March 28, 2005

Baathism, Racism, and Terror

There’s a new article by Kurdish writer Shirko Mula Qadir up on the Friends of Democracy site about the Baath Party’s connections to terrorism in the Middle East and fascism in Europe. He also has some hard-to-argue-with suggestions about what we (meaning the rest of the world) ought to do about that.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 28, 2005 05:26 PM
Comments

Perhaps M. Chirac can explain again what was wrong with removing these thugs from power.

Posted by: Ben at March 28, 2005 06:08 PM

I may be overly optimistic but I suspect that the Baathists are a dying breed. What would motivate a young Iraqi to join this political organization? Their days in the sun are over. Aren’t the Baathists similar to the so-called Communists when the Soviet Union finally collapsed? The latter turned into mostly gangsters and cynically laughed at their alleged ideological convictions. Is it fair to describe today’s Baath leaders as more comparable to Tony Soprano than Adolph Hitler? Never forget that the Baathists are secular. Dying for Allah is not to their liking. They instead prefer aged whiskies, young women, and fast cars.

Posted by: David Thomson at March 28, 2005 06:13 PM

Damn!

Posted by: Benjamin at March 28, 2005 07:27 PM

Benjamin,

Excellent! Thanks for that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 28, 2005 07:56 PM

Just a bit of fun. Hours of fun, I'm sure. :-)

http://www.netdisaster.com/index.html

Posted by: Benjamin at March 28, 2005 08:18 PM

Fichte, Hegel, Nazis, Baath -
oh pleaaase, gimme a break.

Posted by: novakant at March 29, 2005 04:26 AM

"Fichte, Hegel, Nazis, Baath -oh pleaaase, gimme a break."

Why should anyone give you "a break." It sounds entirely reaonable to me. What are we missing? Please explain.

Posted by: David Thomson at March 29, 2005 05:45 AM

Shirko Mula Qadir makes a good case, but his closing point is problematic:

Sixth, and last: The Baath Party must be listed as an international terrorist organization like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hezbollah. Any country that supports these organizations is a state-sponsor of terrorism which must be economically and politically isolated. And the world must support the democratic movements inside those countries.

Identifying Ba'athist states as de facto terrorist organizations pretty much obligates the United States to take the war to Syria.

Or is that a feature?

Posted by: Mark Poling at March 29, 2005 06:52 AM

Fourth: Even if a number of Baathists declare a commitment to democracy, who can believe them after their long history of killing, destruction, betrayal, and lies?

Who does the author think voted in democracies in Germany and Japan after WWII? There will be some hardcore Baathists that won't participate in the political process but he may be surprised at how many will if given the opportunity. Hamas, Hezbollah, and even some of the Taliban in Afghanistan are wanting to participate in democracy now. If the Baathists are not given the opportunity then they will assuredly fight the current government and may incite civil war. It seems that it would be better to give the Baathists a chance to participate even if they aren't the most desirable bunch.

Posted by: markytom at March 29, 2005 07:07 AM

It is not directly on point, but for anyone interested here is a positive followup article regarding the March 11 fatwa condemning OBL.

Posted by: Todd Pearson at March 29, 2005 07:07 AM

The interesting question is why Baathism was failure, while Kemalism (the Turkish nationalism led by Attaturk) was a success.
Both ideologies were secular, nationalist alternatives to the other options at the time -- Islamism, monarchy, Marxist-Leninism. And both ideologies were 'racist', or at least repressive toward minority groups, in both cases the Kurds. But despite all of their oil wealth, the Arabs have not been able to unite, have not been able to move toward liberal democracy, have not been able to create general prosperity.

Posted by: markus rose at March 29, 2005 07:37 AM

Another question: if Baathists are anti-Shi'ite, as the author claims, how is it that Hizbollah is allied with the Syrian baathists?

Posted by: markus rose at March 29, 2005 07:39 AM

Markus, I think the Ba'athists use whatever bigotry happens to be convenient to solidify their hold on power. Pick a group to terrorize brutally and publicly, and use the threat of like treatment to cow the rest of the populace. (The Syrian leadership isn't even Moslem; Assad himself is an Alawite, as I believe are most of his top officials.)

To be effective, a truly repressive regime has to be feared by the people ruled. Object lessons help instill and maintain that fear. (Bonus points are earned if the brutalized group is also hated/feared by the rest of the populade; hence it's handy to have some Jews in the neighborhood.) Hizbollah is just a tool in the Syrian terror toolchest.

Posted by: Mark Poling at March 29, 2005 08:12 AM

Another question: if Baathists are anti-Shi'ite, as the author claims, how is it that Hizbollah is allied with the Syrian baathists?

