Friday, April 16, 2010

Syrian Independance Day - some thoughts

What does it mean to be independent? Today we take it for granted that most Arab countries have an independence day of sorts. It is a kind of unifying symbol for the people, a day of reaffirmation of what it means to belong to this or that particular country. On television and on the radio, we are blasted with nationalist songs and our streets are festooned with beautiful decorations or flags. It is also a day which people can take off from work. But there is very little in contemplation of what something like this means. In our busy modern lives we just take it for granted that something is the way that it is with little thought of why it is the way that it is.

Almost all Arab countries, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, celebrate an independance day because they were occupied by European countries. That means that those streets you walk on today were once patrolled by French, English or Italian jackboots, and men with guns would have rounded you up and put you in trucks to be placed in concentration camps or worse. Today, two Arab countries are still under occupation, Palestine and Iraq. But just as there were good men resisting back then, there are good men resisting the occupation today. But we must not forget that the reason we have independence days is because we failed to defend our countries properly. Also, why independence? What kind of term is this? In the modern sense, independence is given a political, judicial and cultural meaning. But importantly, that means that an entity which has gained 'independence' had its sovereignty suspended whilst under occupation. Therefore independence can be used only for one and the same entity. Can we say the same for Syria?

A little bit of history first. There was no "Syria" as a political entity we could recognise today in 1914. Syria was part of the Ottoman empire. But we were not just part of the Ottoman empire, we were Ottomans. We were Muslim Arabs who, just like the British under Victoria were Victorians, were Ottomans. It was when the Ottoman empire became weak that a new, secular movement called the Young Turks tried to Turkify the empire that we then decided to Arabize ourselves. King Faisal of the Hashemites (who ruled Saudi Arabia before the Saudi bit was added) was our King when the Turks were kicked out by the British led revolt. It was King Faisal's Arab Kingdom of Syria which was occupied by the French, but it was the Syrian Arab Republic which "won" independence from France in 1948. This is like a fictional Nelson Mandela going into prison and twenty years later coming out a white man. Can you really say he was freed?

The Americans were British subjects who formed their own lands, they belong to the Anglosaxon tradition and they were men and women who decided to be independent from their former king. Syria, on the other hand, had moved from being an integral part of an Ottoman, Muslim, empire that dated back five hundred years, which was the heir to the Islamic caliphate in Baghdad, to being the Kingdom of a Hashemite King. It was then quickly occupied by a French Army and then when the French left there was something new there. Something that had not existed before. The French occupation formed a break in our history, in that laws, culture and society were drastically changed in a way that King Faisal's rule did not do. King Faisal was an Arab and a Hashemite, descended from the Prophet Muhammad. He was from that same social-cultural-historical makeup that we as Syrians come from.

It would be a brave man indeed who today would argue that we can somehow erase all traces of our colonial past, but it would be a foolish man who could seriously argue that Syria is now independent when in fact Syria as a republic is a creation of the French occupation. Even after the creation of the S.A.R. the inhabitants of this new republic still did not feel that the artificial borders which had been drawn between them and other lands were real, these would ossify later through bitter political rivalry. In essence, as the old generation died out, the collective memory of Syria became confined within these borders that we today celebrate as symbols of our independence. They are in fact our prisons. You are not independent, you just got moved into your own cell so you can be managed properly.


Nour said...

Before I go into an explanation of what independence is, based on my social nationalist understanding, I think it's important to highlight the lack of national consciousness which leads to all these competing identities, because our concept of our national identity is not based on anything but emotional attachments to some particularistic objectives. If we hold your notion of our identity as being "Ottoman", then does that mean that under the Roman empire we were Romans? And under the Byzantine empire, we were Byzantines? and so on. This is the problem with basing our identity on particular political events in history, rather than on our actual social reality. I'm not going to delve into this topic at this point, but suffice it to say that you know quite well my position that we are Syrians, and have been so for thousands of years.

Back to the issue of independence, yhere are two important factors to consider when addressing the issue of independence, Materialistic Independence and Spiritual Independence.
الإستقلال االمادي و الإستقلال الروحي النفسي

A lot of us think that independence is a political achievement, whereby we recognize it by assigning a date on which we celebrate the liberation of our country from foreign occupation. This concept is trivial and shallow, as independence has more to it than being free from foreign military occupation.

Today there is not a semblance of independence in our nation, as we heavily feel the influence of foreign nations' WILLS on our daily life, even though we do not have any foreign troops on our soil. Yet, we cannot decide on ANY matter, being it political, social, or economic, without the interference of foreign influence.

