Go Forth and Falsify:
Götz Nordbruch's Portrayal of
Antun Sa'adeh Political Ideas
Adel Beshara
During recent research into Levantine fascism and Nazism of the 1930s, I came across an interesting book by Götz Nordbruch. Nazism in Syria and Lebanon reconstructs Lebanese and Syrian encounters with Nazism in the context of an evolving local political culture. It examines the reactions to the rise of Nazism in the countries under French mandate and offers a fairly detailed exposition of the various groups, organizations and prominent personalities that came under the Nazi spell. Naturally, the degree of Nazi penetration into Levantine politics varied from one group and individual to another: some even took a strong stand against Nazism and organized against it.

An interesting but unfinished analysis in the book relates to Antun Sa’adeh and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP). It deals with the ‘Nazi’ inclinations of Sa’adeh and the SSNP more methodically than previous attempts and sheds new light on the role of Nazi Germany as a point of reference for the party and its founder. Nonetheless, there are shortcomings in the book as one would expect in a general study. The main problem is that the author seems to have come to the subject with preconceived ideas and convictions about Sa’adeh and the SSNP.

Definitions First
In contemporary parlance, the word fascism has come to denote any system of government that (1) exalts nation and sometimes race above the individual; (2) uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition; (3) engages in severe economic and social regimentation; and (4) engages in corporatism. Thus, in an article in the 1932 Enciclopedia Italiana, written by Giovanni Gentile and attributed to Benito Mussolini, fascism is described as a system in which "The State not only is authority which governs and molds individual wills with laws and values of spiritual life, but it is also power which makes its will prevail abroad.... For the Fascist, everything is within the State and... neither individuals nor groups are outside the State.... For Fascism, the State is an absolute, before which individuals or groups are only relative...."

In the same parlance, Nazism is considered either a type of fascism or a notable offshoot of fascism. It differed from Italian fascism in the emphasis on the state's purpose in serving a racial rather than a national ideal, specifically the social engineering of culture to the ends of the greatest possible prosperity for the so-called "Master Race" at the expense of all else and all others. In contrast, fascism held that cultural factors existed to serve the state, and that it wasn't necessarily in the state's interest to serve or engineer any of these particulars within its sphere. Another difference is this: While Nazism was a metapolitical ideology, seeing both party and government as a means to achieve an ideal condition of its people, fascism was a squarely anti-socialist form of statism that existed as an end in and of itself. The Nazi movement, at least in its overt ideology, spoke of class-based society as the enemy, and wanted to unify the racial element above established classes. The Fascist movement, on the other hand, sought to preserve the class system and uphold it as the foundation of established and desirable culture. This underlying theorem made the Fascists and Nazis in the period between the two world wars see themselves and their respective political labels as at least partially exclusive of one another.

The focus of Götz Nordbruch’s book is primarily on Nazism. It seeks to demonstrate how and to what extent Nazism served as an intellectual repository and a reference point for anti-French agitation among Syro-Lebanese activists. An important component of the book is the development of Arab ‘anti-Semitism’ due to Nazi hatred of Jews. Sa’adeh and the SSNP are discussed within this general context.

Götz Nordbruch, the SSNP, and Sa’adeh
Götz Nordbruch dedicates several sections in the book to Sa’adeh and the SSNP. But they are brief and consist mainly of general observations that apply across different circumstances and combinations.
The first section, entitled “Antun Sa'ada and the SNP: a 'pure nationalist regime',” sets the tone of his analysis with the following description:
On 16 November 1935, the arrest of the leadership of the clandestine Syrian Nationalist Party (al-hizb al-surial-qawmi) marked a notable shift of public per¬ceptions of Nazi Germany and its ideological vision. The exposure of the party itself had steered considerable debates. Charged with plotting against the state and the existing order, the SNP and its charismatic leader Antun Sa'ada were accused of having entertained close relations with the German and Italian mis¬sions in Beirut; in addition, the party was openly depicted as echoing Nazi and Fascist ideology and style. Yet, for the first time, such charges were not limited to an agency of European fascism, but instead focused on a supposedly authentic fascist core of a local organization. Ideologically, from this point of view, the party reflected authoritarian and anti-democratic concepts that were submitting the individual to the absolute interest of the national community. Organization¬ally, the undisputed role of the za'im, the leader, and the paramilitary style of the party itself seemed to confirm suspicions that the organization had indeed been in contact with one or both European fascist regimes.
Nordbruch goes on to tells us that “These charges, which were ultimately dropped during the upcoming trial, were dispelled by an official exchange of letters in which Germany denied having any relations with the party.” So
1. The French were convinced that Sa’adeh had no Nazi connections;
2. The Germans conceded that they had no prior knowledge of or connection with Sa’adeh;
3. The Lebanese found no evidence to implicate Sa’adeh with Nazi Germany.
The Germans were truthful when they said that Sa’adeh was outside their scheme of things, and Sa’adeh was honest when he described the SNP as a native movement with a unique outlook and a political philosophy all of its own:

The purpose for which this Party was established is a sublime purpose: to make the Syrian nation the sole titleholder of sovereignty over itself and its country.

