Israel and the anti-Muslim blow-up

I don’t know why I am at all surprised that the American Right – including the Republican Party – has decided that scapegoating Muslims is the ticket to success. After all, it’s nothing new.

I remember right after 9/11 when the columnist Charles Krauthammer, now one of the most vocal anti-Muslim demagogues, almost literally flipped out in my Chevy Chase, Maryland synagogue when the rabbi said something about the importance of not associating the terrorist attacks with Muslims in general.

It was on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, but that did not stop Krauthammer from bellowing out his disagreement with the rabbi.  Krauthammer’s point: Israel and America are at war with Muslims and that war must be won.

It was shocking, not only because Krauthammer’s outburst was so utterly out of place but also because the man was actually chastising the rabbi for not spouting hate against all Muslims – on the Day of Atonement.

The following year, the visiting rabbi from Israel gave a sermon about the intifada that was then raging in Israel and the West Bank.

A sermon with a twist

The sermon was a nutty affair that tearfully made the transition from intifada to Holocaust and back again.

I remember thinking, “this guy is actually blaming the Palestinians for the suffering of his parents during the Holocaust.” I thought I had missed something because it was so ridiculous.

Then came the sermon’s ending which was unforgettable. The rabbi concluded with the words from Ecclesiastes.

“To everything there is a season. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

He then looked up and said: “Now is the time to hate.”

At first, I thought I had not heard him correctly.  He could not be calling on the congregation to hate. There were dozens of children in the room. It wasn’t possible.

But it was. To their credit, many of the congregants I spoke with as we left the sanctuary were appalled. Even the right-wingers were uncomfortable with endorsing hate as a virtue.

Yet, the rabbi was unrepentant. I emailed him to complain and he told me that he said what he believed. Nice.

One could ask what the Middle East has to do with the vicious outbreak of Islamophobia (actually Islamo-hatred) that has seemingly seized segments of this country.

US Islamophobia’s origins

The answer is everything. Although the hate is directed at Arab-Americans (which makes it worse) it is justified by invoking 9/11, an attack by Muslims from the Middle East.

This hate is buttressed by the hatred of Muslims and Arabs that has been routinely uttered (or shouted from the rooftops) in the name of defending Israel for decades

Just watch what goes on in congress, where liberals from New York, Florida, California and elsewhere never miss an opportunityto explain that no matter what Israel does, it is right, and no matter what Muslims do, they are wrong.

Can anyone possibly argue that such insidious rhetoric has no impact on public opinion?

At the very least, it gives anti-Arab and/or anti-Muslim bias a legitimacy that other forms of hate no longer have. Bigots who hate African-Americans or Jews, for instance, feel that they must claim that they don’t. That is not the case with Muslims who can be despised with impunity.

And here the liberals are worse than the conservatives because liberals exempt Muslims and Arabs (and now Turks) from the humanitarian instincts that inform their views of all other groups.

Conservatives combine their Arab-bashing with a general xenophobia, as is evidenced by their views on immigration.

Illiberal Liberalism?

Liberals, on the other hand, single out Muslims for contempt.

They do it actively – i.e., by defending every single Israeli action against Arabs with vehement enthusiasm. And they do it passively, by refusing to evince an iota of sympathy for Muslims who suffer and die at the hands of Israelis – like the 432 Palestinian children killed in the 2008 Gaza war.

Liberals join conservatives in rushing to the floor of the House of Representatives and Senate to defend the Israelis against any accusation (remember how they robotically attacked the Goldstone report on Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, not caring at about the horrors Goldstone described).

And then they read their AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee lobby)talking points, enumerating all the terrible things Arabs have done while Israel has, Gandhi-like, consistently offered the hand of friendship. It would be laughable if the effect of all this was not so ugly.

Why wouldn’t all this hatred affect the perception of Arab-Americans too? Hate invariably overflows its containers, just like hatred of Israel sometimes crosses over into pure old-fashioned anti-Semitism.

Bottom line: it’s a witches’ brew that is being stirred up, and it is one that will no doubt produce violence. But the witches are not all on the right. Just as many liberals are stirring the pot to please some of their donors.

I’m not saying you should not blame Fox News’ Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh for all this hate. But don’t forget to blame your favorite liberal and progressive politicians. With a few (very few) exceptions, they are just as bad.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Israel’s Operation Imam – Islamic Posts Filled by Secret Police

ob interviews for the position of imam at mosques in Israel are conducted not by senior clerics but by the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, a labour tribunal has revealed.

