Sunday, October 31, 2010

Anti-Muslim Crusaders Make Millions Spreading Fear

OCTOBER 24, 2010

Steven Emerson has 3,390,000 reasons to fear Muslims.

That's how many dollars Emerson's for-profit company — Washington-based SAE Productions — collected in 2008 for researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism. The payment came from the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, a nonprofit charity Emerson also founded, which solicits money by telling donors they're in imminent danger from Muslims.
Emerson is a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances.
Leaders of the so-called "anti-jihad" movement portray themselves as patriots, defending America against radical Islam. And they've found an eager audience in ultra-conservative Christians and mosque opponents in Middle Tennessee. One national consultant testified in an ongoing lawsuit aimed at stopping a newMurfreesboro mosque.
But beyond the rhetoric, Emerson's organization's tax-exempt status is facing questions at the same time he's accusing Muslim groups of tax improprieties.
"Basically, you have a nonprofit acting as a front organization, and all that money going to a for-profit," said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog group. "It's wrong. This is off the charts."
But a spokesman for Emerson's company said the actions were legal and designed to protect workers there from death threats.
"It's all done for security reasons," said Ray Locker, a spokesman for SAE Productions.
Emerson made his name in the mid-1990s with his documentary film Jihad in America, which aired on PBS. Produced after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the film uncovered terrorists raising money in the United States.
He followed up with the books Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S. and American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us.
He claims that extremists control 80 percent of mosques in the United States. In August, he claimed to have uncovered 13 hours of audiotapes proving that Feisal Rauf, the imam behind the proposed mosque near ground zero, is a radical extremist.
"I don't think he'll survive the disclosure of these tapes," he told talk show host Bill Bennett.
Rauf is still in place as a project leader, even though tape excerpts have been online for weeks.
Emerson formed a Middle Tennessee connection last summer, when his organization uncovered pictures on a Murfreesboro mosque board member's MySpace page. His company said the pictures proved connections to Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, but mosque leaders said they checked with the Department of Homeland Security and found the concerns were groundless.
Special Agent Keith Moses, who heads the FBI's Nashville office, told The Tennessean last month that the bureau doesn't discuss specific allegations.
"In a post-9/11 era, the FBI is taking every step to prevent further terrorist attacks," he said. "We also want to protect civil rights and the freedom of religion."

Others Cash In

While large organizations like Emerson's aren't the norm, other local and national entrepreneurs cash in on spreading hate and fear about Islam.
Former Tennessee State University physics professor Bill French runs the Nashville-based, for-profit Center for the Study of Political Islam. He spoke recently to a group of opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque gathered at a house in Murfreesboro.
With an American flag as a backdrop, French paced back and forth like the Church of Christ ministers he heard growing up. His message: how creeping Shariah law is undermining the very fabric of American life.
"This offends Allah," said French, pointing to the flag on the wall. "You offend Allah."
French, who has no formal education in religion, believes Islam is not a religion. Instead, he sees Islam and its doctrine and rules — known as Shariah law — as a totalitarian ideology.
In his 45-minute speech, he outlined a kind of 10 commandments of evil — no music, no art, no rights for women — taken from his book Sharia Law for Non-Muslims. The speech was free, but his books, penned under the name "Bill Warner," were for sale in the back and ranged from about $9 to $20.
When he was done, the 80 or so mosque opponents gave him a standing ovation and then began buying French's books to hand out to their friends.
Frank Gaffney, head of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Security Policy, earned a $288,300 salary from his charity in 2008. Gaffney was a key witness in recent hearings in the Rutherford County lawsuit filed by mosque opponents. He said he paid his own way.
On the stand, the Reagan-era deputy assistant defense secretary accused local mosque leaders of having ties to terrorism, using ties to Middle Eastern universities and politics as evidence. His main source of information was his own report on Shariah law as a threat to America, one he wrote with other self-proclaimed experts.
But, under oath, he admitted he is not an expert in Shariah law.
The list of people on the anti-Islam circuit goes on. IRS filings from 2008 show that Robert Spencer, who runs the blog, earned $132,537 from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative nonprofit.
Brigitte Tudor, who runs the anti-Islam groups ACT! For America and the American Congress for Truth, earned $152,810, while her colleague Guy Rogers collected $154,900.