In the same speech Sa’adeh elucidated a view of international relations based on pragmatic realism rather than subserviency or aggression:

We feel now the existence of a strong Italian propaganda in this country in particular, and in the Near East in general. We feel a similar propaganda from Germany and similar ones from other countries. The Leadership of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party warns all its members against falling prey to foreign propaganda. We recognize that there are considerations which call for the establishment of friendly relations between Syria and foreign nations, in particular the European states, but we do not believe in the principle of propaganda. Syrian thought must remain free and independent. When it comes to foreign relations, we are always ready to clasp the hands that are extended to us with a frank, good intention and in a situation of common understanding and agreement.

Nordbruch then states: “Yet, with ever more information about the party becoming available, rumours about such relations [between the SNP/Sa’adeh and Nazi Germany] persisted.” Indeed, the Lebanese press, with the exception of one or two newspapers, published in 1936 and 1937 a string of ‘reports’ depicting Sa’adeh and the SNP as agents of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Nordbruch, however, does not elaborate on the contents of these “rumous”. Nor does he attempt to explain how they came about and who was behind them. More importantly, he does not bothers to clarify that these rumours were completely untrue and that, for the most part, merely reflected the editorial political attitudes of the newspapers in question. What Nordbruch should have done here is give publicity again to the facts to what actually happened rather than leave matters entirely open-ended.

In another endeavour to establish a link of some sort between Sa’adeh and Nazism, Nordbruch turns to Sa’adeh’s youthful writings (the 1920s). He writes: "Contemporary thinkers of various nationalist movements repeatedly voiced the desire to overcome a supposed state of corruption. German history, for many, symbolized the national will to surpass periods of cultural decline and political division. One of the noticeable aspects of Sa'ada's early political writings lies in such preoccupation with German national history. During the 1920s, as an assis¬tant to his father in Brazil, Sa'ada had contributed numerous articles to al-Majalla dealing with the development of German nationalism and German political and philosophical thought. Articles about Wilhelm II and the German General Luden-dorffand commentaries about the German question following the First World War highlighted his interest in this country. Disputing the claim of a British journalist in 1924 who had doubted the very existence of a German nation after the First World War, Sa'ada emphatically took Germany's side."
On closer examination, Sa’adeh’s early writings in the 1920s covered countless topics. Although German nationalism was among them, it wasn’t important or central as Nordbruch suggests. Rather, it is discussed in the context of a wider fascination with nationalism. Out of the almost sixty articles that Sa’adeh published in his youth, only three of them deal with Germany. The rest are about other European countries, Syria, Arab nationalism, Egypt, Japan, Cyprus, Zionism and national liberation in the Maghreb. Moreover, Sa’adeh’s interest in German nationalism was not informed by a personal sympathy for the Germans, as implied by Nordbruch, but because the German situation shared several striking similarities with the national predicament in Syria and thus offered a conceptual framework to clarify the state of things in Syria.
Also, it should be pointed out that, in the mid-1920s, the Nazi movement was hardly known beyond Germany. There is no evidence to suggest that Sa’adeh was familiar with the movement in the 1920s. His writing in that period does not mention Nazism or its ideas. On the contrary, his views of nationalism are distinctly un-Nazi: (1) he didn’t see nationalism as a factor of national aggression, as the Nazis did, but as a useful tool against foreign domination and; (2) he paid no attention to the concept of racial superiority, and the position he maintained in those years was consistent with the liberal thinking of his days rather than with the Nazi outlook. Even after the rise of Nazism in Germany in the mid-1930s, the premises of Nazi racialism failed to resonate in his political discourse and were generally rejected. According to Muhammad Maatook, this rationalist streak in Sa’adeh’s early writings, which continued after 1930, stemmed from the enormous influence that Dr. Khalil Sa’adeh, his father, exercised over him.

