Late confessions by the Vice President…but it is an advanced step in the right direction

publisher: ايلاف

AUTHOR: سليمان يوسف يوسف

Publishing date: 2004-04-01


Many cultural and political circles in Syria, and perhaps in the Arab region as well, were surprised by the release of an important book by Mr. Abdul-Halim Khaddam, the Vice President of the Syrian Republic, titled “The Contemporary Arab System: Reading Reality and Anticipating the Future.” Parts of the book were published by the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat and online on the (Elaaf) website. The book carries new political ideas and perspectives on the Arab reality and the future of the region, inseparable from the significant intellectual transformations and profound political changes witnessed globally in recent years, affecting everyone in the East and West, nations, individuals, and groups.

The significance of this book lies, first, in the importance of the author himself and his political status and leadership position in the government and the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, following the political and intellectual journey of the party since it came to power in Syria in 1963. Secondly, the book includes a critical analysis of Arab political thought and the nationalist ideology of Arab parties and movements during the past era. Mr. Abdul-Halim Khaddam holds them all responsible for ignoring and exacerbating the situation of minorities in Arab countries.

In this article, we will focus on one of the fundamental issues highlighted by the author, which is the issue of the rights of national and ethnic minorities in Arab countries. We fully appreciate the magnitude of the risks that threaten everyone if genuine and comprehensive solutions are not found, providing these regions with alternatives to ethnic conflicts and destructive national wars. This is what Mr. Abdul-Halim Khaddam pointed out in his book, stating: “One of the significant flaws in the principles and approaches of Arab parties and nationalist formations established in the 1930s is that they did not study the ethnic reality in the Arab homeland, characterized by the presence of national minorities that do not share the Arabic language with the Arabs in their history, culture, civilization, and values, whether in the western or eastern parts of the Arab world.”

Mr. Khaddam adds, “Other Arab organizations continued to ignore this situation after the forties. Arab national consciousness should not contradict the existence of national or cultural minorities in the Arab homeland. Therefore, it should not hinder the possibility of deepening the bond of citizenship based on belonging to the homeland, history, and shared culture in many aspects. If we fail to do so, we will, unintentionally, contribute to tearing apart the unity of the nation with its Arab and other national and cultural minorities.”

Yes, undoubtedly, the issue of minorities in Arab countries, like other internal problems and issues, has fallen victim to the arbitrary ideological solutions of Arab nationalist parties and governments, regardless of their political orientations. These governments adopted the option of forced and ideological assimilation of minorities in Arab societies as the sole solution to the problem. They pursued a policy of Arabization and demographic change in minority regions, as seen in many Assyrian regions, especially in northern Iraq.

Despite the modernizing trends of Arab nationalist parties and movements, they remained under the influence of traditional Islamic ideology. This ideology worked on Islamizing society, subjecting all minorities and ethnic and religious groups to hierarchical rankings based on specific Islamic criteria. In other words, the religious inequality (theocratic) that appeared in traditional Islamic Arab society left its impact on the ideology and theoretical thinking of Arab nationalism. It produced nationalist inequality, thus leading to inequality in citizenship rights among all nationalities and ethnicities within a single state.

Arab nationalist thought distinguished the Arab element from other peoples and nations, emphasizing its superiority. It coined expressions that diminished and belittled the status of other peoples and religions. One famous phrase, coined by one of the prominent theorists of Arab nationalism and co-founder of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, Michel Aflaq, stated: “If Muhammad is an Arab, then every Arab should be Muhammad.” Thus, Islamic fundamentalism produced Arab nationalist fundamentalism in thought and practice. Belonging to minorities remained a source of accusation and condemnation, casting doubt on the patriotism of their members in most Arab countries.

Most Arab nationalist movements and parties, in their various intellectual trends, made a mistake in their perception of the concepts of (nationalism) and (Arab nationalism). They treated Arab nationalism as an inherent reality and approached the concept of nationalism as an accomplished ideal thing instead of advocating for it and working towards it. Therefore, I believe that the issue of (national identity) in most Arab countries has not been settled yet. Also, Arabs have not unanimously agreed on a specific and fixed definition of (Arab nationalism). Many Arab countries refer to themselves as the “nation,” such as the Kuwaiti nation, the Algerian nation, and the Tunisian nation. Libya is attempting to disassociate itself from Arab identity. In independent cultural circles, some call for Syrian nationalism, Lebanese nationalism, and others advocate for ancient Egyptian (Pharaonic) nationalism, as well as Iraqi nationalism with an Assyrian/Babylonian character.

Some argue that there is no single Arab people in one Arab nation, but rather Arab peoples in a diverse Arab world with varied cultural identities and national characters. The varying positions of Arab countries on the current Iraqi crisis, the Palestinian issue, and other critical Arab matters reflect an Arab divergence, both officially and among the people, regarding the concept of (Arab nationalism).

