This letter is in response to the article by Daniel Pipes, "Radical Politics and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party" (IJMES. August 1988). Pipes' article seems to be based more on rumors and hearsay than on scholarly research and investigation. It fits more into one of the numerous journals on terrorism that emphasizes the sensational and the rhetorical over sober scholarship.
Pipes asserts-in what he calls a "note of caution" (p. 304)-that Sa'adeh used the word ijtima'i to mean social, not socialist. If Pipes had read the Arabic sources that he claims to have read, he would know that the word ijtirna'iyya was once used by some as a translation for the word socialism.
His analysis of the appeal of the party, which has always been limited, is flawed. He maintains that "fascists and Nazi sympathizers flocked to the SSNP" (p. 304). This sympathy, however, does not help explain the appeal of the party, which had more to do with the inherent problems in Arab society and the dangers that the region of the Levant faced. The party provided easy answers to complex problems confronting frustrated individuals, particularly members of the intellectual elite.
Pipes' citations are frequently inaccurate; he seems to choose sentences in order to interject footnotes rather than basing his statements on an exhaustive reading of the Arabic sources. To support his claim that Sa'adeh was opposed to "the artificial and meaningless" (p. 305) Lebanese state, he cites a statement by Sa'adeh in which he referred to "Lebanese separatism," a term that Sa'adeh used to refer to the right-wing Phalanges' version of Lebanese nationalism and not to the entity of Lebanon per se. He also mischaracterizes the party's position on the Palestinian problem by maintaining that the conflict with Israel, according to the party, is "an internal Syrian affair in which the Arabs have no business" (p. 306). Only a person with little understanding of the party's ideology would make such an assertion.
Pipes is furthermore mistaken when he claims that the party "abandoned fascist doctrines and adopted the more acceptable rhetoric of the Left" (p. 310). While it is true that the party underwent a partial political transformation in the 1960s, it is also true that the party never abandoned its fascist doctrines, from racial categorizations, worship of al-za'im, to fascist internal organization. To support his claim that the SSNP became a leftist party, he merely states that the SSNP chief "was attending the anniversary celebration of the Lebanese Communist Party" (p. 310) - a celebration attended by tens of political parties.
On page 311, Pipes lists names of personalities who were, in his opinion, members of the SSNP. He includes Elie Salem, the former foreign minister of Lebanon, although there is no evidence to indicate that Salem was ever a member of the party, or of any party for that matter. If Pipes has the evidence, he should have provided it. More surprisingly, Pipes includes Salah Jadid, the former ruler of Syria, of whom he says that he "was possibly a member." There is no evidence whatsoever that Salah Jadid was ever a member of the SSNP. Perhaps Pipes has confused Salah Jadid with his brother.
Pipes mis-characterizes the membership of the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Brigades not "Fraction." Most members of the Brigades came from ultra-leftist communist organizations, not from the SSNP, as Pipes claims on page 311. In order to exaggerate the influence of the party, Pipes also claims that the party of the Phalanges "adopted much from the SSNP" (p. 311). In reality, as both parties were founded during the same era, they were both influenced by the Nazi movement and not by one another.
On page 312, Pipes claims that "Michel 'Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar apparently had long conversations with Sa'adeh," before establishing the Ba'th Party. For this information Pipes relies on a book by the Lebanese writer Mustafa Juha, who cannot be considered a reliable source on the matter or on any matter. His books have long been banned by Lebanese Security Forces for the malicious lies they contain, such as the Prophet Muhammad being a sexual pervert. He is also closely allied with ultra-rightist factions in Lebanon and writes propaganda publications against the leftist coalition. Juha has never known any of the persons in question and his account should be dismissed out of hand.
It is inaccurate to maintain, as Pipes does (p. 312), that the SSNP played "a significant role in both Lebanese civil wars." In fact, the party's role in both wars is marginal compared to the participation of other major parties. It is also questionable that the "party had a prominent part in the events that led up to the Lebanese civil war in 1975"(p. 313).
Pipes is also unpersuasive when he argues that Hafez al-Asad has adopted the ideology of the party. Instead of understanding Asad's policies in terms of Realpolitik, he insists on attributing his policies to the ideology of the party. He does so by using information without any evidence or citation. For example, he says: "Rumor in Syria held that Anisa [Asad's wife] was sympathetic to the party and influenced Asad not just to cooperate with the SSNP, but also to look favorably on Greater Syria" (p. 3 18). No evidence for such an absurd assertion is provided. No mention is made of the persecution suffered by party members who had fought with the invading Syrian army troops, at the hands of the Syrian army following its entry into Lebanon in 1976.
Pipes' claim that the SSNP had a hand in the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks is totally unfounded; and it is untrue that Islamic Jihad ever referred to "Greater Syria." The author either does not know Arabic well enough, or he relies too unquestioningly on the mysterious sources that provided him with some of the bizarre assertions he makes in the article. Specifically, there is no evidence, and Pipes provides none, that the SSNP was involved in placing a bomb aboard a TWA airliner in April 1986. Pipes also provides no evidence for his claim that the SSNP was involved in the attempt by Nizar al-Hindawi to place a bomb on an El Al plane.
In the last section of the article Mr. Pipes cites pro-Syrian statements by certain Lebanese to underline the appeal of the SSNP. He should know that these statements are made daily by Lebanese living in areas under Syrian control, for obvious reasons. To Pipes, a pro-Syrian statement is an irrefutable evidence of an SSNP link. He also gives no evidence for his assertion that the SSNP was involved in the assassination attempt against 'Abd al-Qadir Ghuqa, who was a close ally of the SSNP.
Finally. it is odd that Pipes insists on referring to Sati' al-Husri as "Abu Khaldun Sati' al-Husri." This reference is, to any person who knows Arabic, redundant. A firm line should be drawn between the plethora of literature on "terrorism" and real scholarship on the Middle East. It is unfortunate that this line is blurred in Pipes' article.
"Radical Politics and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party"
Dr. As'ad Abukhalil