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. Martin W. Gomez

    All I can say, that If this cleric has been your idol, then it explains a lot about youself...
    This Ayatollah, just as others do not contribute anything to the world. They still live
    in the dark ages. What makes a modern and educated woman to adore these type of clerics?
    Maybe it depends on where you were born and what yov'e absorbed when you were
    growing up.

    July 11, 2010 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. leftover

    Nasr is a victim of censorship.
    David Weigel was fired by the Washington Post for expressing scorn for the likes of Rush Limbaugh . Eason Jordon was fired by CNN for publically expressing concern about the U.S. military’s appalling habit of shooting at journalists not officially "embedded." Back in 2003 NBC fired Peter Arnett for remarks on Iraqi TV raising doubts about Bush Jr’s invasion of that country. The right had accused him of treason. MSNBC fired Ashleigh Banfield for suggesting that the American media were all becoming mimics of Fox TV. Even Phil Donahue got axed because he was perceived as being critical of President Bush Jr.’s war.
    CNN has become a propaganda tool. It's shameful...the betrayal of trust displayed by CNN. This isn't journalism. No wonder so many people turn to Jon Stewart for "news."

    July 11, 2010 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Martin

    Octavia Nasr wrote something positive about this man. She apologises for the error of judgement she made in sending her comment out in 140 characters. I admire her for the comment and the error of judgement as she describes it.

    The problem with the world we live in at present is that we take those with opposing views and attempt to demonise them. This serves no other purpose than to breed resentment, perpetuate misunderstanding and encourages continued and worsening strife. It is far easier to encourage people to fight the demons we create and paint than it would be if we were to paint a more rounded picture of people and their views.

    Shouldn't her comments merely have started a debate rather than lead to her sacking? I expect there will be more truth in the numerous comments to this article that we ever get from traditional media anyway.

    This is CNN, this is our view, you make sure you uphold that view or we will terminate your employment. And what is that view? Where does it come from? Why can't we challenge it? This my friends is why traditional media will soon lose its voice and why it deserves to.

    July 11, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dylan Thomas

    i remember a few years ago arnold schwartzenager publicly stating his admiration of adolf hitler, now he's govornor of california... hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.....

    July 11, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Fadella

    Nasr, due to regret what you have written you become loose and you lost our respect,you must keep it because you are not starter in CNN.

    July 12, 2010 at 5:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. Fadella

    CNN does not support 140 characters of his professional staff.
    U.S. wants to export democracy to other countries by force.
    Really it's like to export AIDS.The viruses USA-Zionism is worse than HIV.
    All must protect themselves.

    July 13, 2010 at 5:50 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bob

    Hire her back. Journalism needs people with knowledge and the willingness to post more than the status quo.

    July 18, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joe Douglas

    I had been a supporter of Israel for the past 30 years, but have recently had a change ot heart and mind following the murderous assault on Gaza in December 2008 and the recent attack on the aid flotilla. I now see Zionism as a continuation of the genocide which the Jews used against the Canaanites 3000 years ago. Does 'God told me to do it' justify genocide??? I don't think so. I salute the brave people who have given their careers and lives to resist the Israeli assault on the Palestinian people - Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr, Rachel Corrie and the nine aide workers killed in May. May their sacrifices give the rest of us courage to do likewise.

    July 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Gary Heidt-Johnson

    Just found out about the departure/firing of Ms Nasr after returning from vacation. CNN's future coverage of the Middle East will be the less for it. Could there not have been a more measured response for her error in judgement?

    August 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Archangel

    not all muslims are terroriists... But all terrorists are Muslims Extremists.

    August 8, 2010 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. Paul S

    Way to go, CNN. You've destroyed the last thinning shred of credibility you had. I'm dropping you from my cable package, and purging you from my RSS feeds. You're an embarrassment to the world of journalism.

    September 1, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
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