom will convert the party to a personality oriented party, and by that, lose any chance of being an influential party. Needless to say, Saadeh himself, “cleansed” the party from those who may pose challenge to his intellectual leadership, and as other did before and after him in many political parties, cemented its statist nature.

You said
The Fertile Crescent state is a great idea, but needs to be liberated from quasi-fascist blood-and-soil ideas (inherent also in Baathism and Zionism) which deny historical process.

Historically speaking, most revolutionary parties do not necessarily deny historical process, they aim at stopping these process and re-initializing them. I find the analogy of computer “reboot” somehow applicable here. The computer gets too slow, so it gets rebooted, especially by those who do not know how to read the “process monitor”, upon rebooting the computer may start a little faster, and you may be able to install new fancy software and be more productive, but without detecting and removing hidden viruses, Trojans, and adware, it is bound to be sluggish again. Reinstalling the same vulnerable OS, but without adequate protection, will only result in the same cycle occurring yet again.

Just look at Iraq, they do have a Parliament, who has the power, at least theoretically to do good. But what do we see, US military generals, seeking the easy way out of their dilemma, end up reviving old tribal chiefdom, and giving these thugs an increasingly more powerful role in Iraq’s affairs. What a shame, I see only trouble in this mixture. Apollodorus argued that Christians where influential minority, I beg to differ, the life of the average Christian was not much better than that of the average Sunni. But there was a group of elite who was as close to the centers of power as the chiefs of big land owning Sunni clans (both Turkish and Arab) during the early to mid- twentieth century in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Some of these leaders played a major role in the small revolutions for independence, but with the exception of one nationally coordinate strike, most of the actions remained localized as these leaders did not intend to confront France and Britain in a violent manner and preferred to work within parliaments that were summarily dismissed quite often and governments that were most of the time akin to the Iraqi government under occupation. Give me a seat, and I will guarantee that my people will not pose a threat. In fact, a big part of Lebanon problems is owed to these elites and to the internal wars to replace them and create a new elite clans (Take for example the Hariri family).

The Baath, SSNP, along with a suite of smaller and less influential parties represented the frustration of well educated middle class youth at that time. They were educated and hoped that by that they will have a seat at the table. Some where given a seat at the table by virtue of elections, but they were very impatient as they thought that they had a plan that will re-install the operating system. In Syria, and Iraq, the Baathist opted for the military, and by that, changed the power structure in both states from the military being subservient to the “old” elite to it becoming the center of power making. The various military coups were what opened their eyes to the potentially big role the military can play. But even when they reached power, they had the same logic. The operating system was not changed, only the interface has, and within few years, the old viruses of familial ties and clan loyalty, which are perhaps the hidden drive behind much of the sectarian tension, came back with vengeance. To add insult to injury, these seculars parties buried their heads in the sand and opted for the Soviet model in dealing with minorities, which relies either on ignoring them, on co-opting them when ignoring them failed, and brutally suppressing them when both of the above failed. They did not fit with the self image.

November 24th, 2008, 5:04 pm


jad said:

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

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. )

November 24th, 2008, 5:12 pm


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

November 24th, 2008, 6:08 pm


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.

November 24th, 2008, 6:46 pm


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.


November 24th, 2008, 7:06 pm


jad said:

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?

November 24th, 2008, 7:18 pm


SAGHIR said:


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.

November 24th, 2008, 8:06 pm


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)

So maybe some Cypriots do have something for Syria : )

November 24th, 2008, 8:08 pm


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.

November 24th, 2008, 8:14 pm


jad said:

Thank you Alex, you are right.

(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

November 24th, 2008, 8:29 pm


SAGHIR said:


Story of my life 🙂

November 24th, 2008, 8:38 pm


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.


November 24th, 2008, 8:54 pm


Nour said:


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.

November 24th, 2008, 9:16 pm


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.

November 24th, 2008, 9:48 pm


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.

November 24th, 2008, 9:51 pm


Nour said:


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.

November 24th, 2008, 10:00 pm


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.

November 24th, 2008, 10:16 pm


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

November 24th, 2008, 10:43 pm


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.

November 25th, 2008, 12:41 am


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 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 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.

November 25th, 2008, 1:14 am


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.”

November 25th, 2008, 10:39 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Wonderfully put, Sean.

November 25th, 2008, 5:56 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

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


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.


November 25th, 2008, 6:09 pm


Nour said:


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.


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.

November 25th, 2008, 8:46 pm


qunfuz said:

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

November 25th, 2008, 10:03 pm


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. 🙂

November 25th, 2008, 10:12 pm


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!

November 25th, 2008, 10:17 pm


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.

November 26th, 2008, 7:16 am


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.

November 26th, 2008, 9:36 am


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?

November 26th, 2008, 9:53 am


Nour said:


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.

November 26th, 2008, 3:12 pm


Nour said:


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.

November 26th, 2008, 3:23 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


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

November 26th, 2008, 5:46 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


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.

November 26th, 2008, 8:44 pm


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.

December 12th, 2008, 6:28 am


DominicItaly said:

Sieg Heil!

February 27th, 2009, 12:44 am


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