This religion has its own martyred prophet, holy scripture, and, of course, rituals; all it lacks is a deity. The prophet is Antun Sa'adeh. Thirty-eight years after he was executed in the dead of night, the holy scripture he left behind—a confused treatise titled The Growth of Nations—has a whole new following. Sa'adeh called for a completely new reading of history based on a doctrine according to which Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed were instruments of the "Syrian genius" who contributed to the inexorable rise of the ancient Syrian nation as the strongest and most creative force in the annals of mankind. Sa'adeh was not disturbed by the fact that the nation he spoke of a conglomerate of all the peoples and tribes that since t he dawn of history have lived between the Euphrates River and the Mediterranean Sea-does not exist and that most scholars shrug disdainfully at the notion that it ever did. His explanation, as expanded upon in current party publications, for the failure of these tribes and peoples to cohere into a unified kingdom is that the enemies of the nation-from King Cyrus to Ronald Reagan-have always conspired against it at just the critical moment,: sabotaging its redemption from disarray.
A teacher of German who had grown up in Egypt and Brazil, Antun Sa'adeh was a short, high-browed, and distinctly unimpressive-looking man who behaved imperiously and demanded blind obedience, banishing even the most loyal of his followers the moment they questioned his will. Sa'adeh was born to Lebanese Greek Orthodox parents, and he spent much of his adult life in Lebanon. There he saw the problem that Christians faced in supporting future regimes: for a Christian to join any sort of pan-Arab movement would imply that he renounced the possibility of political equality. So Sa'adeh created a vision in which neither Islam nor pan-Arabism was important, and therefore religion wasn't either. Much taken with European fascism, he introduced to the Lebanon of the 1930s a simplistic vision of harmony among the country's many ethnic communities through a return to Syrian "racial unity" (actual races were kept vague, since Greater Syria would include the non-Semitic Turks, but Jews were certainly excluded) and a collective dedication to the revival of the Syrian nation. In place of the clashes between the Christian Maronites and the Moslems, the Kurds and the Bedouin, Sa'adeh recommended that all groups view themselves as heirs of the empires of Babylonia and Assyria, the descendants of the Hittites and the kings of Aram. Sa'adeh kept his party in Lebanon, where the large Greek Orthodox population ensured that he would attract his natural constituency. Underground cells formed in Syria, Jordan, and Palestine, among other neighboring countries.
Sa'adeh's followers today are aware of not only who is in the nation but also who its enemies are—meaning who are its targets for terrorist actions. This is a highly varied list, including the governments of Turkey, Egypt, and Iran (despite the number of enemies that Iran and the SSNP share, any independent rule of Iran threatens Greater Syria), as well as Israel—or, to be more precise, Jews everywhere. While the rest of Israel's enemies, including the PLO. dispute the right of the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland after 2,000 years of life in dispersion but ostensibly have no complaint against those Jews who have remained in the Diaspora, the SSNP's account with the Jews goes back to the war of the Canaanite and Emorite tribes (thought but not known to have been Semitic) against the ancient Israelite invaders. According to this reading, the ancient Hebrews were also cultural usurpers, who, in Sa'adeh's words, "arrogated all the Bible stories from the legacy of Babylonia, embraced Canaanite ritual ceremonies, and joined them all together into the Torah." It is indicative that most of Sa'adeh's followers came and continue to come from the Greek Orthodox community, which, following the model of the Slavic church, has always been zealously and explicitly anti-Hebrew in a way that the far larger Catholic and Islamic communities have not. Only during the past decade have a modest number of Shiites, many of whom oppose the Khomeini leadership, and Druze been drawn to the movement.