Sheikh Ahmed Abu Ajwa, 36, is fighting the Shin Bet’s refusal to approve his appointment as an imam in a case that has lifted the lid on Israel’s secret surveillance of the country’s Islamic leaders.

At a hearing last month, a senior government official admitted that 60 undercover inspectors were employed effectively as spies to collect information on Muslim clerics, reporting on political opinions they expressed in sermons and relaying gossip about their private lives.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa took his case to the tribunal after the Shin Bet rejected him three years ago as the imam of a mosque in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv, despite his being the sole candidate. He was told after a security clearance interview that his views were “extremist” and too critical of Israel, even though an imam is not officially defined as a security-related position.

“During one interview with the Shin Bet, they told me they had been collecting information on me since I was 15,” Sheikh Abu Ajwa said.

“I am the first imam ever to challenge the Shin Bet’s role in our appointments. It’s important to win a precedent-setting ruling from the courts to stop this kind of interference.”

Michael Sfard, a human rights lawyer representing Sheikh Abu Ajwa, said that, as far as it could be determined, no similar vetting of rabbis took place before their hiring.

“This sort of surveillance relating to a non-security position like an imam comes straight out of the era of the Stasi police in East Germany or the McCarthy period in the United States,” he said.

The traditional independence of the local Islamic authorities was removed at Israel’s creation in 1948, when the government confiscated almost all waqf property — endowments of land and property used for the benefit of the Palestinian Muslim community — removing the main source of income for clerics, the Islamic courts and charitable services.

According to experts, as much as a fifth of Palestine’s cultivated land was waqf property before 1948. Israel passed most of it to Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund or sold it to developers.

Responsibility for hundreds of mosques, cemeteries and other holy sites, meanwhile, was handed either to the religious affairs ministry or to Islamic boards of trustees appointed by the government.

Today, most imams and all Islamic judges must submit to a security clearance interview before being awarded a state salary.

Israel’s Arab minority, one fifth of the population, have long charged that many of its Muslim leaders are little more than government placemen, whose Islamic learning takes second place to their co-operation with the authorities.

Sabri Jiryis, a historian of Israel’s early years, has noted that the boards of trustees repeatedly rubber-stamped government decisions to sell off Islamic property to developers. Most notoriously Jaffa’s board approved in 1971 selling an Islamic cemetery in Tel Aviv on which the Hilton hotel was built.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa said: “In Jaffa, the government appointed many clerics because they had proved their loyalty, though not to other Muslims. They sold off our property — but you can’t sell what belongs to Allah.”

Jaffa, which was once the commercial capital of Palestine, today has a population of nearly 50,000 residents, of which two thirds are Jewish and the rest Muslim.

The sheikh has been preaching at the seafront Jabalya mosque, one of six in the town, since he was 19, making him reportedly the youngest person to serve as an imam in Israel’s history. He qualified as an imam at an Islamic college in the Israeli Arab city of Umm al Fahm in 1998.

The local community universally backed him as the new imam when his predecessor retired three years ago, but he cannot be officially recognised, and is ineligible for a salary, without the interior ministry’s approval.

As part of his application, he was interviewed by a Shin Bet officer named “Dror” who, he said, waved at him a folder of confidential information collected by undercover inspectors. “We will decide who is the next imam,” Dror told him, according to Sheikh Abu Ajwa. The sheikh was asked mainly about his political opinions and demonstrations he had attended.

The Shin Bet’s assessment, revealed to the tribunal, was that Sheikh Abu Ajwa’s appointment “may jeopardise security and peace in Jaffa”. In addition, the agency told the Haaretz newspaper that the sheikh “has had a long involvement in hostile activity, which manifested itself in incitement against the state and its Jewish citizens”.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa said this was a reference to his position as the leader in Jaffa of the popular northern wing of the Islamic Movement. Its leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, has raised the hackles of Jewish officials both by running a campaign warning of Israel’s intentions to take over the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and by promoting a boycott of parliamentary elections.

The head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, warned in 2007 that his agency’s role was to prevent any activities, including democratic ones, that worked against the interests of a Jewish state.

