July 6th, 2010
06:48 PM ET

Nasr explains controversial tweet on Lebanese cleric

Fadlallah died Sunday in a hospital in Beirut, Lebanon.

My tweet was short: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon"

Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East.

It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I'm sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah's life's work. That's not the case at all.

Here's what I should have conveyed more fully:

I used the words "respect" and "sad" because to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman's rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of "honor killing." He called the practice primitive and non-productive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam.

I met Fadlallah in 1990. He was willing to take the risk of meeting with a young Christian journalist from the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Fadlallah was at the height of his power. As I was ushered in, I was told that he would not look at me in the eye and to make it quick as there was a long line of dignitaries waiting.

The interview went 45 minutes, during which I asked him about Hezbollah's agenda for an Islamic state in Lebanon. He bluntly told me that was his group's dream but there would be room for other religions. He also joked at the end of the interview that the solution for Lebanon's civil war was to send "all political leaders without exception on a ship away from Lebanon with no option to return."

He challenged me to run the entire interview on LBC without editing. We did.

This does not mean I respected him for what else he did or said. Far from it.

It is no secret that Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah hated with a vengeance the United States government and Israel. He regularly praised the terror attacks that killed Israeli citizens. And as recently as 2008, he said the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust were wildly inflated.

But it was his commitment to Hezbollah's original mission - resisting Israel's occupation of Lebanon - that made him popular and respected among many Lebanese, not just people of his own sect.

In 1983, as Fadlallah found his voice as a spiritual leader, Islamic Jihad - soon to morph into Hezbollah - bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 299 American and French peacekeepers. I lost family members in that terror attack.

And it was during his time as spiritual leader that so many Westerners were kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon.

When the Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990 with Syria taking full control of Lebanon, Hezbollah was and remains the only armed militia in Lebanon. Under Syria's influence however, Hezbollah - declared a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union started becoming even more militant, with designs beyond Lebanon's borders to serve agendas for Syria and Iran.

Fadlallah himself was designated a terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department.

In later years, Hezbollah's leadership apparently did not like Fadlallah's vocal criticism of Hezbollah's allegiance to Iran. Nor did they like his assertions that Hezbollah's leaders had been distracted from resistance to Israeli occupation of portions of Lebanon and had turned weapons against their own people.

At first, he was simply pushed to the side, but later wasn't even referred to as a Hezbollah member. Rather, he was referred to as the scholar - the expert on Islam - but nothing more. During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, his honorary title "Sayyed" - indicating that he's a descendant of the prophet - was dropped any time he was mentioned on Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV and other Hezbollah media outlets.

Through his outspoken Friday sermons and his regularly updated website, Fadlallah had a platform to spread what many considered a more moderate voice of Shia Islam than what was coming out of Iran. Immensely popular in Lebanon among the various religious groups, he also had followers across the region including in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and even as far as Morocco in northern Africa.

Sayyed Fadlallah. Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It's something I deeply regret.

soundoff (315 Responses)
  1. FreeMiddelEast

    Sacking a loyal journalist for tweeting? Why do you say America is a free world. It isnt. If this was in the middleeast, she would not have been sacked! Very funny

    July 9, 2010 at 2:35 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Reham

    @arnslcesc i completely agree with u.. i support both Helen Thomas and Octavia Nasr

    July 9, 2010 at 3:26 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Averroes

    This comes to prove that there is really no such thing as freedom of speech. It is all a load of bull when it comes to Israel. Israel must remain above all laws that govern humanity. It can kill peace activists with impunity, it can bomb children with impunity, it can preach racist hatred against Arabs with impunity, and when someone sends condolences over the death of a respected and loved scholar, she is immediately fired! Thank you CNN for restating the obvious. I am sorry she apologized, because it just added to her humiliation.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. tariq

    with such event – firing a senior reporter for her/his own beliefs – i dont see any more what is the difference between the now a days in culture in the US than it is in the middle east and the rest of the 3rd world.
    i can see clearly that the US is falling behind in terms of freedom of expression and human rights.
    this is enough evidence that the US has already lost its wars.....
    what waste, as a youngster, i used to look at the US model as an inspiration for me and my whole generation... now i pity it.

