Sun, Jul 23, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Anti-US sentiment grows across the Middle East

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , DAMASCUS

In mosques from Mecca to Marrakesh, sermons at Friday prayers underscored both the David-versus-Goliath glamour that many Arabs associate with Hezbollah's fight against Israel and their antipathy toward the US and its allies in the region for doing so little to stop another Arab country from collapsing into bloodshed.

"Our brothers are being killed in Lebanon and no one is responding to their cries for help," said Sheik Hazzaa al-Maswari in his Friday sermon at the Mujahid Mosque in Sana, Yemen's capital.

"Where are the Arab leaders?" he said. "Do they have any skill other than begging for a fake peace outside the White House? We don't want leaders who bow to the White House."

The tone of the sermons suggests the fighting in Lebanon is further tarnishing the image of the US in the Arab world as being solely concerned with Israel's welfare and making its allied governments look increasingly like puppets.

"What is creating radicalism in the region is not authoritarian regimes," said Mustafa Hamarneh, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. "Mainly it is American policy in the region -- survey after survey shows that."

The attacks against Arab leaders from the pulpit were all the more surprising because so many governments have exerted some manner of control over sermons in recent years.

In Damascus prominent prayer leaders took some Arab countries to task -- although without mentioning by name such critics of Hezbollah as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

"What gives us pain is the Arab position," said Mohamed al-Habash, a cleric at the Al Zahra Mosque. "They are entering a conspiracy against the Arabs, their brothers."

In an interview, he said the US was helping religious extremists by encouraging the Israelis to continue their onslaught. By not working harder to stop the deaths of scores of Lebanese women and children, he said, the US is abetting terrorists' recruiting efforts.

"The United States is creating more Zarqawis, more bin Ladens in the Mideast every day," he said.

The Saudi government has taken a strong public position against Hezbollah's having brought on the crisis by capturing two Israeli soldiers, condemning the organization's "uncalculated adventures."

Yet the senior Saudi imam took an indirect swipe at the US for claiming to promote human rights while leaving the mounting deaths of civilians all but unmentioned.

"Where are those who filled the world with slogans of freedom and democracy?" he asked. "Don't they fear that history will condemn them for their double standards?"

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