Yaakov Salameh, the head of the religious minorities department at the interior ministry, told the tribunal last month that his inspectors collected information on Muslim religious leaders, including rumours about their private lives, such as whether they had had an affair or beat their children. The information was then handed to the Shin Bet, which assessed whether they were suitable to be appointed.

Mr Sfard said it was an “extraordinary” admission, given that under Israeli law the criminal records of candidates for religious appointments could only be considered if the applicant agreed to the information being handed over.

David Baker, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, which is responsible for the Shin Bet, refused to comment on whether the appointment of rabbis followed the same procedures as those for imams.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa observed that many rabbis, particularly those in the settlements, said “very extreme things but no one spies on them. In fact, they have full government support.”

He admitted he was outspoken in his sermons, but said he had never broken any laws and never advocated violence. “I talk about our Palestinian identity and criticise the policies of the state in its treatment of us as a minority,” he said. “These are very sensitive things that they want to prevent us from talking about.”

During one Shin Bet interview, he said, he had been told: “We know everything about you, we are always watching you.”

The goal of such interviews was often to recruit Muslim clerics to become informers themselves, he added.

REf: Counterpunch

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

Zionism Laid Bare

The essential point of M. Shahid Alam’s book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism, comes clear upon opening the book to the inscription in the frontispiece.  From the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi, the quote reads, “You have the light, but you have no humanity.  Seek humanity, for that is the goal.” Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston and a CounterPunch contributor, follows this with an explicit statement of his aims in the first paragraph of the preface.  Asking and answering the obvious question, “Why is an economist writing a book on the geopolitics of Zionism?” he says that he “could have written a book about the economics of Zionism, the Israeli economy, or the economy of the West Bank and Gaza, but how would any of that have helped me to understand the cold logic and the deep passions that have driven Zionism?”

Until recent years, the notion that Zionism was a benign, indeed a humanitarian, political movement designed for the noble purpose of creating a homeland and refuge for the world’s stateless, persecuted Jews was a virtually universal assumption.  In the last few years, particularly since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, as Israel’s harsh oppression of the Palestinians has become more widely known, a great many Israelis and friends of Israel have begun to distance themselves from and criticize Israel’s occupation policies, but they remain strong Zionists and have been at pains to propound the view that Zionism began well and has only lately been corrupted by the occupation. Alam demonstrates clearly, through voluminous evidence and a carefully argued analysis, that Zionism was never benign, never good—that from the very beginning, it operated according to a “cold logic” and, per Rumi, had “no humanity.”  Except perhaps for Jews, which is where Israel’s and Zionism’s exceptionalism comes in.

Alam argues convincingly that Zionism was a coldly cynical movement from its beginnings in the nineteenth century.  Not only did the founders of Zionism know that the land on which they set their sights was not an empty land, but they set out specifically to establish an “exclusionary colonialism” that had no room for the Palestinians who lived there or for any non-Jews, and they did this in ways that justified, and induced the West to accept, the displacement of the Palestinian population that stood in their way.  With a simple wisdom that still escapes most analysts of Israel and Zionism, Alam writes that a “homeless nationalism,” as Zionism was for more than half a century until the state of Israel was established in 1948, “of necessity is a charter for conquest and—if it is exclusionary—for ethnic cleansing.”

How has Zionism been able to put itself forward as exceptional and get away with it, winning Western support for the establishment of an exclusionary state and in the process for the deliberate dispossession of the native population? Alam lays out three principal ways by which Zionism has framed its claims of exceptionalism in order to justify itself and gain world, particularly Western, support.  First, the Jewish assumption of chosenness rests on the notion that Jews have a divine right to the land, a mandate granted by God to the Jewish people and only to them.  This divine election gives the homeless, long-persecuted Jews the historical and legal basis by which to nullify the rights of Palestinians not so divinely mandated and ultimately to expel them from the land.  Second, Israel’s often remarkable achievements in state-building have won Western support and provided a further justification for the displacement of “inferior” Palestinians by “superior” Jews.  Finally, Zionism has put Jews forward as having a uniquely tragic history and as a uniquely vulnerable country, giving Israel a special rationale for protecting itself against supposedly unique threats to its existence and in consequence for ignoring the dictates of international law.  Against the Jews’ tragedy, whatever pain Palestinians may feel at being displaced appears minor.

