Differentiating between pertinent concepts is a must before discussing Syrian Social Nationalism. Patriotism for example is different from nationalism. National feeling starts deviating from patriotism when the homeland includes other states under certain circumstances. (1)
To Sa'adeh, the state is a political aspect of human association whereas a nation is but a social fact. The nation does not exist for the state; it is the state that exists for the sake of the nation. The national state which represents the public will represent the people's interest also in the effective not the submissive consensus of the community. The nation which is a societal community has to be the religion of humanity in modern times when its powerful effective personality (entity) has dominated the personality of the state.(2)
That is the axis around which Sa'adeh's ideology of nationalism revolves. The most elaborate attempts to explain nationalism have emerged in the field of sociology.(3) Nationalism is not an occasional fervor. It is a full ideology, that is a science of ideas. Consequently, a scientific nationalist would not define a nation only by affinities of language or common historical origin as claimed by Russel,(4) or even by sharing common objectives. An Englishman and an Australian might speak the same language, believe in the same church and have similar progressive aspirations, but such facts do not classify them as natives of the same nation. The decisive factors lie in a social reality with all its societal developmental intermingling; a nation is basically a unity of life along generations, within a certain territory. A community does not necessarily signify performance of national existence: "The completest (most complete) type of community is the nation."(5) The nation is therefore prior to the state which is the political organization of the nation whose state, the state of people, is the democratic state.(6)
The center of the circle is therefore the nation whose unity designates national history.(7) That is why the glorious stand at Maysaloun was considered by Sa'adeh to be the beginning of Syria's modern history not its end.(8) In fact, Maysaloun represented national spiritual unity and national will in a practical refusal to divide the Fertile Crescent into separate political territories.
Similarly, Syrian ancient history acquired its material reality after a long period of time through which people living in the Fertile Crescent (Canaanites, Aramaeans, Hittites, Ammorites, Assyrians and Chaldeans), underwent a dual interaction process - with each other, and with their environment.(9) Before forming this conviction, Sa'adeh asked himself:
"Who are we? This was the question which preoccupied my mind from the very beginning of my social nationalist thinking. After extensive research, I concluded that we are Syrians and constitute a complete nation."(10)
Establishing clear national consciousness requires perception of national identity which is Syrian and not Lebanese or Palestinian or Jordanian or Iraqi. It is the only way seen by Sa'adeh to end the crisis of identity and retrieve national sovereignty. Sa'adeh was not the first nationalist to draw the attention of his citizens to the idea of Syrianism.(11) But he was the distinctive initiator of the systematic idea of Syrian Nationalism and the means to realize it. It was he in the 1930s and 1940s "who raised Syrian national consciousness to the new stage of comprehensive modernizing ideology."(12) His ideology - beyond doubt - is one whole and needs to be seen altogether. But the illumination of the SSNP Basic Principles is essential in the study of Sa'adeh's assiduous thought - the Syrian nation:
First Principle: Syria is for Syrians who constitute a nation in itself.
Second Principle: The Syrian National cause is an integral cause completely distinct from any other cause.
Third Principle: The Syrian cause is the cause of the Syrian nation and the Syrian homeland.
Fourth Principle: The Syrian nation is the unity of Syrian people which is the product of a long history going back to pre-historic times.
Fifth Principle: The Syrian homeland is that geographic environment in which the Syrian nation evolved. It has distinct natural boundaries and extends 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 in the west, including the island of Cyprus, to the arch of the Arabian desert and the Persian gulf in the east. (This region is also known as the Syrian Fertile Crescent).
Sixth Principle: The Syrian nation is a single society.
Seventh Principle: The Syrian Social Nationalist movement derives its inspiration from the talents of the Syrian nation and its cultural political national history.
Eighth Principle: Syria's interest supersedes every other interest.
The fundamental principles are supplemented by five radical reform principles:
First Reform Principle: Separation of religion and state.
Second Reform Principle: Debarring the clergy from interference in political and judicial matters.
Third Reform Principle: Removal of the barriers between the various sects and confessions.
Fourth Reform Principle: The abolition of feudalism, the organization of national economy on the basis of production and the protection of the rights of labour and the interests of the nation and the state.