This point is not entirely lost on Nordbruch: "Antun Sa'ada's elaborations about 'race' and 'nation' were important contribu¬tions to the ongoing debates. Already in his early writings, Sa'ada had discussed questions related to the origin of nations, and had attempted to determine their characteristic traits. His work The Evolution of Nations, which was to a large part written during his prison term in 1936, provided a detailed explanation of his thoughts. In his introduction, Sa'ada highlighted the relevance of the nation for the individual and its relevance for the well-being of humankind. Sa'ada's claim of a distinct Syrian nation clearly differed from other communal conceptions of the time that were based either on Arab or Lebanese particularities, or on Christian or pan-Islamic loyalties. For Sa'ada, modern science had proved that the belief in racial purity of nations was untenable. Referring to the work ‘Race and Civilization: A Critical Examination of Racial Theories’, written by the Austrian economist Friedrich Hertz, Sa'ada questioned a core aspect of German racial thought."

Nonetheless, Nordbruch attempts to remould Sa’adeh into a Nazi by linking his thought to the French sociologist, Gustave Le Bon, who is generally considered to have been, with Gobineau and Chamberlain, an inadvertent precursor of Fascism and Nazism: “Yet, while acknowledging that no nation could be 'pure' in a racial sense, Sa'ada's theories are strikingly reminiscent of Le Bon's concept of 'historical races'.”

A pioneer of social psychology, Gustave Le Bon (1841–1931) incorporated an ideology of race into their studies of intellectual ability, emotion, and volition. Le Bon understood races as physiologically and psychologically distinct entities that each possessed an immutable race soul. He opined: "A Negro or a Japanese may easily take a university degree or become a lawyer; the sort of varnish he thus acquires is however quite superficial and has no influence in his mental constitution. What no education can give him, because they are created by heredity alone, are the forms of thought, the logic, and above all the character of the Western man. Our Negro or our Japanese may accumulate all possible certificates without ever attaining to the level of the average European. (...) It is only in appearance that a people suddenly transforms its language, its constitution, its beliefs or its arts."

The difference between Le Bon and Antun Sa’adeh are clear. As far as the French thinker was concerned, racial essences were inalterable, fixed and determined by heredity, and, therefore, education could only polish external appearances. Sa’adeh could not have disagreed more. He did not regard racial heredity as a permanent human trait or as an unchanging natural attribute. In his ‘Rise of Nations’ racial traits, like cultural traits, are subordinated to the interactional cycle of the nation: they change, grow, and evolve in conformity with this cycle: they are not extrinsic to the cycle as they are with Le Bon.

As we read on, we come across another controversial passage in Nordbruch’s study: "Sa'ada's claim of a Syrian distinctiveness that derived from particular geographical and spiritual con¬ditions only varied the assumed origins of national characteristics. Not biology, but early history served as the basis determining today's national composition and the deriving distinct message of the nation."
The national culture of a nation, or region, encompasses all the characteristics and influences, such as lifestyle, work, or religion, upon the individual or group. These may be tangible and very visible, such as geography, or they may be intangible and difficult to define clearly, such as logic. In other words, it is the sum total of the habits and attitudes, desires and inclinations, views and opinions, motives and standards, beliefs and ideas, and hopes and aspirations of an individual which he shares with other members of his nation. As stated earlier, in Sa’adeh’s view national characteristics are subject to the laws of natural evolution and human adaptability. It is not ‘history’ that determines these characteristics - although history is important as a measuring rode and depository of a people’s life - but the interaction process that produces the nation. In this sense, the formation of national character depends on the factors that affect this process: land, people and, most important of all, interaction. It is the combination of these three factors that give rise to common attitudes and traits, often called national characteristics, and not ‘history’ as Nordbruch says.

The 1933 Sa’adeh speech
Nordbruch’s methodology is problematic because it treats Sa’adeh’s thought as a set of broken up and isolated ideas rather than as a continuous system of thought. Many writers have made this mistake and many more are likely to repeat it until Sa’adeh’s thought is recognized as a complete system in itself.

Looking at Nordbruch’s analysis as a whole, it is clear that it is guided by certain passages culled from Sa’adeh’s writings for specific ends: "In March 1933, al-Majalla had published a speech given by Sa'ada four months earlier at a function of the cultural club al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa at the AUB. In this speech, which was entitled 'Fundamental Principles of National Education', he had called for an elimination of 'intruded' (dakhila) ideological concepts that in the past had weakened the authentic national spirit: 'The living nations that have proven their ability to survive and to preserve their national entity are those nations which were able to guard the principles of its people from those which are alien to it.’ Here, the revival of modern Germany is explicitly referred to as an example for the prospects of a nation that had managed to 'purify' its thought and its pattern of life.