So then what is independence? How do free nations enjoy independence? How do free nations protect and immunize their independence?

Independence is the state whereby a nation is completely free and sovereign in tackling its life matters without any external influence. In other words, it is a state whereby the nation has reached a national maturity to acknowledge its identity, decide upon the nature of its interest and apply its will on all matters concerning its life, prosperity and progress.

Factors of Independence:


The social factor of independence is when a society knows its character and decides upon its course in life, reflecting its own vision according to its needs for a better life. It is the spirit whereby the people can never accept any dictating from external powers on internal matters.

Saadeh's philosophy revolves around the concept of considering all values of life as social values. Therefore, his ideology addresses values of life as being absolute within a nation/society, and relative between nations/societies.
القيّم ألإنسانية هي قيّم مجتمعية مطلقة في المجتمع الواحد, و نسبيّة بين المجتمعات

Every society's vision on values of life is derived from its own character, history, traditions, needs and interests, as well as its potential and ability to seek better levels of life. So the way a Nation sees beauty, (beauty of life) is absolute within its society, yet not necessarily similar to the way another society sees it. This is true for sacrifice, freedom, rights, and every other value of life.

Based on the above, every nation's independence is a reflection of its view of its values; the Way it explores its potential, the way it pursues its values.

This is called spiritual independence. الإستقلال الروحي النفسي

Nour said...

Materialistic Independence.الإستقلال االمادي

To be independent from foreign influence, in the true sense, we have to immunize our national economy. This means that we should develop our own industries, trade system, financial vision, and administrative concepts that may bring our nation as close as possible to self-sufficiency. Of course there is no such thing as complete self-sufficiency, but we should be able to offer other nations so much of what they need that they become dependent on our production. Otherwise, we are bound to become subjected to other nations' dictates, thus opening the door for them to impose their interests on us, thereby jeopardizing our independence.
What we should do is safeguard our will with our own national production, meet our internal needs, and spread our efforts through all fields of life, including agriculture, industry, trade, finance, etc.

So as you can see, independence is a result of hard work, equal to sovereignty and Freedom.
In fact, the interlink is so strong that we can hardly imagine achieving one without the others, or lacking one without the others.

Maysaloon said...

I don't really approve of Saadeh's social nationalism, which is in many ways just another colour of German national socialism. At least Hitler had some vague idea of a German race based on the lines of some kind of racial purity but in Syria's case I am afraid we are, to copy from the English, a nation of mongrels :)

Therefore it is quite appropriate of me to refer to Syrians in the Ottoman era as Ottomans, just as it would be appropriate to have called them Romans in Roman days and so on. I suspect we might even be countless other nationalities in the centuries to come. To try to confine some ethnic idea of Syrians into the confines of some unique race is to pin jelly to the wall.

No, I much prefer a simple line from a man who was much wiser than Antun Saadeh and left a much bigger impact:

نحن قوم اعزنا الله بالاسلام فاذا ابتغينا العزة بغيره اذلنا الله

Thanks for your considerable input on the topic though. You're always welcome.

Nour said...

I appreciate your opinion, but I believe you have completely misunderstood Saadeh's thought. And I don't even know if you read what I wrote, although I'm just assuming, because you didn't respond to the idea of independence that I presented.

Either way, Saadeh does not base the existence of the Syrian nation on a particular racial or ethnic origin, as the case with Hitler and the German nation. Rather, he bases it on our SOCIAL reality. This means that we are a mixture of all groups who interacted and intermixed on this piece of land and later developed a single life. The basis of society is the unity of economic and social life; not membership in a particular political entity. Political entities come and go depending on political and social circumstances, such that a single nation could be divided in various political entities, or multiple nations could become part of a single political entity, as was the case with the nations under Soviet rule.

Moreover, Saadeh presented an entire, comprehensive paradigmatic thought, that has to be comprehended in its entirety; so taking bits and pieces of it from here and there and attempting to compare them to other contradictory thoughts lacks academic honesty.

As for the quote by the "much wiser man than Saadeh" could you please tell me how all Muslims share a single life? Do all Muslims around the world form a single socio-economic unity? Does the Muslim in Damascus share a single social and economic life with the Muslim in Jakarta? I'm afraid basing identity on religious belief is to me nonsensical and ludicrous. But I do appreciate your always intelligent posts and arguments, so believe me debating you is always a joy :-).