Exclusive Sneak Peek at the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought — Ba‘th Party

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought is the first reference to Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today. Comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible, the Encyclopedia provides much-needed context for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. In this exclusive excerpt, Keith David Watenpaugh (UC Davis) describes the origins and contemporary activities of the Ba’th party.

“Ba’thism is an amalgamation of leftist and ultranationalist ides from 1930s and 1940s Europe,” writes Watenpaugh. “To many mainstream Muslims, Baʽthism is inherently un-Islamic.” Yet, as the concise history in this entry makes clear, the Ba-th party has “exerted far-reaching political and cultural influence on the Arab world, particularly in Syria and Iraq.”


Ba‘th Party

Hizb al- Ba’th al- ’Arabi al- Ishtiraki (Party of Arab Socialist Resurrection) is a Pan- Arab nationalist party founded in the 1940s that exerted far- reaching political and cultural in‡uence on the Arab world, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Though conceived as a secular nationalist movement, its ideology considered Islam a vital part of Arab heritage but not the basis for politics. In practice, Ba’thists have been antagonistic to members of the traditional Muslim elite as well as violent opponents of Salafism and Shi’i religious movements.

Party Origins

Upon their return to Damascus, Syria, from university studies in Europe, Michel ’Aflaq and Salah al- Din al- Bitar (1912— 80) began a discussion circle among the city’s educated young men that would form the nucleus of the Ba’th Party (1942). Both ’Aflaq, a Greek Orthodox Christian, and Bitar, a Sunni Muslim, were of solid middle- class origins and brought to the party their distrust of the elite and bourgeois nationalists of a previous generation who had failed to rid Syria of colonial rule. The party’s ranks were swelled by the addition of the followers of an embittered ’Alawi refugee intellectual from the Sanjak of Alexandretta, Zaki al-Arsuzi (1901— 68), who also brought to the party an emphasis on social justice, the cult of personality, and Arab chauvinism. The party’s social-ism and secularism held little appeal for Syria’s Sunni elite or its middle class. Nevertheless, the party proved particularly attractive to non- Sunni landowners and rural smallholders, Arab Christians, and junior officers.

View the rest of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought excerpt here: Ba’th Party