The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that came as the result of Zionism’s need for an exclusivist homeland was no unfortunate consequence, and indeed had long been foreseen by Zionist thinkers and the Western leaders who supported them.  Alam quotes early Zionists, including Theodore Herzl, who talked repeatedly of persuading the Palestinians “to trek,” or “fold their tents,” or “silently steal away.”  In later years, the Zionists spoke of forcible “transfer” of the Palestinians. In the 1930s, David Ben-Gurion expressed his strong support for compulsory transfer, crowing that “Jewish power” was growing to the point that the Jewish community in Palestine would soon be strong enough to carry out ethnic cleansing on a large scale (as it ultimately did).  In fact, the Zionists knew from the start that there would be no persuading the Palestinians simply to leave voluntarily and that violent conquest would be necessary to implant the Zionist state.

The British knew this as well.  Zionist supporter Winston Churchill wrote as early as 1919 that the Zionists “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” In a blunt affirmation of the calculated nature of Zionist plans and Western support for them, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, like Churchill another early supporter and also author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, wrote that Zionism “is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”  It would be hard to find a more blatant one-sided falsity.

Alam traces in detail the progression of Zionist planning, beginning with the deliberate creation in the nineteenth century of an ethnic identity for Jews who shared only a religion and had none of the attributes of nationhood—neither a land, nor a common language or culture, nor arguably a common gene pool. Here Alam covers briefly the ground trod in detail by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, whose book The Invention of the Jewish People, appearing in English just months before Alam’s book, shattered the myths surrounding Zionism’s claim to nationhood and to an exclusive right to Palestine.  But Alam goes further, describing the Zionist campaign to create a surrogate “mother country” that, in the absence of a Jewish nation, would sponsor the Zionists’ colonization of Palestine and support its national project.  Having gained British support for its enterprise, Zionism then set about building a rationale for displacing the Palestinian Arabs who were native to Palestine (who, incidentally, did indeed possess the attributes of a nation but lay in the path of a growing Jewish, Western-supported military machine).  Zionist propaganda then and later deliberately spread the notion that Palestinians were not “a people,” had no attachment to the land and no national aspirations, and in the face of the Jews’ supposedly divine mandate, of Israel’s “miraculous” accomplishments, and of the Jews’ monumental suffering in the Holocaust, the dispossession of the Palestinians was made to appear to a disinterested West as nothing more than a minor misfortune.

Addressing what he calls the “destabilizing logic” of Zionism, Alam builds the argument that Zionism thrives on, and indeed can survive only in the midst of, conflict. In the first instance, Alam shows, Zionism actually embraced the European anti-Semitic charge that Jews were an alien people.  This was the natural result of promoting the idea that Jews actually belonged in Palestine in a nation of their own, and in addition, spreading fear of anti-Semitism proved to be an effective way to attract Jews not swayed by the arguments of Zionism (who made up the majority of Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) to the Zionist cause.  Early Zionist leaders talked frankly of anti-Semitism as a means of teaching many educated and assimilated Jews “the way back to their people” and of forcing an allegiance to Zionism.  Anti-Semitism remains in many ways the cement that holds Zionism together, keeping both Israeli Jews and diaspora Jews in thrall to Israel as their supposedly only salvation from another Holocaust.

In the same vein, Alam contends, Zionists realized that in order to succeed in their colonial enterprise and maintain the support of the West, they would have to create an adversary common to both the West and the Jews.  Only a Jewish state waging wars in the Middle East could “energize the West’s crusader mentality, its evangelical zeal, its dreams of end times, its imperial ambitions.” Arabs were the initial and enduring enemy, and Zionists and Israel have continued to provoke Arab antagonism and direct it toward radicalism, to steer Arab anger against the United States, to provoke the Arabs into wars against Israel, and to manufacture stories of virulent Arab anti-Semitism—all specifically in order to sustain Jewish and Western solidarity with Israel.  More recently, Islam itself has become the common enemy, an adversary fashioned so that what Alam calls the “Jewish-Gentile partnership” can be justified and intensified.  Focusing on Arab and Muslim hostility, always portrayed as motivated by irrational hatred rather than by opposition to Israeli and U.S. policies, allows Zionists to divert attention from their own expropriation of Palestinian land and dispossession of Palestinians and allows them to characterize Israeli actions as self-defense against anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim resistance.