Unusual Arrangement

Emerson's older, most established organization collects several times that in an average year.
Emerson incorporated his for-profit company, SAE Productions, in Delaware in 1995. He launched the nonprofit Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation in Washington, D.C., in 2006.
But he doesn't make that distinction on his website, www.investigativeproject.
org, which describes the Investigative Project on Terrorism as "a non-profit research group founded by Steven Emerson in 1995." And today, the two groups share the same Washington street address, which is published on Emerson's personal website.
In 2002 and 2003, despite lacking nonprofit status, Emerson received a total of $600,000 in grants from the Smith Richardson Foundation, a conservative public-policy shaper based in Connecticut. The foundation declined to comment on the grants but said it gives money only to tax-exempt charitable groups.

Giving money to a for-profit is extremely rare for foundations, said Peter Bird, president of the Nashville-based Frist Foundation. It can happen only when the foundation keeps meticulous records on how the money was spent by the group that received it.
"It almost never happens," he said.
Locker, a former USA TODAY national security editor now working for SAE Productions, said his organization does not discuss funding.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation's 1023 application for tax-exempt status stated that all of the money raised by the Washington, D.C.-based charity would go to a nonprofit subcontractor with no ties to Emerson or any board members. The application also said the charity would buy no services from board members. Emerson ended up being the only board member.
In a letter dated Dec. 8, 2006, the IRS asked if there would be any ties between the subcontractor and the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation. On Dec. 29, 2006, Emerson wrote back: "There are and will be no financial/business transactions between officers, board members or relatives of the aforementioned and applicant organization."
In 2008, however, the charity paid $3,390,000 to SAE Productions for "management services." Emerson is SAE's sole officer.
Because of its unusual arrangement with Emerson's company, the Investigative Project's tax returns show no details, such as salaries of staff.
Locker said the approach was vetted by the group's lawyers and is legal. He said that Emerson takes no profits from SAE Productions and therefore the Investigative Project is a nonprofit.
That doesn't fly, said Charity Navigator's Berger. Berger said tax-exempt nonprofits must be transparent and disclose how they spend money and how much they pay their staff. Emerson's group appears to be trying to skirt these rules, he said.
"It really undermines the trust in nonprofits," he said. "This is really off the grid."
The Frist Foundation's Bird said the discrepancy between the Investigative Project's application to the IRS and its practices is troubling.
"It looks like they told the government one thing and did another," he said.
But Rebecca Bynum, editor of the New English Review, a Nashville-based online magazine that's critical of Islam, said she has no problem with Emerson's big take. Her nonprofit took in $30,000 in 2008 and has no paid employees.
"I know that (Emerson) does great work," Bynum said. "They investigate very thoroughly. You can always count on what they say."

Inaccurate Information

The message anti-Islam authors and groups disseminate isn't always accurate.
Brannon Wheeler, history professor and director of the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the United States Naval Academy, said critics of Islam mistakenly assume that Shariah law is a set of fixed principles that apply to every Muslim, everywhere.
That's not the case, he said, making clear that he speaks as an expert and not for the Navy or the Naval Academy.
While French, for example, has put together his Sharia Law for Non-Muslims, no similar book exists for Muslims.
"There's no text that is entitled The Shariah," Wheeler said. "It's not a code of law. It's not like you could go to the library and get the 12 volumes of Shariah law."
Instead, Shariah is flexible, and applies differently in different contexts. It comes from clerics' and scholars' interpretations of the Quran and other holy books.
Wheeler also had harsh words for Gaffney's report, which claims Shariah is an imminent threat to America.
"He makes the Shariah look absurd and insidious by trolling through and finding outrageous rulings and then making them universal for all time," Wheeler said. "It's ridiculous."
Wheeler also responded to another criticism of Islam — that it allows Muslims to lie to non-Muslims. Critics of the local mosque often say that's why Muslims can't be trusted when they say they're peaceful.
Wheeler said the term applies only to Shia Muslims, the smaller of the two majors sects of Islam, during times of persecution.
"It's an escape clause," he said. "You are not required to tell the truth about your religion if someone is going to kill you. It's not to be understood as lying."
Middle Tennessee's Muslims are Sunnis, the larger sect. They find the constant barrage ofmistruths about their faith baffling.
"What does Shariah law have to do with America? Why are they talking about it?" asked Abdiaziz Barre, who immigrated to Nashville from Somalia 17 years ago. He said he has heard claims that Muslims endorse slavery and terrorism.
That's nonsense, said Barre, who rejects both. But he's not going to lose sleep over the misinformation of critics.
"If people don't want to be a good neighbor or friend, so what," he said. "I have plenty of neighbors and friends."