The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate the topicality of Nazi Germany to Sa’adeh. But again the approach is flawed because it is very selective. It draws only on the passages in which Germany is specifically mentioned in Sa’adeh’s writings. Thus, it creates the impression that only Germany mattered to Sa’adeh when other countries - France, England, and the United States – were equally important to Sa’adeh as illustrations of modern nationalism.

According to Nordbruch, "Sa'ada's stance mirrored the ambivalences of nationalist approaches to Nazism during these early years of Nazi rule. The very idea of an authentic national ideology went counter to admissions of conceptual resemblances and intellectual inspirations." But did Sa’adeh really have Nazi Germany on his mind when he delivered his speech to al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa? The tone of the lecture suggests otherwise. He may have used Germany as a benchmark in analysing the national question in Syria but that shouldn’t detract from the authenticity of his national ideology.

Sa’adeh’s leadership and party symbols
The next phase in Nordbruch’s discussion deals with Sa’adeh’s leadership style and the strict organization and symbols of his party: "Equally important, however, was the role of the leader and the related authoritarian organization of the party. The autobiographical literature of members of the early SNP illustrates the charisma of Sa'ada personally, and the fascination of the highly loaded symbols used to add a mystical dimension to membership, mission, and commitment. In addition to Sa'ada's personal appeal to his followers, the role of the leader was an essential part of the ideological complex as such."

He goes on: "... the party, which itself was nothing but the nation's voice and hand, was symbolized in the four virtues that stood for the party's mission: freedom, duty, discipline, and power. The symbol of the party, the zawba’a, was said to epitomize these virtues, with each of the four arms of the swastika-like icon standing for one of them.

Admittedly, Nordbruch delivers a more elaborate analysis of Sa’adeh’s leadership and party symbols than other writers, but he falls flat towards the end. Sa’adeh’s totalistic leadership was a temporary necessary evil in a society that was physically divided into artificial states and ripped apart by profound social and economic problems. In choosing this style Sa’adeh was not inspired by Nazism or Fascism (or Communism under Stalin), as Nordbruch insinuates, but by local conditions in Syria and by the desire to stem the tide of national debilitation in Syria. Two other points are in order: The first is that, unlike Nazism and Fascism, the institution of Sa’adeh’s leadership is provisional and non-transmittal. It does not pass from Sa’adeh to another leader in the party but ends with Sa’adeh himself and becomes largely symbolic. The second point is that it is a leadership style based on a clear demarcation between two separate stages in national revival – a transitory stage and a consolidation stage. Sa’adeh was very clear on this and always said that in the transition from the pre-nahda to the actual nahda an authoritarian leadership might be unavoidable. Once the nation emerges, the justification for authoritarian rule disappears and a national democratic state would come into existence:

The democratic state is definitely a national state, since it rests, not on an external ideology or imaginary will, but on a public will resulting from a feeling of participation in the same socio-economic life. The state has come to represent this will. Representation of the people is a national democratic principle which was unknown to former states. The democratic state represents, not past history, nor ancient traditions, nor the will of God, nor bygone glory, but the interest of the people living the same life as manifested in the public will, in effective, not acquiescent, consensus.

As for the symbols of the party, especially al-Zawba’a, they were not designed by Sa’adeh. The Zawba’a symbol was designed by a party member and its message and meaning are fundamentally different from those of the swastika. Of course, it is difficult to explain these differences when external features are more visible to the naked eye than intrinsic meanings. It is the opinion of this writer that Sa’adeh endorsed the Zawba’a as a symbol for the party in order to placate his followers and the general mood in the country. It served his cause of unity and gave his party a distinct identity in a society steeped in tradition and unfashionable symbols. At any rate, the swastika is not a Nazi symbol. It is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years and artefacts such as pottery and coins from ancient Troy show that the swastika was a commonly used symbol as far back as 1000 BCE. During the following thousand years, the image of the swastika was used by many cultures around the world, including in China, Japan, India, Syria and southern Europe. By the Middle Ages, the swastika was a well known, if not commonly used, symbol but was called by many different names – wan in China, Hakenkreuz in Germany, fylfot in England, and so on.  Though it is not known for exactly how long, Native Americans also have long used the symbol of the swastika.  As a derivative from the Sanskrit svastika ("su" meaning "good," "asti" meaning "to be," and "ka" as a suffix), the Swastika was used by many cultures to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck.