Alam treats the Zionist/Israel lobby as a vital cog in the machine that built and sustains the Jewish state.  Indeed, Theodore Herzl was the original Zionist lobbyist.  During the eight years between the launch of the Zionist movement at Basel in 1897 and his death, Herzl had meetings with a remarkable array of power brokers in Europe and the Middle East, including the Ottoman sultan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Victor Emanuel III of Italy, Pope Pius X, the noted British imperialist Lord Cromer and the British colonial secretary of the day, and the Russian ministers of interior and finance, as well as a long list of dukes, ambassadors, and lesser ministers.  One historian used the term “miraculous” to describe Herzl’s ability to secure audiences with the powerful who could help Zionism.

Zionist lobbyists continued to work as assiduously, with results as “miraculous,” throughout the twentieth century, gaining influence over civil society and ultimately over policymakers and, most importantly, shaping the public discourse that determines all thinking about Israel and its neighbors.  As Alam notes, “since their earliest days, the Zionists have created the organizations, allies, networks, and ideas that would translate into media, congressional, and presidential support for the Zionist project.”  An increasing proportion of the activists who lead major elements of civil society, such as the labor and civil rights movements, are Jews, and these movements have as a natural consequence come to embrace Zionist aims.  Christian fundamentalists, who in the last few decades have provided massive support to Israel and its expansionist policies, grew in the first instance because they were “energized by every Zionist success on the ground” and have continued to expand with a considerable lobbying push from the Zionists.

Alam’s conclusion—a direct argument against those who contend that the lobby has only limited influence: “It makes little sense,” in view of the pervasiveness of Zionist influence over civil society and political discourse, “to maintain that the pro-Israeli positions of mainstream American organizations . . . emerged independently of the activism of the American Jewish community.”  In its early days, Zionism grew only because Herzl and his colleagues employed heavy lobbying in the European centers of power; Jewish dispersion across the Western world—and Jewish influence in the economies, the film industries, the media, and academia in key Western countries—are what enabled the Zionist movement to survive and thrive in the dark years of the early twentieth century; and Zionist lobbying and molding of public discourse are what has maintained Israel’s favored place in the hearts and minds of Americans and the policy councils of America’s politicians.

This is a critically important book.  It enhances and expands on the groundbreaking message of Shlomo Sand’s work.  If Sand shows that Jews were not “a people” until Zionism created them as such, Alam shows this also and goes well beyond to show how Zionism and its manufactured “nation” went about dispossessing and replacing the Palestinians and winning all-important Western support for Israel and its now 60-year-old “exclusionary colonialism.”

Ref: counterpunch

Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and the Wound of Dispossession and co-author, with Bill Christison, of Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation, published last summer by Pluto Press.  She can be reached at kb.christison@earthlink.net.

VIDEO: The Power of Nightmares A MUST SEE!!! (the truth about Al Qudia!)

The Rise of the Politics of Fear

This originally aired on the BBC in 2004.

VIDEO: PALESTINE WILL BE FREE

This is the first time an animated peace music video has been produced on Palestine: “We are recognised as pioneers and constantly pushing the bounds of creativity and innovation. This animated music video for our new star artist Maher Zain is just another step in that direction and certainly not the last”, said Bara Kherigi, Director of Awakening Records. Destined to be an international success, the video features the story of a young brave Palestinian girl who never loses hope for a better future despite the harsh realities surrounding her.

Michael Savage Savage spews vicious anti-Muslim hate speech on his national radio show.

* To “save the United States,” lawmakers should institute “outright ban on Muslim immigration” and on “the construction of mosques.”

* “90 percent of the people on the Nobel Committee are into child pornography and molestation, according to the latest scientific studies.”

* The U.S. Senate is “more vicious and more histrionic than ever, specifically because women have been injected into” it.

* Adherents of Islam would do well to “take your religion and shove it up your behind” because “I’m sick of you.”

*Ref: Mediamouse

: a

National radio!!!
Welcome to US racist A!
What a sick, racist and commercialised country!
Allah, buddha, shiva and all you Gods out there but the
american God – help us by saving us from them!

: a

The Myth of the Shia Crescent

AMMAN – Recently, Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz offered an unequivocal veto on a key issue in the Middle East peace process. Any return of the Golan Heights to Syria would result in an “Iranian foothold” on Israel’s border and would thus not only be politically naïve but irrational.

