By Ilan Grapel
Flipping through Arabic community programming on Melbourne’s 3ZZZ public radio station, one can find an array of relatively innocuous programming: Koranic readings, Lebanese music, sardonic humour on Zionism, and news relevant to the various expatriate communities. However, one exception is the bi-weekly Syrian community broadcast, which provides a nefarious twist. Surprisingly, this broadcast has nothing to do with violent Islamist extremism, the major threat most people would today be concerned about with respect to Arabic-language media in Australia. Rather, 3ZZZ’s Syrian programming advances the Nazi-inspired dogma of a violent secular party – it is the mouthpiece of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP).
The Nazi comparison is not just based on the SSNP logo, a derivative of the Nazi swastika represented as a spinning disc, or their salute, a quasi Sieg Heil to party leaders. At its core, the SSNP is a fascist movement devoted to the “Syrian nation”. Like in Nazi irredentism to create a “Greater Germany”, the SSNP strives for “Greater Syria”, which stretches across many sovereign states and lands, including Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, the Sinai Peninsula, Iraq, and Cyprus. While strictly secular, the party deifies Syrian ancestry, culture, and party leaders, in a way akin to the Nazi idealisation of the “Aryan” race. It also has a history of political assassination and terrorist violence.
The most revered leader, ideological prophet and martyr of the SSNP is Antun Sa’adeh. A Greek Orthodox intellectual much inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, Sa’adeh founded the SSNP in 1932. To overcome the inherent inequality he would face as a Christian in a pan-Islamic or pan-Arab ideology, Sa’adeh purposely amalgamated the various religions and ethnicities within the envisioned “Greater Syria” into the “great Syrian nation,” which possessed “Syrian genius”. Jews were notably excluded from this Syrian nation.
In 1949, after a failed coup attempt, Lebanese authorities tried and executed Sa’adeh and eight of his followers, who as a result became martyrs in SSNP ideology.
Sixty years later, Australian radio is broadcasting commemorations and odes dedicated to these fallen “martyrs”, as well as the party’s violent, antisemitic messages. 3ZZZ radio’s Syrian program dedicated July programming to “the Tamuz [July] of martyrdom” in memory of their fallen leader. In poetic and erudite Arabic, the broadcaster recounts the party saga, replete with the common themes of Jewish conspiracy:
Elements of the conspiracy congregated on our land, from the cursed Balfour Declaration to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which cut and divided our land into two mandates – British and French. It established political situations and a rule that serve the wants of the conspiracy, a campaign of successive Jewish immigration, invading our Palestinian South… and with the mandated state [Israel] and her allies came slaughters and armed aggression on civilians and fighters from our people in Palestine (July 8, 2009; 3ZZZ; emphasis added).
The party promotes old-fashioned antisemitism, with its focus on the international Jewish conspiracy thwarting the desired “Greater Syria”. To overcome the various competing ethnicities and religions within the idea of “Greater Syria,”, SSNP ideology unifies Christianity and Islam against a common enemy – the Jew:
And we embodied Islam from what G-d gave in the New Testament, and from what G-d gave in the Quran, and from what G-d gave in wisdom. We embodied Islam and we were one nation. There is no enemy that fights our religion, right, and homeland, except for the Jews, (July 15, 2009; 3ZZZ; emphasis added).
SSNP antisemitism and anti-Zionism are central party tenets. While secularism is an important principle within the party, SSNP radio proves the party willing to side with religious extremists to conquer “raped Palestine”. Thus, the month of July was not only dedicated to remembrance of Sa’adeh, but also to the “victory” and “steadfastness” of Hezbollah in its war against Israel in 2006. There is a sharp contradiction between Hezbollah’s vision of an Iranian-style Shi’ite theocracy and SSNP’s first principle, “separation of religion and state,” where “the religious state is incompatible with the concept of nationhood.” However, for the sake of antisemitism, SSNP has no compunction in supporting a party whose raison d’être is diametrically opposed to SSNPs “First Reform Principle” of secularism.
The party’s relative obscurity in recent years should not cause it to be dismissed or ignored. In a 1987 article for the Atlantic, top Israeli journalist Ehud Ya’ari accurately noted of the SSNP, “Theirs is a movement distinguished by inordinate patience, and they measure its success in historical terms, not by today’s headlines.” At the time, the party was capturing headlines with high-profile assassinations, including probably that of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982, and from its use of female suicide bombers, a unique phenomenon that Palestinian and other terrorist organisations would later adopt.
However, despite fading from the headlines over the past two decades, Ya’ari’s words proved prescient since the party still has a tangible presence in Syria and Lebanon and in some expatriate communites, apparently including Australia. While it only holds three seats in the People’s Council of Syria, the party still acts as a powerful proxy of Syrian imperialism in the region – especially in Lebanon. The party’s swastika hangs in the main streets of Beirut, and party thugs intimidate opposition. Earlier this year party hooligans physically attacked the well-known British journalist Christopher Hitchens for defacing a party swastika hanging in downtown Beirut. Earlier this month, its activists exchanged gunfire with a rival party, the Western-oriented Future Movement, in Lebanon.
From an Australian perspective, it is most discomforting that Syrian Social Nationalism is the only topic that pervades the 3ZZZ radio broadcast dedicated to Australian-Syrian interests. Further, the party has a prime-time slot at 6:00 pm. Thus, the antisemitic vitriol spreads directly to the large number of Melbourne’s Arabic speakers, including those not from Syria or Lebanon, coinciding with their evening commute home from work. The SSNP message of combating the disloyal and conspiring Jew is both harmful to the ethnic harmony of Australia, and potentially in violation of Australia’s racial hatred laws.
3ZZZ’s declared goal is to provide “independent, accessible and democratic media”. However, their philosophy of “accessibility” demands that egregious material like that broadcast by the SSNP be known to the radio station’s subscribers, and to the general public, and not limited to those who speak Arabic. If they knew about it, one would suspect and hope that 3ZZZ’s subscribers would take issue with their funding supporting neo-fascism in the form of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.