Michel Aflaq

From Academic Kids

Michel ‘Aflaq (1910 - June 23, 1989) was the ideological founder of Ba’athism, a form of Arab nationalism.

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 September of 1940 (by which time due to France's defeat Syria was run by Vichy France, Michel ‘Aflaq together with Salah al-Din al-Bitar set up the nucleus of what was later to become the Ba’ath Party. The first conference of the Ba’ath Party (in full, Arab Socialist Resurrection Party), was to be in 1947.

In 1949 he was Syria's education minister for a short period. In 1952 he left Syria, escaping from the new regime, returning only in 1954. He played an important role in the unity between Syria and Egypt in 1958.

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.

Kanan Makiya (in Republic of Fear), however, argued that the nature of the Ba’ath regime in Syria and Iraq were rooted in the writings of ‘Aflaq. For ‘Aflaq, the ideal state was more important than reality. Hence he combined a mystical faith in the Arab nation with a contempt for Arabs as they were around him. His emphasis on individuals, Makiya argues, needs be seen in the light of ‘Aflaq's distinction between human beings and individuals. ‘Aflaq rejects valuing of human beings and for him to value individuals means to value the person as he ideally should be. At its extreme this allows ‘Aflaq to justify cruelty towards human beings because the aim is to bring them back to their "true nature". Hence ‘Aflaq's apparent commitment to human rights is conditional on the individual dedicating themselves to the spirit of Arab nationalism. Makiya suggests that the way ‘Aflaq equated morality with a dedication to the ideal of the Arab spirit allowed even the most brutal acts to be seen as moral acts.

Upon his death in 1989 he was given a great funeral. The government of Iraq claimed that on his death he converted to Islam, but many who know him do not believe this claim as he was a staunch Christian for much of his life, some even claim that his mother was Jewish. A tomb was built for him in Baghdad designed by Chadagee that is widely regarded as a work of great artistic merit, unlike most of the Hussein regime’s creations.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq the United States forces were preparing to destroy the tomb as part of their efforts at de-Ba’athification. An outcry arose in the Arab world, and among Iraqi exiles who had supported the invasion, but who shared the wide respect with which ‘Aflaq is still held in throughout much of the Arab world. The American plan has become a common example of the misunderstanding of Iraq and its history by the Americans.

External links

de:Michel Aflaq nl:Michel Aflaq he:מישל עפלק


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