Mofaz’s statement is symptomatic of a perception that is now deeply entrenched, not only in the Middle East, but in the United States as well. That notion is of a hegemonic Iran that is attempting to dominate the region through an array of Shiite proxies. This Iranian fifth column is believed to stretch from Beirut via Damascus, Gaza to Baghdad and finally from Iran to Saudi-Arabia to Yemen. Recent armed clashes between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government are, it is said, just another sign of Iran’s hegemonic reach.

Ironically, this perception brings Israel some rather unlikely partners. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt claims that Shiites are “always loyal to Iran,” while King Abdullah of Jordan has coined the axiom about a rising “Shiite crescent.” This “rise of the Shiites” and the resulting “Sunni/Shia divide” is alleged to be creating an ever widening chasm in the region.

Although this perception may convince at first glance, it is ultimately based on generalizations that reveal more about its advocates than the actual reality on the ground.

Take Iraq, where the looming “Shia crescent” is often blamed for much of the chaos. Recent developments in Iraq allegedly point to a fundamental clash between Sunnis and Shiites in the region and bear witness to malevolent Iranian interferences. But is Iraq really symptomatic of a greater Shia scheme?

True, sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq have escalated since the fall of Saddam. But contrary to common perception, Iraqi Shiites do not form a homogenous block that opposes the supposedly unified Sunnis. Indeed, the contrary is true. In the light of Iraqi nationalism that crosses sectarian boundaries, it is farfetched to consider the Iraqi Shia merely proxies of Iran.

Instead, what we are witnessing in Iraq today is not ever increasing friction between religious communities but escalating internal power struggles within the Sunni and Shiite communities. Ongoing violence in Basra and the fighting between Sunni “Awakening Councils” and Al Qaida in Iraq demonstrate this. In fact, the current escalation points to an increasing political struggle between the federalist position of Shia Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and the centralist position of Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr. This struggle will ultimately define the political structure of Iraq.

Here is where Sunni-Shiite cooperation comes in. Widely unnoticed, Iraqi Sunni and Shia centralists have managed in the last couple of months to form a united parliamentary platform that leaves sectarian tensions behind. More than a hundred followers of Ayad Allawi, Al Sadr, and others have joined their ranks. This supra-sectarian platform calls for a central government administration of Iraq’s natural resources and the postponement of the looming referendum to settle the status of the city of Kirkuk.

Change within the government is also noteworthy. Sunni ministers who had been boycotting the government since last year have returned to their posts. Thus, Iraq is seeing both escalating intra-sectarian violence and cautious steps towards inter-sectarian alliances.

And what about Iran? Contrary to the blame games being played out in the US, Iran cannot be accused of an unrestrained aggressive stance toward Iraq. Of course, no Iranian decision-maker is interested in a US-success in Iraq that might well put regime-change in Iran back on the agenda. But the rationale behind Iran’s policy of economic, social and military engagement seems to be first and foremost, defensive.

Memories of Iraq’s eight year war of aggression against Iran in the 1980’s have not faded. From Iran’s perspective, any future threat originating from Iraq needs to be averted by ensuring the participation in Iraq’s government of Shiites and Kurds.

These complexities are lost on many observers when matched up against the convenient and catchy rhetoric of the “Shia Crescent.” But they have not gone unnoticed among ordinary Arabs. A recent poll by the University of Maryland indicates that a large majority of Arabs in the region consider Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad one of the three most popular political leaders worldwide. Only 11% identified Iran as the biggest threat to their security. So if a Shia threat organized by Iran really does exist, why is it being ignored by those that it purportedly targets – the Sunni Arab majorities?

Rather than objectively describing the actual political situation in the Middle East, the notion of a fundamental Iranian threat is being used to continue unconditional Western support for increasingly unstable regimes. Moreover, the overstatement of the threat posed by Iran is also being used as a convenient excuse for political inflexibility and stagnating reform processes throughout the region.

But exaggerating the supposed Shia threat has a price. Continuous talk of a “Sunni-Shia divide” might ultimately develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Alarmist rhetoric may, in the end, jeopardize rather than protect the status quo in the region.

Ref: Project syndicate, by Michael Bröning

Michael Bröning is director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation (FES) in Amman, Jordan. FES is a political foundation affiliated to the Social Democratic Party of Germany.