Sa’adeh and anti-Semitism
The last point that I would like to deal with here is Nordbruch’s portrayal of Antun Sa’adeh as an anti-Semite. He writes: "Sa'ada's objection to Zionism and Jews was important for his concept of the Syrian nation. Given his attempts to nationalize Islam and Christianity as expressions of a Syrian spirit, the conflict with the Jews was closely related to his idea of the Syrian nation. Not only were Jewish assertions of nationhood baseless; in addition, Jewish nationalism was explicitly perceived as an immediate threat obstructing the very existence of the Syrian nation. While Jews lacked all necessary constituents to form a nation, Sa'ada argued, they personified the existing threats faced not only by the Syrian nation, but by others as well."

Overall, the above passage is not too inconsistent with Sa’adeh’s views on Zionism and the Jewish people. But Nordbruch goes on to describe these views as “a consistent anti-Semitic Weltanschauung that went far beyond traditional Christian anti-Jewish resentments. Here, sectarianism, Jewishness and Bolshevism were perceived as being part and parcel of a concerted attack against the nation. Jews, in this regard, were merely symbols for the destructive influences of anti- and non-nationalist thought.” Some clarification is in order here because it is not quite that way.

Anti-Semitism is generally defined as “belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.” Sa’adeh falls outside these parameters because he did not reject the Jewish people “just because they are Jewish.” Rather, he rejected the religio-territorial idea which underpins their outlook on life and, by extension, the Zionist movement as an institutional expression of this outlook. For Sa’adeh the problem lies not in the Jewish people as a race (he didn’t even define them as a race), but in the Jewish people as a natio-religious ideology that claims Palestine (or Eretz Israel for some) as the promised and natural homeland of the Jews. From a strictly Syrian nationalist perspective, this claim, right or wrong, stands in direct conflict with Syria’s national aspirations and the historical status of Palestine as the southern wing of Syria.

Thus, the determinant factor in Sa’adeh’s attitude toward the Jewish people is the national aspirations of his people: race and racial hatred are inconsequential, and factors, such as Jewish financial domination, were important only in so far as they served as arsenal in the Zionist conquest of Palestine. Underlying this perspective is the principle that any country facing the threat of losing part of its national territory to an alien people driven by age-old beliefs would react in exactly the same manner. It implies, as well, that rejection of Jews under this very specific condition cannot be considered as anti-Semitic because the Jews, in this context, are a side in the struggle, not a victim of it.

Nordbruch does not examine the matter in those terms. Rather, he plays on some indicators which would certainly testify to the existence of an anti-Semitic strain in Sa’adeh if left unscrutinised. This what Nordbruch says: "Already in the first number of Suriyd al-Jadida in March 1939, Sa'ada dedicated an editorial to the renaissance of the Syrian umma, in which explicit reference to an assumed Syrian-Jewish antagonism was made. According to Sa'ada, the Syrian nation had recently witnessed a revival, casting off outdated loyalties and regaining its national spirit; yet, such a revival had not been complete, and 'mental-spiritual diseases' of the past - identified here with the striving for 'Jewish particularities' - continued to prevail among parts of its people."

He adds: "The image of destructive Jewish influences on the nation clearly echoed in other contexts as well; Judaism, for instance, was identified as the driving force of Bolshevism, while the early twentieth century anti-Semitic forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion featured as a way of illustrating the conspiratorial approaches of Judaism to the nations and peoples of the world. Soviet Russia, in this view, had turned into its main bastion. In fact, German-Russian relations were interpreted according to this mindset."

Nordbruch then quotes from a commentary published in Suriyya al-Jadida in May 1939 concerning a likely rapprochement between Hitler and Stalin: "Will the two opponents agree? Will Hitler and Stalin, the Nazi and the Communist, the enemy of the Jews and the creation of the Jews, reconcile? Will Hitler achieve his last success? Will history grant him the biggest victory that is known [in the history of] mankind? Will he tear away Russia from Bolshevism, and ultimately separate Russia from the democratic countries that are ruled by the Jews? ... We see that Hitler has his hands in these changes [that were recently taking place in the USSR] and that he is working since long for Russia's salvation from the Jews and from Bolshevism. He had been in close contact with Stalin over the last years to determine the fate of the Jews and [to thwart] their ambitions. If our view is correct. Hitler will be the great saviour of Russia, as much as he is the saviour of Germany. This might be the final blow to the states that are flaunting democracy, freedom, and the protection of the weak. ... If this view is correct, Hitler will be the great saviour of human kind from the greatest myth known to history."