Message Gains Traction

Despite what critics call inaccuracies, the anti-Islam message has found traction in Middle Tennessee, with some casually citing it.
Sally Snow hosted French's speech along with her husband, former Rutherford County Republican Party Chairman Howard Wall. She has been a regular at hearings in a lawsuit aimed at stopping a new Murfreesboro mosque.
One day this month, Snow arrived wearing sunglasses and joked that she was trying to cover up marks on her face.
"Howard's turned into a Muslim," she said. "He's started beating me."
French's crowd contained politicians and preachers, businesspeople and others — brought together by their fear of Shariah and their belief that Islam is incompatible with American life. Some oppose Islam on theological grounds, seeing it as a threat to their Bible Belt culture or, for Christian Zionists, to the state of Israel.
According to that belief, American Christians have a religious duty to protect the state of Israel. When Israel expands, they believe, Muslims in Iran and Iraq will be forced out of their homes to make way. Then the second coming of Jesus can begin.
"The reason America exists is to partner with Israel, to protect Israel," said the Rev. Darrel Whaley, pastor of Kingdom Ministries Worship Center and head of a Protestant ministers group opposed to the mosque in Murfreesboro.
Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who led opposition to a failed mosque in Brentwood, also is Christian Zionist. Her nonprofit, the Franklin-based Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, exists to drum up support of Israel among Christians.
With those stances out there, it's unlikely broad-based, interfaith cooperation is possible, said Rabbi Rami Shapiro, an adjunct religion professor at Middle Tennessee State University.
At an interfaith event at the university this month, he downplayed fears that Muslims would try to impose their religious laws on the United States.
"Muslims are not going to 'Shariah-ize' America," Shapiro said. "What's going to happen is that America is going to Americanize Muslims."
Still, he said, building trust between Muslims and some right-wing Christians will be difficult.
"According to their beliefs, Muslims are in the way of God's plan," he said. "You can't argue with that."
Contact Bob Smietana
at 615-259-8228 or

We Worship The God Of Security

By Henry G. Brinton
Updated 10/17/2010 5:10 PM
Courtesy Of "USA Today"

We live in a culture of fear, and since 9/11 we have grown increasingly anxious about terrorism, pandemics, environmental disasters and nuclear annihilation — anything that can injure or kill us. Our method of coping is to make an idol out of any activity, agency or technology that will promise us security.

Sociologist Robert Wuthnow has written a new book Be Very Afraid that examines how we respond to the constant threats we see around us. His conclusion: Instead of freezing when they face a threat, Americans get busy and buy duct tape. Nothing frustrates us more than terrorism alerts such as the one recently issued by the U.S. State Departmentfor travel to Europe. It warns us of potential danger but gives no specific guidance.

I believe that this idolatry of safety is a very unfaithful response. Whether one is Christian, Jewish or Muslim, the challenge of faith is to put trust in God, not in security precautions. Nor is it a sensible response. Atheists realize — right along with people of faith — that we cannot control every aspect of the world around us. Security is a false god.

Access Rescinded

On May 4, the front doors of the Supreme Court were closed to the public permanently. The reason: security concerns. "In one swift, final fiat," wrote Washington Post culture critic Philip Kennicott, "the architectural logic of Cass Gilbert's magnificent 1935 neoclassical structure, which dramatizes the open access to justice, has been rescinded."

We are turning into a society in which access to so many public places is being controlled by metal detectors and security guards, and we tend to go along with these precautions. Few people ask questions about checkpoints and closings, and most seem to accept full-body scans, metal detectors and restricted access to public buildings.

Why? Because we worship the god of security.

