Posted by: sean | November 26, 2008

Sectarianism and the SSNP

Over at Syria Comment, Josh Landis has an interesting take on the SSNP and what he considers their Greek Orthodox sectarian roots. I don’t know enough about Saadeh or the party to comment on that. I did, however, comment on the discussion about the idea of Greater Syria or a Levantine Union that arose in the comments:

[The] dogmatic insistence on dictating Cypriots’ national identity with a blatant disregard for how they actually feel and for the last millennium or two of history does much more harm than good to the idea of Bilad ash-Sham.

To my mind, this insistence on Syrian Cyprus is a symptom of how SSNP partisans have it exactly backwards when they speak of ancient historical ties. These “ties” disregard history and the changes that it brings about. There is no pure nation. And while some national borders are drawn from the center and applied to the periphery (turning peasants into Frenchmen, for example) and others are imposed from the outside (or drawn on the back of napkin in the case of Jordan), it doesn’t seem to make much sense to talk of one as being more “real” than the other. And I’m not even sure that it’s useful or even accurate to talk about legitimacy in these cases. Is it more legitimate for the Mahdi to tell a Darfuri or Southern farmer that he’s Sudanese than it is for a Brit to do so? History matters, and colonialism is part of history. Try telling Eritreans that their national sentiments are mistaken because they are rooted largely in differences that may not have existed if it hadn’t been for Italian colonialism.

What makes the European Union successful and interesting, to my mind, is that it is forward looking. While Nour is focusing on Canaanites, the EU is making norms on human rights. The EU doesn’t need some sort of chauvinistic mythology to define itself. It’s a modern union based in the common interests of diverse peoples.

Personally, I’m all for some sort of union or confederation for the peoples of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Jordan so long as it’s democratic and can get beyond exclusionary ethnic and sectarian ideologies and practices, as well as the center-periphery dynamic that has created so many problems in places like Sudan.

To look at the idea of a regional union from a Jewish/Israeli perspective, it’s interesting to look at Uri Avnery’s book, “Israel without Zionists.”


It’s unimportant to me whether [Syrian nationalism] is based on ideas of being Canaanite, Phoenician or a “socio-economic life-cycle” (whatever that means). I agree … that [the SSNP] conception of what it means to be Syrian seems to be a little fuzzy to me, which would be fine if it weren’t for all the talk about Saadeh’s “scientific definition.”

But finally my point is that EU thinking seems much more constructive to me in that it’s forward thinking, yet also manages to take into consideration the national identities, languages and cultures of its members. (With perhaps the exception of printing some of the blandest bank notes I’ve ever seen — I, for one, miss the 50-franc note with le Petit Prince.)

Finally, I also share [a] hesitance for hasty optimism on how to get there. Of the 5 nations involved, one is dysfunctional sectarian democracy, another is a secular dictatorship, the third a semi-religious monarchy, the fourth an occupied nation that’s nominally democratic but territorially and politically split and thus pretty dysfunctional, and finally the last country is a democracy based on exclusive ethno-religious nationalism that’s occupying another nation. In order to create a union of these groups that are all frankly pretty screwed up, there are going to have to be some serious changes.

First and foremost, there will have to be some sort of resolution to the question of Israel/Palestine. Personally, I believe in a one-state solution, but if a two-state solution were to be a stepping stone to a larger regional union, I’d could get behind that. Second, all of these nations will need to be fully democratic. Spain under Franco and Portugal under Salazar could never have been proper EU members. (And this is the bar we should be aiming for. It won’t due to create a dictator’s club like the Arab League or the OAU.) Then will come the tedious legwork that Europe spent decades on to get where it is now. But if Europe could make the change from the bombed out and bloody war zone it was in 1945 to a peaceful union in half a decade, there’s no reason the Levant (and even the greater Middle East) can’t also.

You’ll have to read all of the comments, or at least the ones by Nour and Qifa Nabki, to get a proper context of my remarks. I think, though, that they’re fairly coherent by themselves, but then again, maybe that’s just because I’m feeling a little too lazy to rewrite this as a stand-alone post.



  1. yeah i can definitely see all of the region becoming democratic.. but only in my deepest dreams after ive gone out and had a blinder :)

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