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Michel Aflaq

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Michel Aflaq

Michel Aflaq - Michel Aflaq (or Aflak) (Arabic: ميشيل عفلق Misil Aflaq,) was born  in Damascus 1910, and died in  Paris on June 23, 1989. Aflaq was the ideological founder of the Pan-Arab Ba'ath party, a quasi-secular movement with both fascist and "anti-imperialist" leanings.

Aflaq was born in Damascus to middle class Greek Orthodox Christian parents.  He was educated in the westernized schools of French mandate Syria and then went to university at the Sorbonne in Paris about 1928 or 1930. There,  he studied Marxism, proto-Nazi thinkers and the works of other nationalists, he  attempted to combine socialism with Pan-Arab nationalism. 

Aflaq returned to Syria, where he became a school teacher and was active in politics. Some time after September 1940, following France's defeat in World War II, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar set up the nucleus of what was later to become the Ba’ath Party, evidently founded "officially" in 1943. The first conference of the Ba’ath Party (in full, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party), was held 1947.

Aflaq briefly served as Syria's education minister in 1949.  In 1952, he fled Syria to Lebanon to escape government persecution and returned in 1954. Aflaq was influential in the formation of the short lived "United Arabic Republic of Egypt and Syria" in 1958. Aflaq may have met Saddam Hussein at this time, or perhaps a bit later in 1963. 

Aflaq was forced to flee Syria by the Syrian Baath party. He escaped to Lebanon in 1966, then to Brazil in 1967. In 1968 he was invited to Iraq, by Saddam Hussein after his coup. There, Aflaq became something betwee a symbolic figurehead and a leader of the Iraqi Baath party, to the extent that anyone besides Saddam Hussein could have any authority in Iraq. Apologists insist that Aflaq had no real influence in Iraq. Nonetheless he was head of the Baath party from 1974, he supported the regime and gave speeches in support of its policies, including suppression of the Kurds.

It is a mistake to conceive of Aflaq's pan-Arabism as divorced from or opposed to Islam or religion.  Aflaq believed that Islam provides Arabs with "the most brilliant picture of their language and literature, and the grandest part of their national history."

Aflaq stated:

"A day will come when the nationalists will find themselves the only defenders of Islam. They will have to give a special meaning to it if they want the Arab nation to have a good reason for survival." (In memory of the Arab Prophet, 1 April 1943)

"The connection of Islam to Arabism is not, therefore, similar to that of any religion to any nationalism. The Arab Christians, when their nationalism is fully awakened and when they restore their genuine character, will recognize that Islam for them is nationalist education in which they have to be absorbed in order to understand and love it to the extent that they become concerned about Islam as about the most precious thing in their Arabism. If the actual reality is still far from this wish, the new generation of Arab Christians has a task which it should perform with daring and detachment, sacrificing for it their pride and benefits, for there is nothing that equals Arabism and the honor of belonging to it." (In memory of the Arab Prophet -April, 1943)

Aflaq had no tolerance for any nationalism that conflicted with pan-Arabism. He stated:

The Kurdish national movement cannot contradict the Arab revolution and when it does, imperialism must be behind the contradiction, whether by creating agent leaderships for this movement or by involving reactionary or secessionist Arab governments in order to provoke this movement in ways which aggravate it.
(The Kurdish question and the Arab revolution, 3 - June 10, 1969)

The road of the Arab revolution is the natural and essential one for every liberation and progressive revolution in all the Third World. The Kurdish national movement is a legitimate and genuine part of the Arab revolution against imperialism, Zionism, class exploitation, backwardness arid fragmentation. Everything that deviates the Kurdish national movement towards meeting and colluding with imperialism and Zionism and puts it in the ranks of the feudal class and secession should be laid bare and unmasked as a conspiracy against both the Arab revolution and the Kurdish national movement. The response to the demands of the Kurdish national movement should be within the framework of this harmony between its movement and the march of Arab revolution.
(The Kurdish question and the Arab revolution, 3 - June 10, 1969)

We were one people in the past. If the Kurdish people have any grievances, they are in countries other than the Arab lands, as there was no segregation or discrimination between them and the Arabs. They were treated in the Arab homeland the way Arabs treat Arabs. There is another fact, which is ignored only by those who lack a historical view, and this fact is that the Arab revolution is the revolution of this age. It is the measure of every revolution and every progressive movement in every country in the world. He who stands against it cannot be progressive or revolutionary. He who opposes it must be falling prey to imperialism, reaction arid Zionism. How could a national movement of a small people be in opposition to the march of the Arab revolution? How could it maintain the minimum degree of safety, remain intact with no foreign and imperialist intervention and manipulation if it does not recognize the obvious fact that it cannot be in opposition with the mother revolution, the Arab revolution?
(The Baath experience in Iraq is the starting point for the Arab revolution. A speech to the advanced cadres of the Arab Baath Socialist party in Baghdad - June 24, 1974)

According to the above view, anything that conflicts with Pan-Arabism is a tool of the West and of imperialism.

The regime of Saddam Hussein gave Aflaq an elaborate Muslim funeral in 1989, claiming that he had secretly converted to Islam. A large tomb and mausoleum were erected to form a shrine for him, within the Iraqi Baath party pan-Arab headquarters, which are currently part of a US Army base. The tomb has been carefully preserved by the Americans. 

Ami Isseroff

October 14, 2008

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Michel Aflak

Further Information:  Ba'ath Pan-Arabism

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The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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Michel Aflaq