The alternative is to accept that life is fragile, and to realize that we cannot eliminate all threats to our physical well-being. Over the course of my 24 years in the ministry, I have seen children die of cancer, young men perish in traffic accidents, and healthy women lose their lives during routine surgery. Tragic deaths, every one of them. But religion teaches that death is not optional, and that no amount of duct tape, metal detectors and advanced medical technology will grant us immortality.

Every Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a season of spiritual preparation for Easter, I put ashes on the foreheads of my church members and say to them, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." One longtime member of the church cherished this service and always responded by saying, "Yes, I remember." Her funeral was last fall, and I told this story at her graveside.

One of the goals of religious faith is to fashion a life that is not consumed by fear of death. This can be done by looking for eternal value in each day on earth, eternal salvation in heaven, or some combination of the two. But these approaches are difficult to sustain in our advanced liberal society, where there is little consensus on eternal life, or even on what makes for a good life on earth. "But we can agree on things that we ought to fear," says Thomas Hibbs, professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University. The result is that "the pursuit of happiness gets transformed into the pursuit of freedom from unhappiness."

When we can agree only on what we ought to fear, the stage is set for the idolatry of security. After 9/11, we established a Department of Homeland Security, and borrowed billions from our grandchildren to fight two overseas wars in the name of national security. "We say, on our money, 'In God we trust,' " observes William H. Willimon, bishop of the United Methodist Church in North Alabama, "but our military budget suggests that this is a lie." Our trust is in the federal agencies, military campaigns and cutting-edge technologies that promise to protect us.

Faithful, But Ready

Such an investment in national security is to be expected in a country that prizes separation of church and state, and does not use religious principles as the foundation of its defense budget. We are not a nation of pacifists, and our spirituality has long followed the practical wisdom of the saying, "Trust in God and keep your powder dry."

But if the vast majority of us claim to trust in God, then we need to be prepared to put our money where our faith is. In 2008, we Americans put far more money into the Department of Defense and war on terrorism ($623 billion) than we voluntarily gave to all of the churches and charities across the United States ($308 billion). Based on spending patterns alone, the message is that we value national security more than spiritual security.

No amount of money can buy us complete safety, however, because we cannot achieve it by human efforts alone. "We live in an insecure world, and for Americans no other event has brought home that fact as has 9/11," says Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School. "Anything could happen, any time. Our lives could change, our way of life disappear. Ground Zero is the scar on the wound of our vulnerability."

Does this mean that we should abandon all screenings at airports? Of course not. Sensible precautions make us all safer, and deter those who want to perform evil, violent acts. But unless we, as a nation, want to descend ever deeper into debt and fear, we need to manage our risks instead of constantly attempting to eliminate them, and accept the fact that being vulnerable is a condition of human life. Remember, we are dust, and to dust we shall return. No further wars on terror or increasingly intrusive high-tech checkpoints are going to change this fundamental fact of life.

We also need to assess what our worship of the false god of security is doing to our souls. If we could somehow achieve invulnerability as a nation, what would this do to our national character?

"We would likely walk through the world with a John Wayne swagger," predicts Volf, as the nation becomes oblivious to the interests of others and comfortable with the prejudices about them. "Living in a secure but unreal world," he concludes, "we would be a danger to others."

National security is an expensive religion to practice, and it tends to increase our insecurity as we become more zealous about it, whether we are people of faith or atheists. We will never eliminate every threat to our personal and national well-being, and our efforts may strain our relations with neighbors as we make our barriers ever more impenetrable.

I believe that it is better to put our trust in God than in metal detectors, and to accept that our greatest security is always found in a power much higher than any branch of the federal government.

Henry G. Brinton is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia and author of an upcoming book on Christian hospitality.

