Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Ba'th Party: Credit Where Credit's Due


"Wherever you go in the Middle East today, you see the Arab Spring rapidly turning into the Christian winter. The past few years have been catastrophic for the region's beleaguered 14-million strong Christian minority." (Fatal lot of Christianity's homelands: Syria faces a hardline salafist takeover, William Dalrymple, The Australian, 9/8/12)


"Most catastrophically, in Iraq, two thirds of the Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam... 'Before the war there was no separation between Christian and Muslim,' I was told on a recent visit by Shamun Daawd, a liquor-store owner who fled Baghdad after he received Islamist death threats... 'Under Saddam no one asked you your religion and we used to attend each other's religious services,' he said. 'Now at least 75% of my Christian friends have fled.'" (ibid)

Hang on!

"[W]hile the regime of the Assad dynasty was a repressive one-party police state in which political freedoms were always severely and often brutally restricted, it did allow the Syrians widespread cultural and religious freedoms. These gave Syria's minorities a security and stability far greater than their counterparts anywhere else in the region. This was particularly true of Syria's ancient Christian communities. The reason for this was that the Assads were Alawite, a syncretic Shia Muslim minority regarded by Sunni Muslims as heretical..." (ibid)

So the Asads protected Syrian Christians from Syria's Sunni Muslims because the Asads are Alawi, but Saddam protected Iraqi Christians from Iraq's Sunni Muslims because he was a... Sunni?

The above contradiction is what you get when you haven't done your homework. What Dalrymple has omitted from his too-superficial argument is any reference to the role of the Ba'th Party, in both its Iraqi and Syrian forms, in combating and suppressing sectarianism (not to mention regionalism and tribalism). The Ba'thist current of Arab nationalism, whatever its other defects, has always vigorously promoted secularism.

Perhaps the best study of the Syrian Ba'th and the issue of sectarianism is Nikolaos van Dam's The Struggle for Power in Syria: Sectarianism, Regionalism and Tribalism in Politics, 1961-1980 (1981):

"In the past, the Arab nationalist movement had always been interwoven with a kind of Sunni Islamism. And the Sunni Arabs, who usually played first fiddle in this movement, assigned in their Arabism such an important and central role to (Sunni) Islam, that heterodox Muslims, let alone Christians, were allotted a secondary place: 'timid subordinates' tolerated by (Sunni Arab) 'superiors'. In fact, many Sunni Arab nationalists tended to regard members of the Arabic-speaking religious minorities as 'imperfect Arabs' because they were heterodox Muslims or not Muslims at all. Equally, the religious minorities tended to suspect Arab nationalism as a disguise for unrestrained Sunni ascendancy, similar to the situation that pertained during the Ottoman Empire, the only difference being that Arab rather than Turkish Sunnis now held power.

"Ba'th ideology had a quite different basis. The Ba'th wanted a united secular Arab society with a socialist system, ie a society in which all Arabs would be equal, irrespective of their religion. This did not imply that Islam was of secondary importance to Ba'thist Arabism. In the Ba'thist view Islam consituted an essential and inseparable part of Arab national culture. Other than the Sunni variants of Arabism, however, the Ba'th considered Islam to be not so much an Arab national religion as an important Arab national cultural heritage, to which all Arabs, whether Muslim or Christians, were equal heirs apparent. In the opinion of Michel 'Aflaq, the Ba'th Party's ideologist, Christian Arabs therefore need feel in no way hindered from being Arab nationalists: 'When their nationalism awakens in them completely and they regain their original nature, the Christian Arabs will realise that Islam is their national culture with which they should satiate themselves, in order that they may understand and love it and to covet it as the most precious thing in their Arabism.'

"It was thus only natural that the Ba'th ideology appealed strongly to Arabic-speaking religious minority members who may have hoped that the Ba'th would help them to free themselves from of their minority status and the narrow social frame of their sectarian, regional and tribal ties.

"Finally, the minority members must have been attracted by the idea that the traditional Sunni-urban domination of Syrian political life might be broken by the establishment of a secular socialist political system as envisaged by the Ba'th, in which there would be no political and socio-economic discrimination against non-Sunnis or, more particularly, against members of heterodox Islamic communities." (pp 32-33)

One of the great ironies of the struggle in Syria today is that, by backing Syria's armed sectarian Sunni opposition movement, the Western powers, who once posed as the protectors of  Syria's minorities against Sunni domination (whether Ottoman or post-Ottoman), are now lending material support to their Syrian Sunni oppressors, seemingly with no regard whatever for the fate of these minorities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Great ironies" indeed.

The Zionised "western" nations may well support the Sunni forces today, but they are expendable,tomorrow they will support the opposition.

Oh for the days of Lord Palmerston who proclaimed "Britain has no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests."

Now politicians sing the praises of chaining their nations to the Zionist powder keg!