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The (literal) fascists who took Tulsi Gabbard to meet Assad
It has now been widely reported that Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the US House of Representatives from Hawaii, recently met with Bashar al-Assad during a ‘fact-finding’ mission to Syria. As The Daily Beastreported:
Gabbard initially declined to say who financed her trip to Syria. However, in a press release Wednesday Gabbard revealed her delegation (which also included former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich) had been “led and sponsored by” an outfit called the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS—Ohio). Her statement added she and the rest of the delegation had been accompanied by two men, Elie and Bassam Khawam.
The Khawam brothers, it turns out, are officials in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), a fascist organization that actively supports the Assad regime and indeed “has dispatched its members to fight on [its] behalf,” reportsThe Guardian. Who exactly are the SSNP? The Daily Beast goes into some of the group’s history.
Antun Saadeh (Antūn Sa‘āda), the Greek Orthodox Lebanese who founded the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) in 1932, was a Germanophile well acquainted with Nazism thanks to his knowledge of German, which he taught at the American University of Beirut (AUB), and an early admirer of Hitler. The SSNP – ‘Syrian’ refers to the ‘Greater Syria’ of the ‘fertile crescent’, encompassing the Sinai, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, to which Saadeh would later add, oddly enough, the island of Cyprus – is a Levantine clone of the Nazi party in almost every respect: political ideology, including hostility to the Enlightenment and a geographic-racial-nationalist theory with scientific pretensions; organizational structure; and leadership cult. Even the party’s flag is patterned after that of the Nazis, with the red and black in opposite places and a helix with four blades in place of a swastika.
Patrick Seale writes that Saadeh’s
pseudo-science cannot have made many converts; few members of his party read his long and abstruse book. But he relied less on argument than on organization. What was attractive was the accent on youth, the rigid discipline, the Fascist conception of the role of the leader, as well as the simple thesis that ‘natural Syria’ was a great nation which had played, and would play once more, a great role in history. Sa‘ada was perhaps the first Arab to produce a wholly indigenous version of the youth formations which flourished in Italy and Germany in the 1930s.
In November 1935, in a secret political report informing Berlin that Saadeh’s party had been discovered and punished for planning a putsch, the German consul in Beirut depicted this ‘Syrian People’s Party’ – ‘Syrische Volkspartei’, a translation reflecting an erroneous but persistent French translation of qawmi as ‘people’s’ or ‘popular’ rather than ‘nationalist’ – as a party ‘that has obviously been deeply influenced by national-socialist or fascist ideas and models in its worldview, organization, and external forms’.
In an informative chapter on Saadeh, Hazem Saghieh, himself a former SSNP member, describes the Christian sectarian fanaticism that underlies Saadeh’s thought, which rejects Arabs (especially African Arabs), Islam and even the East in favour of the supposed superiority of the ‘Syrians’, with their Mediterranean civilization. Moreover,
hatred of the Jews, for Saadeh, is not a Muslim monopoly. Indeed, it is even a fundamentally Christian specialty, since the Jews were the enemies of Christ before they were the enemies of Muhammad, and ‘oppressed him and crucified him and combated his disciples.’ Islam and Judaism … have compatible codes and differ from Syrian Christianity, the religion of reason.
The SSNP had, nonetheless, made a poor impression on the sharp-eyed German consul, who reported:
The leadership, however stupid this may seem, is supposed to have contemplated staging a rebellion against the French mandatory government should the occasion offer, and to have conducted training sessions and tried to sap police morale to that end …
This spring, the movement tried to sound me out on the question as to whether Germany might provide its young partisans with military training and also make arms deliveries to it. I made it so clear that I did not wish to be approached with such requests that the question was never again broached.
The great frustration that this must have caused Saadeh, whose ego was immense, explains why he later denied that his party was fascist or national-socialist (it was not ‘democratic’ or communistic, either, he added, but simply ‘Syrian nationalist’). The party again found itself in a hot spot after two abortive putsch attempts, in 1949 and 1961. The first resulted in the summary execution of Saadeh.
The SSNP still exists in Lebanon and Syria, although it has become much less virulent; it even acquired a leftist patina in the late 1960s, in defensive reaction against the sweeping far-left wave of the period. Basically, it has now become an appendage of the Syrian regime, like other Lebanese organizations, and also a ‘partner’ of the Baath Party in Syria’s ‘Progressive Patriotic Front’ – a form of ‘multi-party government’ reminiscent of those prevailing under certain Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe.
For footnotes/sources, see Gilbert Achcar, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab–Israeli War of Narratives (UK edition published by Saqi, US edition published by Picador).
I'm a co-editor of PULSE (https://pulsemedia.org/), Assistant Director of the Middle East and North African Studies Program at Northwestern University, author of Reading 'Legitimation Crisis' in Tehran (2006), co-editor of The People Reloaded (2010), The Syria Dilemma (2013), and Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East (2017), and a contributor to a variety of publications.
View all posts by Danny Postel