The Page That Refuses To Turn

By Andrew J. BacevichOctober
25, 2010 | 12:00 am
Courtesy Of "The New Republic"

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to....”
—Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Julian Assange and his obnoxious Wiki-leakers just don’t get it: As far as Americans are concerned, the Iraq war is over, done, finished. We’ve turned the page, changed the channel, tied up the odd loose end, inserted the last punctuation mark, and moved on. And not a minute too soon: With Bush’s War barely ended, Obama’s War demands our undivided attention.
Assange is deluding himself if he thinks his dump of various and sundry classified documents relating to the war is going to distract us. He obviously hasn’t gotten the word: Now that Saddam Hussein’s no longer around, the world is an infinitely better place. ‘Nuf said.
Whether Iraq itself is a better place now that more than 100,000 Iraqis are no longer around—all of them killed in the mayhem unleashed by the U.S. invasion—is not a question that Americans are prepared to entertain. As to whether America itself is a better place given the loss of some 4,287 American war dead along with the physical and psychological suffering sustained by thousands of other soldiers and their families, not to mention the expenditure of at least a trillion dollars—well, let’s not go there.
Assange’s great offense is not to unearth deep dark secrets. The documents themselves have produced remarkably few genuine revelations. Rather his offense is that he is subverting the careful effort, already well-advanced, to construct a neat and satisfying narrative of the Iraq war, thereby enabling Americans to consign the entire episode definitively into the past.
Irresponsible contractor-mercenaries shooting confused but unarmed Iraqi civilians have no place in that narrative—as least, they’re not supposed to. Neither do similar episodes involving panicky and trigger-happy American troops. Ditto for evidence of the routine abuse of detainees in Iraqi prisons. Petraeus’s surge not the great victory it was cracked up to be? Unresolved sectarian and ethnic tensions? Indications that Iran is emerging as a principal beneficiary of prolonged U.S. exertions in Iraq? Don’t want to hear about it.
War is never a pretty thing, and the Iraq war ranks as a notably unpretty specimen, the more so the closer you examine it. To redeem the war requires that Americans peer none too closely at all that U.S. efforts have wrought in Iraq. Our general inclination, one encouraged by Republicans and Democrats alike, is to attend instead to Conrad’s “idea”—that which makes even the ugliest thing palatable.
What Americans set up and bow down before is a particular image of America itself. Central to that image is a belief in our own innocence and singularity—our chosenness. Sacrifices endured in the course of sustaining that image—sacrifices seldom touching families living in or near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, needless to say—are said to represent the cost of Freedom and to advance the cause of Freedom. And if mistakes occur along the way, well, that too forms part of Freedom’s cost.
Assange isn’t ready to write off the Iraq war as simply an instance of good intentions gone awry. He’s not ready to forgive. Although he’s unquestionably an arrogant jerk, on one point he’s absolutely right: With regard to Iraq, there’s a great accounting yet to be done. If Americans had a lick of sense, they would demand that accounting. Forgiveness and forgetting can wait.
Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book is Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.

And The Real Enemy Is

The US will continue to fail to convince Arabs that Iran, not Israel, poses the greatest threat to regional stability.

By Lamis Andoni
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2010 14:26 GMT
Courtesy Of "Al-Jazeera"

No sooner had Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, left Beirut last week, than Jeffrey Feltman, the US secretary of state for Near East affairs, arrived in the Lebanese capital.

Washington wasted no time in seeking to counter what it views as Iran's growing influence across the Arab world and Ahmadinejad's message of resistance to Israel.

But it is precisely that message that has so far foiled the US' relentless efforts to form a regional security pact to isolate and confront Tehran. Washington has failed - and will continue to fail - to convince Arabs that Iran, not Israel, is the real enemy.

A Sectarian Formula

This does not mean that Iran's agenda in the region has been entirely palatable to Arab states. It has been complicit in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, where its position remains opportunistic and deeply sectarian.

But Washington has no issue with that aspect of Iranian foreign policy. It was, after all, the US invasion that fed sectarian divisions within Iraq. And Washington has been happy to champion Shia political parties within the country in order to suppress its rich pan-Arab identity - all while being opposed to the Lebanese Shia group, Hezbollah.

That Washington does not have a favourite sect is not evidence of its commitment to secularism. It supports different sectarian formulas in Iraq and Lebanon to guarantee that neither country poses a threat to Israel.

In Lebanon, sectarianism has been employed to prevent national unity. And when that has not been sufficient Israeli wars have been used to quell resistance - whether by a Palestinian coalition with Lebanese leftists and pan-Arabists in 1982 or by Hezbollah in 2006.

