Qunfuz

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Ba’athism

Sectarianism and Honesty

with 13 comments

the Syrian dictator accompanied by the Sunni mufti

This was published in the excellent Ceasefire magazine.

Ba‘athism began as a conscious attempt to supercede the sectarian and regional divisions which plague the Arab world. That’s why many of its early ideologues were Christians or members of other minority groups. The Ba‘athist slogan umma arabiya wahida zat risala khalida – One Arab Nation Bearing an Eternal Message – employing the word for ‘nation’ which previously designated the international Muslim community, and the word for ‘message’ previously associated with the Prophet Muhammad’s divine message – suggests that this variety of Arabism actually intended to supercede religion itself, or to become a new religion.

In Iraq it all went wrong very quickly. Saddamist Ba‘athism in effect designated ethnic Arabs of the Sunni sect as true Arabs, the Shia majority as quasi-Persian infiltrators, and the Kurds as an enemy nation. Saddam even wrote a characteristic pamphlet called ‘Three Things God Should Not Have Invented – Persians, Jews and Flies’, and so demonstrated the slip from nationalism to fascism.

Syria was somewhat different, somewhat more sophisticated. Despite the fact that the president and his top spies and generals were Alawis from the Lattakkia region, only Sunni Islam and Christianity were taught in the education system (to the chagrin of traditional Alawi shaikhs). When the president prayed in public he prayed in the manner of the majority, Sunni-style. In the last couple of decades the regime sought to broaden its base by coopting Sunni businessmen as well as soldiers from the minority groups. And the majority’s rituals and religious festivals were never banned as they were in Iraq.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Arabism, Sectarianism, Syria

Tagged with ,

Outside/ Inside

with 5 comments

Hama (Reuters picture)

For days Syrian security forces stayed out of Hama; not even traffic police were seen in the city. During these days, no armed gangs emerged from the shadows to terrorise and loot. Christians and Alawis were not rounded up and shot. Nobody was whipped for wearing an unIslamic haircut. All that happened was day and night demonstrations against the regime swelled into crowds of hundreds of thousands – men and women, adults and children.

Perhaps the security forces stayed out of the city on the request of Hama’s governor, and perhaps that’s why he was sacked. Now security forces have entered the city and brought plenty of insecurity in their wake. At least sixteen Hamwis were killed yesterday.

Slaughter in this city – over sixty protestors were murdered there a few weeks ago – reminds Syrians of the greatest wound in their contemporary history: the Hama massacre in 1982, when 10,000 were killed at the lowest estimate, by aerial and artillery bombardment and in house to house murder sprees. There are reports that poison gas was used, and of dismemberments and rapes, but no-one really knows. No journalists slipped inside the city. There was no satellite TV, no internet, no mobile phones. Still, a thousand stories escaped the net, and every Syrian has heard some; stories whispered, not told. Hama, ‘the events’, is the great taboo.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 6, 2011 at 2:53 am

Myth-Making

with one comment

We often project our current political concerns backwards in time in order to justify ourselves. I say ‘we’ because everyone does it. Nazi Germany invented a mythical blonde Aryan people who had always been kept down by lesser breeds. The Hindu nationalists in India imagine that Hinduism has always been a centralised doctrine rather than a conglomerate of texts and local traditions, and describe Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and animist influences on Indian history as foreign intrusions. Black nationalists in the Americas depict ancient Africa as a continent not of hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers but as a wonderland of kings and queens, gold and silk, science and monumental architecture. To our current cost, Zionists and the neo-cons have been able to reactivate old Orientalist myths in the West, myths in which the entirety of Arab and Islamic history has involved the slaughter and oppression of Christians, Jews, Hindus, women, gays, intellectuals .. and so on.

Such retrospective mythmaking frequently goes to the most absurd extremes in young nations conscious of their weakness or of a need for redefinition (America may be one of these). Probably for that reason it is particularly evident in the Middle East.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 11, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Posted in Arabism, Egypt, History, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Turkey, Zionism

Tagged with ,

Two Stages of the Syrian Ba’ath

with 8 comments

stamp commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Ba'ath's founding

Again inspired by Hanna Batatu’s excellent book, here are some notes on the first two of the three stages of the Ba’ath Party in Syria. I haven’t mentioned the party’s development in Iraq.

The first Ba’ath was the old Ba’ath, and it was led by ideals. The party’s founders, Michel Aflaq (a Christian) and the two Bitars (Sunnis) were the sons of grain merchants from the Damascus suburb of Maydan, and were genuinely motivated by the desire for a unified Arab state. They were of the commercial class that felt most immediately the loss of the natural Arab marketplace entailed by the Sykes-Picot partition and the actions of the French Mandate. The French had ceded Arab-majority areas north of Aleppo to Turkey, and in 1939 handed over the entire Iskenderoon governorate (which had an Arab and Alawi majority) in return for Turkish neutrality in the approaching European war. From 1925 to 26 the Druze had risen against the French under the anti-sectarian slogan ‘Religion is for God and the Homeland For All.’ The Ghuta peasant-gardeners, aflame with the nationalism of nearby Damascus, also struck, and the French bombarded the Ghuta with artillery and planes. The 1948 fall of Palestine added impetus to the pan-nationalist agenda. Sunnis from Deir ez-Zor, now cut off from their kinsmen and marketplaces in Iraq, were also attracted to Arabism.

Before it became a party of policemen and bureaucrats the Ba’ath was a party of schoolteachers (the leadership) and schoolboys (the mass membership). Pedagogic aims run deep in the Ba’ath’s family history. The subject of instruction at this stage was an unfeasibly romantic vision of the Arabs, something beyond the traditional nationalist picture of the Arabs as a people united by language and culture, in other words by historical forces. The Ba’ath saw the Arabs as a nation outide history, as an eternal creative force and unified will (Henri Bergson’s philosophy was important), and Ba’athist rhetoric transported spiritual language into nationalist discourse. Umma Arabiya Wahida, goes the slogan, Zat Risala Khalida. Or One Arab Nation Bearing an Eternal Message. Umma hitherto referred to the Islamic community, not the Arabs, and Risala is the word used for God’s message transmitted by Muhammad, the Rasool. Like Zionism, Stalinism, fascism and hedonist-consumerism, the Ba’ath was one of the 20th Century’s attempts to secularise and channel people’s religious impulses, to provide a substitute for the crumbling or crumbled traditional religions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 27, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Syrian Opposition

with 5 comments

The Arabs of the Levant and Iraq love talking politics. This is one of the more rewarding things about spending time with them. In Syria, for instance, instead of enduring conversations about cars, house prices or football, you can immerse yourself in big issues: God and death, revolution and gender, secularism and resistance.

But because normal political life in Syria – organising parties, holding meetings and rallies, writing articles critical of the government – is criminalised, most people have no defined political affiliation. And it is of course impossible to accurately research political opinion, so any pronouncements on the views of Syrians are inevitably based on anecdotal evidence.

With that reservation, here are some pronouncements on the political views of Syrians. I base them on conversations with my Syrian relatives, my wife’s family, and many friends and colleagues from three years residence in the country and several long visits.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 1, 2006 at 9:12 am

Posted in Syria

Tagged with , ,