Fifth Reform Principles: Formation of strong armed forces which will be effective in determining the destiny of the country and the nation.
Sa'adeh scientifically rejected the idea of racial nations of pure ethnic genealogy.(13) Thus a Syrian citizen, whatever his physical characteristics, would no more care only for his family or descendent. He would rather care for the whole nation which is a general coherent mixture of its people. Now if Phoenician or Christian loyalty were the thesis and Arab or Muhammadan loyalty the anti-thesis, or reversed, if those two religio-racial loyalties entail two contradictory theses, then the synthesis, which would furnish the solution of the conflict, would be the principle of Syrian national unity.(14)
Such a synthesis leads to the following results:
a - Syrian nationalism is based on the principle of natural societal unity not on racism.
b - National conscience governs the relationship of the individual with the nation.
c - The intellectual foundations of nationalism in general and Syrian nationalism in particular, are essentially secular. (15)
Some secularists contradict themselves when they postulate that there is no Syrian nation, but only an Arab nation. That presumed nation is primarily reclining on religion, language and waves of immigration, although admitting that Syria is a unity by itself.(16) Rabbat himself and others classified as Christian Arab nationalists,(17) have been considered as representatives of the Fertile Crescent during the developmental stage of twelve decades!(18) It might be due to the fact that "Syria has always been the center of Arab national feeling."(19) But, it is half the truth. Syria is a historical concrete reality according to Sa'adeh and Syrian nationalism within its Arab frame, affirmed Kamal Jumblat, ought to have been the essence and ferment of various struggles for independence for 1200 years - that is the only nationalism liable to live in this region.(20)
(1) Charles Petrie, What Is Patriotism ed. N.P. MacDonald, London, 1935, p. et.seq.
(2) Sa'adeh, Nushu' al-Umam, (Originally published in 1938), pp. 130, 131, 135.
(3) K.R. Minogue, Nationalism, London, 1967, p. 149.
(4) Bertrand Russel, Political Ideals, London, 1963, p.
(5) R.M. Maciver, Community: A Sociological Study, 2nd edn. London, 1920, p. See also Sa'adeh's same definition, Nushu' al-Umam, pp.145-146.
(6) Sa'adeh, ibid, p. 167.
(7) Ibid, p. 163.
(8)Sa'adeh, Marahel Al-Mass'ala Al-Filasteeniyya, p. 6. Sa'adeh highly appreciated Youssef Al-Azmi's stand at Maysaloun in 1920. He also appreciated the Syrian revolution held by Sultan Al-Atrash in 1925, but points out the fact that it did not develop to a national public revolution.
(9) Sa'adeh excluded Jews "whose dangerous settlement [in Palestine] can never be assimilated." See his explanation of the Fourth Basic Principle
(10) The explanation of the First Basic Principle. However, the volume of Nushu 'Al-Umam was only the first one: a second book with a sub-title 'Nushu' Al-Umma Al-Suriyya' was confiscated by French authorities before being printed and is presumed lost.
(11) Nevertheless, he was the real teacher of the meaning of the nation to various educated figures. See G. Tueini, Waqi'h Al-Umma Wa Jawharuha, Beirut, 1945, the presentation.
(12) Dennis Walker, "Cultural Syrian Anti-Colonialism and Women's Liberation In Early Occupied Lebanon", Sydney, An-Nahda, 28/2/1985, p.6.
(13) It is shocking indeed to read a treatise on someone without surveying any of his books as Tibi did with respect to Sa'adeh. Tibi concluded that Sa'adeh's view of the nation is based on a biological definition!!. See Tibi, Arab Nationalism. For accuracy, see Nushu' Al-Umam, pp. 38, 58, 156.
(14) Sa'adeh's explanation of the Fourth Basic Principle.
(15) Malcolm Kerr, Islamic Religion, California, 1966, p. 1.
(16) Edmond Rabbat, Unite' Syrienne Et Devinir Arabe, Paris, 1937, p. 33.
(17) Azouri, Al-Bustani, Aflaq and Rabbat.
(18) Spencer Lavan, "Four Christian Arab Nationalists: A Comparative Study," MWJ, Vol. VII, No. 2, April, 1967, p.125.
Sa'adeh and Syrian Nationalism
Dr. Rabih Debs