But these wars backfired: The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon created Hezbollah, while the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 and the 2006 war anointed the movement as the only Arab force to defeat Israel in a major battle.

Marginalising Palestine

Through Hezbollah's triumphs, Iran has consolidated its influence in Lebanon and enhanced its image as the region's counter power to Israel. For in Iran, just as in the Arab world, confronting Israel helps to legitimise a regime.

The Iranian regime stepped into this role almost immediately after the 1978 revolution that transformed the country from a gendarme for US interests and an Israeli ally into a champion of the Palestinian cause.

Even the Iran-Iraq war failed to unanimously rally Arabs against Tehran, as evidenced when a 1981 US-backed summit intended to form an axis against Iran was boycotted by most Arab parties, including the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The majority of Arabs simply refused to see Iran as posing a greater threat than Israel.

In fact, the eruption of the first intifada in 1987 came about partly as a reaction to another US-backed summit, which sought to establish Iran as the main enemy of the Arab world - and in so doing to marginalise the Palestinian cause.

Yasser Arafat, the then PLO leader, was snubbed by the Jordanian hosts of the summit and by other Arab regimes, prompting him to boycott the official dinner and to declare that Palestine remained the core issue for the region. This attempt to humiliate the PLO provoked visible anger in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - a sentiment that was openly expressed during the intifada when it erupted less than a month later.

Fake Peace Process

But the US did not learn its lesson. More than two decades later it is still trying to create an Arab axis against Iran, while expecting Arabs to ignore Israeli occupation and aggression. And while a US-backed so-called 'moderate' axis comprising Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait does exist - brought together by legitimate and fictional fears of Iranian meddling in their affairs - none see a bigger threat to regional stability than Israeli expansionism.

These countries have often urged the US to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to enable them to effectively help in countering Iran. But consecutive US administrations have instead pushed a fake peace process focused more on solidifying Israeli supremacy than addressing the root causes of the conflict. The current administration's 'enthusiasm' for a resumption of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks is no different and is motivated more by a desire to provide a cover for its drive against Iran than achieving a suitable and just settlement to the conflict.

Israel is now openly lobbying the West to either declare war on Iran or to support an Israeli strike against the country - or at least its nuclear facilities. It uses the Iranian president's rhetorical threats to justify this, but for all Ahmadinejad's words it is Israel that is engaged in the real and systematic destruction of lands and lives.

But the US and Israel do not fear that Iran poses a real, existential threat. It is the deterrence Iranian power represents that they seek to eliminate, thus allowing Israel to freely pursue its aggressive expansionist policies.

For its part, the US is opposed to the existence of a regional power that it does not consider an ally. So when Ahmadinejad was warmly welcomed in Beirut, Feltman made an unscheduled visit to protest against "Iran meddling in Lebanon's affairs".

The former US ambassador to Lebanon, known for his constant meddling in Lebanese affairs, was declaring Lebanon - and with it the Arab world - to be within the US' sphere of influence.

Vying For Influence

This is not to say that Iran is not also vying for regional influence - something stressed by an Iranian parliamentarian who declared that Ahmadinejad's visit asserted "Iran's supremacy". And there is no doubt that Iran's agenda is not always compatible with Lebanese or, more broadly, Arab interests. But its support for Hezbollah in its battles against Israel has elevated its status among the Arab public in a way that no anti-Iranian Arab axis can deny or top.

The real problem is that US meddling and support for Israel obstructs any critical discussion of Iran's role in the region. The US has no interest in such a discourse because it simply expects Arabs to endorse its own agenda, including normalising ties with Israel even as it continues to suppress Palestinian rights.

But none of the US' Arab allies would dare - or could afford - to follow the American line completely, particularly if this includes a strike against Iran. For Arab governments would then be pressed to explain their support for a war against Iran, when they have so clearly failed to confront Israel.

The US-led war against Iraq shattered any illusions that the US could bring stability or democracy to the region - a fact that even its staunchest Arab allies are aware of. And there is a growing awareness that both Iran and the US - and in a different way, Turkey - have been vying to fill a political gap resulting from Arab weakness.

But Washington is truly delusional if it thinks it can defeat Iran by convincing Arabs that its pro-Israeli agenda could bring peace and stability, let alone justice to the region.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.