This assessment of Suriyya al-Jadida should be complemented by three important observations. First of all, Suriyya al-Jadida was an independently-owned newspaper and not an official organ of the Syrian Social National Party. It is true that Sa’adeh was a regular contributor to it, but he had no control over its content. If Nordbruch had read Sa’adeh’s letters to George Bundaki, the editor and owner of Suriyya al-Jadida, he would have discovered that Sa’adeh was deeply annoyed by the paper’s pro-axis rhetoric and that, when Bundaki refused his advice, he decided to disassociate himself from it and to publish his own newspaper called al-Zawba’a. Secondly, it is unreasonable on the part of Nordbruch to attribute the pro-German and pro-Hitler propaganda of Suriyya al-Jadida to Sa’adeh when it was not Sa’adeh’s. If Suriyya al-Jadida had deemed it appropriate to promote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion it doesn’t mean that Sa’adeh shared its point of view on this matter or that he endorsed the Protocols. He cannot be held responsible for the actions and behaviours of other people. Thirdly, Sa’adeh is not the author of the article from which the above quotation from Suriyya al-Jadida is taken.

Ironically, Nordbruch included a complete translation of Sa’adeh’s directive to Suriyya al-Jadida:

1. The politics of the Syrian Nationalist Party is independent Syrian nation¬alist politics, which is not mixed with politics of any foreign power.
2. The politics of the Syrian Nationalist Party is not fascist.
3. The politics of the Syrian Nationalist Party is not National Socialist [nazi].
4. The poli¬tics of the Syrian Nationalist Party is not 'democratic'.
5. The politics of the Syrian Nationalist Party is neither communist nor Bolshevist.
6. The politics of the Syrian Nationalist Party are Syrian nationalist politics that submit to none other than the eighth basic principle [of the party]: 'Syria's interest is above all other interest.'
7. On this basis, the politics of Suriya al-Jadida are neither fascist, nor National Socialist, nor 'democratic', nor communist or Bolshevist; they are Syrian nationalist.
The next section is equally unambiguous and leaves the reader in no illusion where the party stood in relation the present battle:
12. At present, the political stand of the party towards France is one of attack against France and its Syrian policy, without closing all doors [for any future rapprochement]. The intention is to prompt France's convergence into the direction of the party.
13. The current political stand of the party towards the Rome-Berlin Axis is, in the first place, one of limited support to produce sufficient pressure on France and Britain to provoke a change of their negative stance towards Syria and its nationalist revival [nahda]. It is not meant to reflect trust in the politics of the said Axis or [to long for] the destruction of France and Britain.
14. The stand of the party towards the Berlin-Moscow axis is still in discussion.
15. As a result of [the mentioned] points 12, 13, 14, the administration and the editorial board of Suriya al-Jadida have to avoid any unrestricted support for Rome and Berlin, and to direct their attack against France and Britain [based on nothing but] a Syrian nationalist perspective - and not from a perspective [that would take position in] the dogmatic or ideological conflicts between the totalitarian [al-kulliyya] and the democratic camps.

Nordbruch believes that these guidelines were issued for tactical reasons and not out of political sincerity: “In the light of rumours about Sa'ada's links to the Axis, such guidelines were required to avoid arrests and political persecutions.” But the guidelines were issued by Sa’adeh well after the campaign of “arrests and political persecutions” against his followers had started. Nor did he attempt to abandon or modify them after France was defeated and Vichy took control of Syria and Lebanon. If the guidelines were a mere tactical manoeuvre, as Nordbruch seems to suggest, Sa’adeh would have revised some of them to appease the new French regime in the Levant.

Sa’adeh issued these guidelines and followed them in all his publications during and after the war because ideological integrity was crucial for him. He believed that nothing should ever be allowed to interfere with or influence the independence of Syrian thought and its development. He made this point crystal clear in his first platform speech of 1935 and repeated it many times after that.

If Nordbruch had questioned the received views on Antun Sa’adeh and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party rather than accept them on face value, he would have achieved something. Instead, he rehashes some old ideas from the literature and moulds them to suit his purpose without questioning their accuracy or reliability. On a more positive note, his analysis serves to highlight, yet again, how much more research is needed before we can come to grips with Sa’adeh.