    July 9, 2010 at 6:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Christina

    They should have sacked her for being too stupid for a Middle East editor, the guy was not a giant of the party, he was even one of their main opponents at a certain time, and was banned from visiting Iran.
    You know what? I am so glad to see her go. Don't get me wrong, we here in Europe know very well Fadlallah was a cleric and not a political figure and respect him. I'm happy to see Octavia go since all along she has been so supportive of Israel, her reports have all been biased, reporting opinion instead of fact and pure garbage- just watch her view on the Flotillas, its so obvious all along defending the Israelis. She deserves this since from the start she was without substance and professionalism.
    Fadlallah was a great man, he never harmed anything and anyone. He was famous for incorporating scientific logic into religion- and all those who claim he is a 'terrorist' are ignorant and re-iterate the propoganda they have been fed. Hizbolla doesn't even acknowledge him as the great Ayotallah since he does not represent them. Both Octavia and those writing posts here that he was Hizbolla's giant and encouraged terrorism- well just keep talking since nobody takes you seriously anyway. Waste of a human brain.

    July 9, 2010 at 7:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. m sharif

    This event really highlights that Israel and its supporters are insecure. They know that everything that Israel stands for is wrong and defenseless. They also know that there myth will be exposed one the world starts asking the tuff questions about Israel. So the best way is not to allow anyone in the western media to even come close to asking these questions. And if anybody like Octavia Nasr and Helen Thomas dared to raise ay question related to Israel's injustice they are immediately pushed aside gagged and made example for everyone to see. Where is the freedom of speech?!

    July 9, 2010 at 7:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Mick from Sydney Australia

    ok im struggling here, iv been struggling for a few years now... Can someone please define a terrorist for me?

    July 9, 2010 at 8:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sara from Syd

      someone that is extremist in views and is bent on destroying others for their own benefit.. mostly associated with muslims these days because thats how the media perpetuates islam.. but dont forget one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter.. i see zionist jews to b the real terrorists of the world, destroying the palestinian people and stealing their land away from them – a second holocaust in the making..

      July 10, 2010 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. Real American

    The truth as an American who has lived in both parts of the world, Mideast – America, there is a huge disconnect between the truth and the media. Can a country(US) jeopardize its sovergnity with having citizens of Isreal in top level positions in US, and allowing them to fight in another countries militiary(IDF)? What Arabs are in such a position in our country(US)? At the end of the day there are too many double standards to certain groups, however is it right to say we accept one and not the other? I guess fear mongering will continue as a means to justify these actions to the majority of our country. We as Americans should not lose focus on our foundation, which Thomas Jefferson said best "Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none." or we will be finding ourselves holding the bag or should I say passing this bag to our future generations asking what happened to our country.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. MM

    shameeeeeeeeeeeeeee on you stupid people ... attacking a deased man.......

    July 9, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. PaulTheOctopus

    I feel sorry for Nasr,this tweet will destroy her professionally not only with CNN but probably everywhere she goes.No one
    will employ her,she 's most likely gonna pack her things and go back to Lebanon.

    July 9, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Juan

    This is a sad day for freedom of speach, may the U.S.A one day free it self from the interest grups that strangle it.
    Force and courage from Chile Nasr!

    July 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ramzy

    What you mentioned in your tweet was the real truth. Not sure why you regret? You already lost your job. What else are you afraid of loosing? He stood up for women rights. He actually made a revolution in the kind of taboos he touched on. But these issues are only apparent to well-educated people like Octava, who by the way, is not a Moslem but rather a woman of wide vision.

    Anyone who does not serve the US interests is a terrorist. USA does not have Friends, USA has interests. Remember what Bush said "Either you are with us or Against us".

    July 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Roch

    Octavia, if I were you, I'd join Aljazeera English or Arabic. Do not make the same mistake are go Right. Go Left, it'll make you work at ease and it will not put your career at stake, not even after 20 years. As for why go Left? It's because the kind of wars that the West is waging is completely Wrong. It's immoral and illegal to invade and occupy. The West will Never win such a War. The days of occupying others' Land are over. Wake up, it's the 21st Century, not the middle ages.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Martha Z. Martinez

    Sounds like she wrote something quickly without really thinking about it. She was really focusing or expressing her feminist thoughts. Nobody is perfect, but Americans, just as most of the people in the world, see things in Black and White, with no grays in between or patience to analyze or inquire WHY she tweeted her message. I must say she should have added: "...who stood for women's rights".

    July 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Hypocrites

    The Israeli Government denies the Armenian Genocide because of its historical and financial ties to the Ottoman Empire (a.k.a. Turkey). Pro-Israeli groups, ignorant Americans or manipulative Jews, however, certainly do not mind labeling a Holocaust denier as a sociopath.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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