Markus,

A fair question. Trying to put your finger on baathism is an exercise in futility. Let me take a shot at it though.

Baathism is a political fiction. It is simply rehashed Arab authoritarianism with a socialist patina. This allows it to assume the name "baathism", and with that some kind of legitimacy. Like "pan Arabism", it exists in name only. It has no central core philosophy other than to control its populace, with lip service to pan-Arabism and anti-zionism in order to keep the restive peasants happy and distracted, and throw in some a half-assed socialism to boot, etc. Half-assed, much like the present-day Arab countries themselves. That's why baathism is a failed ideology. It has no central core, only what it is against, and from country to country it may be either pro or anti shiite, depending. It's an Arab fiction, a product of the 20th century's feeble Leftwing Arab intelligentsia. The middle east's version of "the new man."

Posted by: spaniard at March 29, 2005 08:35 AM

Mark Poling -- I didn't know that Assad was an Alawite. In Turkey, Alawites make up 20-25% of the country and are the "blue staters" of that country, extremely anti-Islamist, extremely pro-western. They are, I believe, the only Muslim, or post-Muslim, group that allows men and women to pray together.

Posted by: markus rose at March 29, 2005 08:46 AM

novakant: Fichte, Hegel, Nazis, Baath - oh pleaaase, gimme a break.

What's the deal? Haven't you ever studied Baathism? The intellectual connection between those four is common knowledge to those of us who have studied it. Google those names in combination with each other and Michel Aflaq and learn something. Then lose the sneer, pal.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2005 10:08 AM

The thought is sincere and valid. Atrocities should be punsihed and those that support atrocities should be held accountable. However, we must balance this with an abhorrence of "thoughtcrime". A Baathist has as much right to think like a Baathist as a Democrat, Repbulican, Nazi, Communist or Anarchist.

The actions, not the thoughts must be what we aim to punish. Hopefully, the thoughts, without actions to reinforce them, will die of their own accord.

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at March 29, 2005 12:48 PM
What's the deal? Haven't you ever studied Baathism? The intellectual connection between those four is common knowledge to those of us who have studied it. Google those names in combination with each other and Michel Aflaq and learn something. Then lose the sneer, pal.Wikipedia's article on Aflaq:
While the ideological founder of the movement he had little connection to the governments that took power in Syria under the name of the Ba’ath party in 1963. Eventually the government and he had a falling out and he was forced to flee to Iraq where another Ba’ath Party had taken power. While this party also failed to follow most of ‘Aflaq's teachings, he became a symbol for the regime of Saddam Hussein that Iraq was in fact the true Ba’athist country. In Iraq he was given a token position as head of the party and his objections to the regime were silenced and ignored.

In his writings ‘Aflaq had been stridently in favor of free speech and other human rights and aid for the lower classes. He stated that the Arab nationalist state that would be created should be a democracy. These ideals were never put in place by the regimes that used his ideology. Most scholars see the Assad regime in Syria and Saddam's regime in Iraq to have only employed ‘Aflaq's ideology as a pretense for dictatorship. John Devlin in his "The Baath Party: Rise and Metamorphosis" outlines how the parties became dominated by minority groups who came to dominate their society. Elizabeth Picard takes a somewhat different approach, arguing both Assad and Hussein used Ba’athism as a guise to set up what were in fact military dictatorships.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 29, 2005 01:03 PM

Damned HTML. Let's try that again...

MJT: What's the deal? Haven't you ever studied Baathism? The intellectual connection between those four is common knowledge to those of us who have studied it. Google those names in combination with each other and Michel Aflaq and learn something. Then lose the sneer, pal.

From Wikipedia's article on Aflaq:
While the ideological founder of the movement he had little connection to the governments that took power in Syria under the name of the Ba’ath party in 1963. Eventually the government and he had a falling out and he was forced to flee to Iraq where another Ba’ath Party had taken power. While this party also failed to follow most of ‘Aflaq's teachings, he became a symbol for the regime of Saddam Hussein that Iraq was in fact the true Ba’athist country. In Iraq he was given a token position as head of the party and his objections to the regime were silenced and ignored.

