Hassan al-Alawi and Michel Aflaq’s ‘Conversion’ to Islam

“The dumber a person becomes ... the more certain he is that he is better than others in everything.” — Ali al-Wardi

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

By Matti Kallo writer and journalist

Hassan al-Alawi is a cultural figure known to many of those who lived during the Iraqi regimes of Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein. Those who have not heard of him can read parts of his biography available on electronic search platforms where it is mentioned that he was a writer, political thinker, and a member of the Baath Party from 1953 onward. He was a close and loyal friend to Saddam Hussein when Saddam was Vice President of Iraqi President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (1968-1979). Hassan al-Alawi became chairman of Alef Baa Magazine and director of the Iraqi News Agency. He has several political and intellectual writings. He was a highly positioned Baathist and used to advise President Saddam because of their close relationship. It is also mentioned about him that he adored Saddam Hussein and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.

In 1999 in New York, after his expulsion into exile al-Alawi participated in U.S.-allied Iraqi opposition meetings in which it was decided to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. After the toppling of Saddam Hussein, al-Alawi announced his willingness to be the Iraqi ambassador to Syria, but his request was rejected by the new regime. In 2010, he won a seat in the Iraqi House of Representatives but later submitted his resignation and denounced Saddam Hussein’s execution on which he said, “There is no sane person who would kill Saddam Hussein.” That is why al-Alawi is nicknamed ‘the Chameleon’, because of his whimsical changing attitudes according to his personal interests.

In an exclusive interview with Hassan al-Alawi in one of the Iraqi TV programs presented by Anwar al-Hamdani, he talked about his relationship with the Iraqi Baath Party. Below are some transcribed excerpts from the TV program which are of interest to our article;

“I have been a Baathist since the year 53… I have kept high my nationalist, unitary, and Nasserist ideas to this day”

“Michel Aflaq is the founder of the (Baath) party. But I am against Michel Aflaq … I never liked him. I told Saddam “for God’s sake. Why don’t you become the Secretary General of the party and we get rid of this name?”

He asked me, “Who do you mean?” I answered: “Michel Aflaq”. “What’s wrong with him?”, Saddam asked. “He has a foreign name,” I answered.

“Michel Aflaq is the leader of our party. But our country is Islamic, and we are the people of the great Abbasid state. Baghdad is the capital of the Abbasid state. Will we accept someone like Michel Aflaq to lead us? How can this be: from Haroun al-Rashid to Michel Aflaq? It is impossible. How can this be: from Faisal I to Michel Aflaq? It is impossible. How can this be: from Hammurabi to Michel Aflaq? It is impossible!”

“I did not like Michel Aflaq at all … I met him more than 10 times, but I did not speak with him. I was the top writer of the party … and he was the top thinker of the party.”

In these quotes from the TV interview, Hassan al-Alawi refuses to recognize Michel Aflaq as the leader of the Baath party only because Aflaq has a “foreign”, i.e. non-Islamic name. This despite Michel Aflaq being the founder of the Baath Party in 1947, together with Akram al-Hawrani. The party adheres to Arab nationalism and secularism. And Hassan al-Alawi’s affiliation in 1953 with the party is his belief in Arab nationalism and in the ideas of the party’s founder, i.e. the ideas of “foreigner” Michel Aflaq! But how could the top Baath writer Hassan al-Alawi belong to a party led by a “foreigner”?!

History evidences that the pioneers of Arab nationalist thought were Christians. The most prominent of whom are Constantine Zurayk, George Antonius, Michel Aflaq, Azmi Bishara, George Habash, and Nayef Hawatmeh – who joined the Arab nationalist movement at an early age but later moved to the Marxist left!

It is not my goal to discuss here the ideas of the Iraqi Baath Party, but when one of its veteran members refuses to be responsible and loyal to the party founder and leader only because the leader has a foreign name then a question arises for the old-time member and he should ask himself, “Why do I belong to it and adhere to its founding principles?!”

Here it is necessary to stop for a moment and reflect on what Hassan al-Alawi said and the important question arises whether Hassan al-Alawi rejects Michel Aflaq because he was a foreigner or whether Hassan al-Alawi rejects Michel Aflaq because he was a Christian? How can the Baath Party be secular when it rejects the ‘other’ and one of its most prominent members? And why does the party holds high the slogan of “One Arab Nation?” Or are the declared objectives and slogans of the party different from what the leaders of the Iraqi Baath Party really believe in? Saddam Hussein publicly declared Michel Aflaq’s conversion to Islam and said that Aflaq had chosen the name Ahmed Michel Aflaq? Was the ‘conversion’ to Islam by Michel Aflaq announced immediately after his death an advice from Hassan al-Alawi to Saddam Hussein? Was it to make an end to Michel Aflaq’s Christianity?

Why did Saddam wait and announce this only after Aflaq’s death? Did he remember Hassan al-Alawi’s advice late? Were the allegations of Aflaq’s conversion to Islam, according to unknown members of the Aflaq family, merely a tool by Saddam Hussein to distance Baathism from Christianity? There is a lot of evidence that Saddam moved away from secularism and pursued a popular religious agenda. From 1993 until the occupation, Saddam started a public religious campaign and the imposing of religious Islamic punishments, such as the cutting off the hand of thieves and the beheading of female prostitutes in public squares. Later also the compulsory teaching of the Qur’an was imposed, and the prohibition on the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

And we all know very well that the Iraqi Baath Party did not operate as a regular political party organization but rather that Saddam Hussein seized the party, became its sole leader and decided on the party’s policies. The Iraqis will remember when Saddam’s comrades were liquidated in 1979 under the pretext of conspiracy. Afterwards, Saddam Hussein became the head of state and the leader of the Baath party without any rival.

Michel Aflaq remained in his position until his death in June 1989 but without any authority within the party. Keeping him to this position was a symbolic sign of unity with the Syrian Baath party. But as the saying goes, “There is no sense and no soul.”

The final question is: Did the Iraqi Baath Party or Saddam Hussein wanted to get rid of Michel Aflaq’s Christianity because of Hassan al-Alawi’s advice? And did the Iraqi Baath party converted from secularism to Islam since the announcement of Michel Aflaq embracing Islam, Saddam’s religious campaign before the 2003 occupation, and the affiliation after the occupation of a large number of Republican Guard officers and Fedayeen guards to extremist Islamic leaders, including al-Qaeda and ISIS?

The answer is for the honorable reader.

Matti Kallo is a writer and journalist originally from the Syriac town of Bartella, Nineveh Plain in Iraq. Since 1995 he lives in Melbourne, Australia

Disclaimer: translated from the original Arabic. Here