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The Ba'ath Party (Arabic: البعث Al-Ba'ath or Ba'ath meaning "renaissance" or "resurrection") is a secular Non-Aligned Movement political line of thinking that developed in the wake of divestment by the various colonial powers after World War II. In a sense, the schismatic nature of Ba'athism has been akin to European Communism, and this was reflected in the rivalry between the Iraqi and Syrian branches of the party. Despite the genuinely horrific realities of Ba'athist reign, the alternative - hardline Islamic religious political parties like the Muslim Brotherhood, presents a much more tenuous situation. The ideology is essentially ethnonationalism for arabs.
The fundamental theories of Ba'athism were outlined by Zaki al-Arsuzi, Michel Aflaq, and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. The primary tenets are the secular, socialized, single-party pan-Arabic state and anti-imperialism.
The most notable schism of this particular political creed is between the Iraqi Ba'athist and Syrian Ba'athist parties. Ba'athism started as a movement to regain Arab identity against colonialism, then quickly devolved towards fascism. They had some socialist policies, but then they began killing all the socialists and communists and shortly after that split into a "right-wing" version (Saddam) and a "left-wing" version (Assad). Their whole reasoning behind being fascists is everyone is a reactionary except for me.
A slew of ideological splinters proceeds, including Neo-Ba'athism, Assadism, Saddamism, and many other flavors. However, one uniting point for all these has been supporting the Palestinians or hatred of Israel - to most Ba'athists, those things are one and the same. However, to what degree this support extends varies from regime to regime. It should also be emphasized that Ba'athist parties also have a long and contentious record with the PLO and other Palestinian political parties, so trying to figure out who hates who more inadvertently shows just how disunited the whole region is.
Despite the classification of the Iraqi Ba'ath party as "right-wing" compared to its Syrian counterpart, Ba'athism as a whole has a peculiar place on the political spectrum and does not fit easily into traditional categories. Like Nazism, it claims to be an ideology that combines nationalism with socialism - however, unlike Nazism (see Hitler and socialism), it goes much further to follow through on the "socialist" part. Whereas Nazism in practice never had any economic model more radical than a bizarre kind of racist welfare capitalism based on a permanent war economy, Saddam's Iraq had social policies similar to fascism (extreme nationalism, racism, social conservatism, etc.) but also a command economy more like the Soviet Union and other Marxist-Leninist countries, with the state owning and controlling quite a lot of property. This combination of far-right and far-left beliefs perhaps reflects the influence of Stalinism.[note 1] When the United States overthrew Saddam, one of the first things they did was dismantle this state-socialist economy and privatize everything in a display of market fundamentalism, which was meant to reduce inefficiency and increase growth but backfired by causing massive unemployment that led to more instability and arguably worsened the anti-American insurgency. (Great job, guys!) Meanwhile, the once supposedly more "left-wing" Syria has reformed its economy towards a market-based model more cautiously over time, though with somewhat similar results to Iraq despite that.[note 2]
Support by Western extremists
Under the Ba'ath party, both Iraq and Syria have clashed with Israel and America. For those reasons, some western extremists have expressed their support for the two regimes. Examples include the Swedish Neo-Nazis who went to Iraq in 2003 to fight for Saddam, and former Klansman Dennis Mahon, who organized a pro-Saddam rally in Tulsa in 1991. Saddam himself had contacts with some of the more mainstream extreme rightists of Europe, such as Russia's Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Austria's Jörg Haider. Some members of Stormfront have expressed support for Assad as well.
Left-wing extremists have also expressed support for Ba'athist regimes; according to one source, no less than 50 Communist parties have stood up for the Syrian Ba'ath during the recent Syrian civil war (though they aren't named), and several individual Communists have backed Saddam as well. While denying being a Saddam supporter, George Galloway has privately praised the Assad regime, calling Syria "the last castle of Arab dignity". Hitch once said about the man that his "search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends" - well, maybe it has for now.
Relation to Islam
Ba'athism was nominally secular or non-denominational in its attitude to Islam, although opinions differ as to its underlying beliefs. Aflaq, although a Christian, admired Islam as a cultural force that had shaped the Arab character, and Islam acted as a powerful force aligned with Ba'athist pan-Arabism: the movement traditionally supported religion for its social role and as a rallying point for Arab unity while opposing theocratic rule such as that in Iran. Saddam initially distrusted fundamentalist Muslims (he distrusted most people as a threat to his power), but after the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam increasingly relied on Islam to get support and keep his population in line. After the fall of Saddam, technocratic Ba'athist methods of control mingled with fundamentalist Salafism in the resistance to the US, particularly in ISIS, which was as fond of statistics as it was of the Quran; the two movements shared pan-Arabist and anti-western ideologies as well as a casualness about killing their enemies.
In 1966 the Alawite wing of the Syrian party under Hafez al-Assad took control, expelling the original founders of the party who eventually established themselves in Iraq. Iraqi Ba'athists rose to power in a 1968 coup, initiating a cross-border rivalry between factions, each supporting religious Islamist groups in the others' country. This led to several government crackdowns and massacres.
- Hama massacre
Defending the government's actions on 7 March 1982, President Hafez al-Assad accused the Muslim Brotherhood of posing as Muslims, killing in the name of Islam, as criminals transforming mosques into arms warehouses, and butchering children, women, and old people in the name of Islam.
- Ongoing Syrian Civil War; see more details at List of massacres in Syria
- Operation Anfal
- Iran-Iraq War
- Dujail Massacre
- During the 1991 uprisings in Iraq, Saddam Hussein killed anywhere from 80,000 to 230,000 civilians, burying the victims in mass graves. Since the fall of Hussein and the Ba'ath Party, some 200 of these mass graves have been uncovered, the largest of which is believed to hold around 10,000 victims.
- National Bolshevism
- Third Position
- Gamal Abdel Nasser
- Muammar al-Gaddafi
- If so, this would make Ba'athism an example of the Nazbol gang in action, but Arab.
- It's unclear to what extent Syria can now be described as socialist; after almost a decade of the civil war, a better descriptor for its economy might just be "shitshow".
- Baathism: An Obituary by Paul Berman (September 13, 2012) The New Republic.
- Nazisterna vill hjälpa Saddam (Swedish)
- Southern Poverty Law Center: Feds Indict White Supremacists in Arizona Bombing 26 June 2009
- BBC News: Zhirinovsky: Russia's political eccentric 10 March 2000
- Foreign Policy: Did Austrian far-right leader Jörg Haider take money from Saddam and Qaddafi? 25 August 2010
- I support Assad 5 March 2013
- Chellange Magazine: Why the Israeli Communist Party defends Assad’s regime 8 July 2011
- Weekly Worker: Armchair generals, or Saddam's leftwing allies 13 March 2013
- BBC News: Galloway denies Saddam 'fawning' 16 November 2004
- Haaretz exclusive: Organizer of Gaza flotilla sought assistance from Assad's office 7 February 2012
- It’s an Arab Nationalist Thing, Lee Smith, Slate, Oct 2004
- Between Salafism And Baathism, The Recipe For ISIS Success, Christophe Ayad, Le Monde, 2015-06-18
- The Guardian: 1982: Syria's President Hafez al-Assad crushes rebellion in Hama
- Hafez al-Assad Speech about Muslim Brotherhood (1982), Youtube.
- BBC News: Anfal: Campaign against the Kurds 24 June 2007
- The Indian Express: The Dujail massacre 31 December 2006
- Uncovering Iraq's Horrors in Desert Graves 5 June 2006