In his writings ‘Aflaq had been stridently in favor of free speech and other human rights and aid for the lower classes. He stated that the Arab nationalist state that would be created should be a democracy. These ideals were never put in place by the regimes that used his ideology. Most scholars see the Assad regime in Syria and Saddam's regime in Iraq to have only employed ‘Aflaq's ideology as a pretense for dictatorship. John Devlin in his "The Baath Party: Rise and Metamorphosis" outlines how the parties became dominated by minority groups who came to dominate their society. Elizabeth Picard takes a somewhat different approach, arguing both Assad and Hussein used Ba’athism as a guise to set up what were in fact military dictatorships.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 29, 2005 01:06 PM

Guess what, I have actually read Fichte, Herder and Hegel and think I have a fairly good grasp on Nazism and Fascism, so there is no need for me to google stuff up.
Quadir lumps together the thoughts of these philosophers with Nazism and Fascism and goes on to claim they were all intellectual sources for Baathism. First he calls Baathism a replica of Nazism and Italian Fascism, then goes on about Fichte and Hegel and ends by claiming that the Baathists imported Nazism. This is just such uninformed and shallow name-dropping that it is simply wrong.
And if you tell me that al-Husri claimed Fichte as one of his influences, well cool, but then the Nazis wanted to appropriate Nietzsche and Pol Pot claimed Sartre for himself - that doesn't make it right and tells us not much about the philosophers in question.

Posted by: novakant at March 29, 2005 01:08 PM

Novakant,

You need to study Michel Aflaq a little bit more. He's the link between Nazism and Baathism. Heck, he's the founder of the Baath Party. If you want to plug your ears and pay no attention to the party's origins and ideas that's your problem. But I don't ask me to give you a break.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2005 01:37 PM

Let's not forget the rest of that article, DPU.

He was born in Damascus to an Greek Orthodox Christian family of a middle class background. He was first educated in the westernized schools of French mandate Syria, where he was a brilliant student and then went to university at the Sorbonne in Paris where he first developed his ideals. He tried to combine national socialism with the vision of a Pan-Arab nation. He became committed to Arab unity and the freeing of the Middle East from Western colonialism. Upon returning to the Middle East he became a school teacher and was active in political circles. In 1940, in a time when Syria was dominated by the fascist Vichy France, itself under control of Nazi Germany, Michel ‘Aflaq founded the Ba’ath Party (in full, Arab Socialist Resurrection Party), together with Salah al-Din al-Bitar.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2005 01:39 PM

If his ideals were ignored by the Baathist regimes then it doesn't really matter what his fascist street cred was, as that breakes the Nazi/Baath link that was implied. Also, as the man espoused democracy and free speech, I don't see his ideology being too fascistic, no matter what political ideology he flirted with in his youth.

Why is it so important to link these ideologies anyway? No one is a fan of the Baathists, so a smoking gun leading back to the Nazis isn't really that important (or credible) in my opinion. The fact that they were quasi-Stalinist dictatorships was bad enough, wasn't it?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 29, 2005 01:49 PM

DPU,

Aflaq supported "democracy" and "free speech" only for Arab nationalists who agreed with him. He advocated the most vicious cruelty to those who go against their own "nature."

What's the point of documenting who the Baathists are and what they're about? Because they're the enemy, and it's always wise to know your enemy.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2005 01:53 PM

Michael, I don't claim to know a lot about Baathism, so if the Arabists say there is a strong link between Michel Aflaq and Nazism I won't dispute that and have a look into it. However, it seems Qadir doesn't know a thing about German Idealism, nor is he aware of the fundamental differences between Nazism and Italian Fascism.

Posted by: novakant at March 29, 2005 01:58 PM

Novakant,

You probably know more about German idealism than I do. I haven't read anything by Fichte, for example.

But I have followed Michel Aflaq, and he was a big fan of Fichte as well as Nazism. Maybe the two aren't all that related. Heck if I know. No big shock if Fichte and Hitler were unfairly linked by a political psychopath. Charles Manson was supposedly influenced by Robert Heinlein, but that's not Heinlein's fault.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2005 02:25 PM

Besides, Novakant, the Baath Party was founded in Syria (where it still rules today) when Syria was a colony of Vichy France. The connection isn't a huge unlikely leap. It's not like anyone is claiming the Costa Rican liberal party was partly inspired by Hitler.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2005 02:29 PM

Here is what David Brooks says about Michel Aflaq:

“WHEN FACULTY MEMBERS at the Sorbonne gather to discuss who should get the prize for most evil alumnus, they probably rehash all the familiar names--Pol Pot, mastermind of the Cambodian genocide; Abimael Guzman, leader of Peru's Shining Path guerrilla movement; and Ali Shariat, the intellectual godfather of the Iranian revolution. But they really should give serious consideration to Michel Aflaq.”

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/837uvzrs.asp?pg=1

Posted by: David Thomson at March 29, 2005 04:47 PM
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