Edmond Melhem
Antun Sa'adeh: National Philosopher
Reviewer: Sarkis Karam

There is no greater satisfaction than in the task of promoting knowledge and spreading enlightenment through the launch of a book which contains the thoughts and vision of inspiring leaders. Today, we witness the launch of an extremely important book by Edmond Melhem whose tremendous work and impressive research to further explore and analyse the ideology and philosophy of Antun Sa'adeh confirms the sustainment of cultural wealth and creative talent that prevails within the ranks of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Sa'adeh said in 1935 "I organized the party in the fashion that focuses on the quality of each recruit." Clearly, the quality of recruits is in evidence with the number of scholars and thinkers like Edmond Melhem who have distinguished the SSNP with the presence of an abundant assembly of intellects. The constant release of publications, analytical journals and literature which tackle various social and national issues reaffirm the Sa'adeh inspired culture.

I must admit that Edmond Melhem's book has given me a chance to discover in depth the philosophical thought of Sa'adeh and to view Sa'adeh's legacy with a slightly different perspective. For a 45-year old, born on 1st of March 1904 and blatantly assassinated on the 8th of July 1949, Sa'adeh left an enormous legacy that could not only redeem the nation if embraced and implemented properly, but would also establish a solid humanitarian platform for a better present and even a better future.

During his lifetime, with his sharp intellectual talent, unwavering national principles and exceptional leadership qualities, Sa'adeh represented a worrying dilemma to ignorant and in many cases corrupt politicians; thus it was not surprising to learn that they were relieved to see him executed and eliminated from the political scene as quick as was then possible. This trend of dreaded thinking continued after Sa'adeh and was carried out in various forms against members of his party. One of the main anti-Sa'adeh aims was to distort his image, his national drive and his social ambitions whether in Syria, Lebanon or the rest of the world. By publishing this book in English, Edmond Melhem succeeds in his quest to clarify certain issues in relation to Sa'adeh to the confused and often misinformed English speakers especially the Anglo-Saxon. This book drastically rectifies the situation by providing a well-documented and researched reference through which the ideas of Sa'adeh will certainly pave the way for clearer and more comprehensive mode of understanding among Western writers and readers.

Although, I am not here to engage in the debate on whether Sa'adeh was an ideologue or was a philosopher, I would be more than willing to disagree with those determined to fully restrict Sa'adeh's vision to constricted dimensions. I would rather declare him a universal visionary with a solid commitment to establish and preserve an obvious Syrian national renaissance capable of producing intellectual and national independence. The publication of Melhem's book in particular in English tend to take Sa'adeh's vision away from the narrowed viewpoint and into a new worldwide dimension without undermining the core of Sa'adeh's Syrian national drive.

According to Melhem on page 144, "The Ten Lectures," which contains Sa'adeh's speeches, has become a reference and the teaching book for the SSNP. This teaching book outlines the principles of the party and Sa'adeh's motives to form it. The basic characteristics of Sa'adeh's national ideology are summed up as such: a national and social ideology that seeks to unify the fragmented Syrian nation, a rational secular ideology that advocates a complete process of secularism, an authentic ideology rooted in the heart of Syrian life, a futuristic ideology for a better future and a humanistic ideology with a mission to guide other nations of the world and to carry the peace, prosperity and creativity. The humanistic ideology consolidates beyond doubt the universal outlook of Sa'adeh.

Sa'adeh focused on combining national consciousness and social duties to produce dynamic and progressive secular society. Such a drive could well be endorsed by any society anywhere in the world. His views on politics reflected a revolutionary concept. "Politics for the sake of politics could not possibly constitute a national act," he declared. A universal leader is one who envisages a set of ideals that could be embraced by people all over the world. Sa'adeh was certainly of that unique calibre. He was a writer, a thinker, a visionary, an advocate of moral values and a brave nationalist leader. Secularization was a key factor in his ideology. Sa'adeh listed the secular concept as number one when outlining his reform principles when he announced: "I also laid down a number of reform principles, namely, the separation of religion from the state, turning production into an infrastructure for the distribution of wealth and labour, and the establishment of a strong army that can play an effective role in determining the destiny of the nation and the homeland."

Edmond Melhem examines Sa'adeh's national concern to develop among his people a sentiment of nationality or as he said "to awaken the national consciousness of his compatriots." Melhem notes that "like many national ideologues and leaders, Sa'adeh assumed the role of national educator to instil in his people a sense of being a nation with great history, bound together by certain special attributes. Melhem stresses that the geographical environment constitutes an integral part of Sa'adeh definition of a nation. Sa'adeh agreed with Pascal Mancini that the "nation is a natural society" while he saw "the geographic environment is as essential for the life of the community or society as the earth is for life." Sa'adeh placed obvious importance on the building of a viable, solid and superior nation by the commitment of well-educated nationalist society. Such a nation would enjoy real independence in every respect and would cease to be under the hegemony of foreign powers.

Throughout the book which is written in a flowing elegant and academic style, Edmond Melhem underlines the essential chapters of Sa'adeh's life and ideas; his background, character, writings, national ideology, thoughts, literature and impact. Every chapter reinforces the universal leadership attributes of Antun Sa'adeh still very much relevant for today's world. On page 289, Melhem sheds light on Sa'adeh's "Islam in Two Messages" in which he explains the essence of religion and promotes the unity of Christianity and Islam. The "Impact" is another important chapter which ascertains that Sa'adeh's impact was not strictly political, but rather influenced key aspects of social culture. The chapter displays the impact of Sa'adeh's school of thought on literature and leading writers such as Adonis, Yusuf al-Khal, Khalil Hawi, Said Taqi al-Din, Salah Labaki, Muhammed al-Maghut and others. Sa'adeh's impact also influenced Arab art, music and theatre.

Edmond Melhem concludes his extremely valuable book by saying: "Antun Sa'adeh was the creator of a national renaissance that aimed to eliminate reactionary and backwards social mentalities, and inspire people with a sense of national consciousness, through which they would strengthen their national unity and put an end to their division and miseries." With his latest work, Melhem proves once more that Sa'adeh's thoughts are well and truly alive and often invigorated through loyal nationalists like him. Out of this context, the SSNP will remain a standout in as far as preserving and promoting Sa'adeh's legacy via cultural and inspirational means in order to advance the nation.

Finally, I extend sincere congratulations to Dr Edmond Melhem and may he continue to produce similar brilliant work in the future."