Zaki al-Arsuzi : biography
Zakī al-Arsūzī (in Arabic: زكي الأرسوزي; Latakia, June 1899 – Damascus, 2 July 1968) was a Syrian philosopher, philologist, sociologist, historian, and Arab nationalist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of Ba’athism and its political movement. He published several books during his lifetime, the most notable being The Genius of Arabic in its Tongue (1943).
Born into a middle-class family in Latakia, Syria, al-Arsuzi studied at the Sorbonne, where he became interested in nationalism. In 1930, he returned to Syria, where he became a member of the League of National Action (LNA) in 1933. In 1938 he moved to Damascus because of his disillusionment with party work, and in 1939 left the LNA. In Damascus al-Arsuzi established, and headed, a group consisting of mostly secondary school pupils who would often discuss European history, nationalism and philosophy. Shortly after leaving the LNA al-Arsuzi established the Arab National Party, an Arab nationalist party with a "defined creed". It was not a success and, on his return to Syria in November 1940, after a brief stay in Baghdad, al-Arsuzi established a new party, the Arab Ba’ath; by 1944, however, most of its members had left and joined Michel Aflaq’s and Salah al-Din al-Bitar’s Arab Ba’ath Movement, which subscribed to a nearly identical doctrine.
In 1947 the two movements merged, forming a single Arab Ba’ath Party. Despite the merger, Al-Arsuzi did not attend its founding conference nor was he given membership. During the rest of the 1940s and 1950s, al-Arsuzi stayed out of politics and worked as a teacher. He made a comeback during the 1960s power struggle in the Ba’ath Party between Aflaq and al-Bitar on the one hand, and Salah Jadid and Hafiz al-Assad and their supporters on the other. When Aflaq and al-Bitar lost the power struggle and were forced to escape from Syria in 1966, al-Arsuzi replaced Aflaq as the main ideologue of the Syrian-led faction of the Ba’ath Party.
Al-Arsuzi’s theories about society, language and nationalism, which are collectively part of Ba’athist thought, hold that the Arab Nation will be unified, when the Arab people reestablish the Arab identity they have lost over the past one thousand years. The key to Arab unification, according to al-Arsuzi, is through language. In contrast to the Latin language, al-Arsuzi argued, Arabic was far less arbitrary and far more intuitive. Despite his contributions to Ba’athist thought, al-Arsuzi is barely mentioned in Western or Arab scholarship. This omission may be linked to the fact that Sati’ al-Husri, a contemporary Arab nationalist, had many of the same ideas as al-Arsuzi, but was better able to articulate them.
Al-Arsuzi’s work and thought is almost unknown and barely mentioned in Western scholarship on Arab nationalism. When he is actually mentioned in a text, it is predominantly on his irredentist views of the unified Arab Nation. Although his collected works have been published since the mid-1970s, al-Arsuzi’s work on the Arabic language, which is central to al-Arsuzi’s nationalist thought, are rarely mentioned at all. The study of al-Arsuzi’s ideas in Arabic scholarship also lacking. Academic Yasir Suleiman gives the principal reason for this as the similarity of al-Arsuzi’s works to those of Sati’ al-Husri, a contemporary.Suleiman, 2003, pp. Suleiman goes on to explain Al-Arsuzi’s eclipsed legacy as the combination of a number of factors: firstly, in contrast to al-Husri’s idea of language, al-Arsuzi’s theory is self-defeating because it excluded other theories instead of including them. Secondly, his work was written with an elitist slant, rather than the populist one which al-Husri managed to convey. Thirdly, and in contrast to al-Husri’s work, al-Arsuzi’s work seemed old-fashioned, due to his use of old words and historical texts; moreover, while al-Arsuzi wrote about the symbolic need of an Arab Nation, al-Hustri wrote about the practical role of an Arab Nation—al-Arsuzi was obscure where al-Husri was transparent. Whereas Al-Husri was able to prove his arguments with empirical data, al-Arsuzi was unable. Thus, Suleiman writes, al-Husri appeared more informed then al-Arsuzi, when really he was not. The lack of empirical data in al-Arsuzi’s work made it look parochial at times, while at other times his conclusions bordered on machoistic nationalism, which in turn could be interpreted as racism.Suleiman, 2003, p. Another reason for his "negligible" impact, according to Suleiman, was al-Arsuzi’s idea on the need to replace the traditional Arabic grammar system with a new one.Suleiman, 2003, p. The Center for Research and Documentation on World Language Problems agrees with Suleiman’s conclusion, but further claims that al-Arsuzi’s work was "often far-fetched and ‘airy-fairy’".CRDWLP, 2004, p.