The First Reform Principle

Separation of religion and state.

The greatest obstacle to our national unity and our national progress has been the association between our religious and political institutions and the pretension of ecclesiastical bodies to political power and their actual possession of such power in varying degrees. Theocracy, or the religious state is incompatible with the concept of nationhood because it stands for the domination of the whole community of believers by an ecclesiastical authority. Religion recognizes no national interests because it is concerned with a community of believers dominated by a central religious authority. The concept of a religio-political bond in lieu of the political is contrary to nationalism in general and to Syrian Social Nationalism in particular. The adherence of Syrian Christians to such a concept would set them apart from other religious groups within the nation and would expose their interests to the danger of being submerged in the interests of other groups with whom they happen to share a religious bond. Similarly, the adherence of Syrian Moslems to the concept of a religious bond would bring their interests also to possible conflict with those of their non-Muslim compatriots and would submerge those interests in those of the greater religious community. The inevitable outcome of the concept of a religious bond is the disintegration of the nation and the decline of national life.

We cannot achieve national unity by making the state a religious one because in such a state rights and interests would be denominational in nature pertaining exclusively to the dominant religious group. Where such rights and interests are those of a religious group, common national rights and interests will not obtain. Without the community of interests and rights there can be no unity of duties and no unified national will. On the basis of this legal philosophy, the SSNP has succeeded in laying down the foundations of national unity and in actually realizing it within its ranks.

This principle is based on several historical and theoretical imperatives. The first imperative is to remediate actual social problems in Syria as regards the divisiveness of religious sects when they take political and legal forms. Saadeh will develop this aspect of the reform principles in the two subsequent principles, but at this juncture he is establishing the general framework. While sectarianism is particularly prominent in the western part of Syria due to the concentration of denominational groups in Lebanon, the problem is quite ubiquitous and many apparently non-religious divisions have a strong element of religious associations to them such as the questions of the Assyrian, Chaldean, and Kurdish communities in central Syria. Similarly, sectarianism among Moslem Syrians is quite rampant.

The necessity of such a principle for national revival can not be overstated. The tragedies perpetrated in Syria by the religiously motivated or contrived policies continue to sap the revival energies of the Syrian nation and retard its progress towards becoming a viable modern polity.

The internecine massacres in Lebanon, and the power struggles in Iraq and the Syrian Republic have clear religious undercurrents. The recent resurgence of religious based and motivated militant political and armed organizations illustrates the fragility of the social order in Syria and the predisposition to greater calamities if application of this principle and its ramifications detailed below is further delayed.

Another imperative for the promulgation of this principle is to vindicate national sovereignty that has to reside in the entirety of the Syrian nation and not be limited to any denominational group however majoritarian. Unity of society is a necessary condition for safeguarding national sovereignty. Further, the unity of society is jeopardized by legal inequality and the latter usually obtains when a religious state emerges in multidenominational societies.