Certainly, the ideal image of a state is that of a (national state), meaning a state that encompasses individuals of one nationality. However, rarely do countries lack the existence of two or more nationalities, often due to significant population displacements resulting from prolonged wars and environmental factors such as drought and aridity. This phenomenon is most pronounced in the countries of the Middle East, which include (Mesopotamia), (the Levant), and (the Nile Valley) — centers of ancient civilizations in the East. These regions witnessed long and intense wars and conflicts between the oldest and most powerful ancient and modern empires.

In such countries, characterized by multiple nationalities and ethnicities, the people lack the unity of national sentiment as a unifying bond. Therefore, it is necessary and crucial for the state to focus its efforts on strengthening and deepening the bond of national sentiment and political loyalty to reinforce the (national bond), unify its citizens, and this can only be achieved by adopting an inclusive national identity that satisfies everyone. This identity should transcend all nationalist, cultural, and ethnic affiliations, including the identity of the majority. Many modern European countries have abandoned old ethnic labels as determinants of their national and ethnic identity, separated religion from the state, and adopted more than one official and national language.

Aligning the state’s identity or official religion with the identity and religion of a particular ethnic or racial group, even if it is the majority, as is the case in most Arab countries that have made (Arabism and Islam) the national identity and the state’s official religion and a primary source of legislation, creates a sense of superiority among the majority. This results in a state of alienation and national estrangement, discomfort, and insecurity among minorities, especially non-Muslims. In this situation, the state loses its fundamental and essential function, which is to create a political, social, cultural, and national bond among all the nationalities, ethnicities, and religions of one society. When the state adopts a specific national and religious identity, it implicitly excludes the identity of others from minorities, marginalizes them, and reduces their legal and national status. It creates a hierarchy among citizens, making it difficult for them to integrate nationally.

So, there is a profound flaw and a significant deficiency in the relationship between Arab Islamic peoples and the minority communities within them. The primary responsibility for this flaw lies with the Arab governments and political systems, along with their parties, which refuse to study the situation of minorities and find an acceptable solution. Instead, they adopt an ostrich policy in resolving their internal problems. Arab countries continue to exert considerable political and cultural effort at the expense of many important issues to solidify the culture and identity of the Arab majority, making it the sole identity of the state. In contrast, minorities make intensified efforts to highlight their national identity and cultural uniqueness, seeking to preserve them from assimilation and loss within the identity and culture of the majority.


what the book of Mr. Abdul Halim Khaddam contains in terms of confessions about historical mistakes committed against minorities in Arab countries comes very late. Nonetheless, it remains a significant and distinguished step, and Mr. Khaddam is to be commended for it. We say: “Moving forward, even if slowly, is better than standing still.” These confessions are as important as they are necessary, especially at this stage, coming from a prominent political figure and a long-time leader in the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, which has governed Syria for four decades. This is particularly noteworthy as these confessions involve an official and explicit acknowledgment of the failure of the forced assimilation option as a solution to the issue of national minorities, a choice adopted by most Arab countries.

The most crucial question raised in Syrian political and cultural circles, especially among the Assyrian and Kurdish communities, after the publication of this book is: What implications will the words and confessions of a man with the status and influence of Mr. Abdul Halim Khaddam, who serves as the Vice President of the Republic and has been an architect of Syrian politics for many years, have on practical measures to alleviate the oppression and deprivation suffered by minorities, at least in Syria, due to mistakes and misguided practices against them?

We hope that these confessions are the first step in the right direction, opening the door to a democratic national dialogue between the government and various national forces and movements, including the Assyrian movement, to study the situation and rights of non-Arab minorities in Syria, among many other national issues and concerns for the benefit of the nation and its citizens.

Certainly, there are those who advocate for Syria to be and remain a state for one nationality, with one language, one culture, and governed by one party with one ideology. However, such calls stem from nationalist and sectarian tendencies and a narrow party view espoused by some Arab parties and organizations. These calls are made in an era where many concepts and ideas have evolved, and the exclusivity of opinion and stance no longer aligns with modern concepts of democracy, pluralism, and openness that the world is experiencing towards all cultures and civilizations.

How can we, in Syria, the cradle of civilizations, close ourselves off to our ancient, diverse, and multiple national languages and cultures, such as the Assyrian/Syriac language, which is one of the most important and oldest Semitic languages in the world, and the language of the mother of Syria before it spoke Arabic? For genuine patriotism and coexistence between the various ethnicities and groups within one society, it is essential to recognize national, political, and cultural diversity based on democratic principles. There must be mutual acknowledgment between minorities and the majority, and each party should respect the will and feelings of the other. Coexistence should be based on the principles of unity in diversity and equality in rights and duties among all nationalities and citizens of the same country, without discrimination or preference.