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. Moshe

    Good job CNN, and America, watch what you say and do or we'll make another 911.

    Moshe from the Massad

    July 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Danny

    Lebanese Christians in the U.S. suffering from the "Stockholm syndrome". First Helen Thomas and now Octavia Nasr. Even though Octavia interviewed the terrorist face to face and told her what he will do to Christians in Lebanon, she still feel sad for the death of a terrorist (giant!!!) woo air.

    July 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mick from Sydney Australia

      Danny yaaaaa airr... well how about you tell us about the time when this Scholar "Terrorist" strapped himself with explosions and attempted to blow himself up killing your christian brothers in lebanon... you might need to remind us u ignorant fool

      July 9, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  3. JW

    Let's see now. Ms. Nasr reported the death of a 74 year-old man known to her and who knows how many thousand or million others to be an advocate of terrorist tactics to even the battle field a bit in what he and those who share his beliefs and politics to be a war in defense of his religion and home. She reports that she found something he did in his 74 years to be worthy of her respect. I note that she didn't use the word "admire." I perceive this to be not at all a "lapse of judgement" but the addition of both balance to the news about this man's death as well as a touch of humanity. After all, Is not balance the mother's milk of professional journalism? She diid not advocate that the world did or should respect the man for the positions he has taken on the rights of women in Islam. She simply said that she did. CNN's punishment of her is way out of proportion to the scope and effect of the comment. Such intellectual folly may well be received in the world of fundamentalist Islam as buttressing their argument that terrorism, not reason is the effective tool of discourse when dealing with the western world. Unfortunately, many millions of moderate muslims may be swayed toward this view by unbalanced actions isuch as the firing of Ms. Nasr. Out of one side of our mouth we advocate the equal participation of women in the affairs of the world. Ms. Nasr participated, and out of the other side of our mouth we said, "You're fired!" Tell me CNN, what will that do for our credibility?

    July 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. charlie

    First Helen Thomas, now Octavia Nasr...any other Arab-American (and Christian at that) journalist about to be axed for speaking up?

    July 8, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mark D

    I had no idea there were so many liberals in the world. I know this site is loaded with them. She knew exactly what she was saying. She should have been fired, instead the dignified her by letting her resign. She did sport a treasonous statement and should have been deported promptly. I wonder if she is an American. I wouldn't think a proud American would display such love for one that hates America. She never said he liked America did she? Who cares what he did along time ago. It's what you did yesterday people are interested in . Those are what people base their opinions on. Everyone usually starts out with a good heart, they change along the way. Murderers didn't start out as killers, it was either taught to them or they learned it. I just want someone to tell me why everyone wants to come to this country if it's just so stinkin bad? Why don't all these folks just go back where they came from and never return. If you hate us that bad, do it from your own country where you have no free speech and would be put to death for criticism of your government, if you would actually call their society a government. If you an American you don't say your anything else first, just an American. I hate to see people with a flag from their country and an American flag. It just shows me you are baggage that is proud of the trash you came from. Go back to your beloved country flag waiver.

    July 8, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cherubian

    I think she really used poor judgement and as a journalist, she should have known better. As for the anti-Israeli supporters, just leave them alone, leave their land alone, and they will not bother anybody.

    Also, America has done a good job supporting Israel until we got this current president, who seems to be pro-muslim, but we always seem to brush over that. Even how the Prime Minister of Israel came to the White house this year and our dear president disrespected him.

    I am a proud American and anything that threatens our well being as Nation should be dealt with by our leaders. Israel is not a threat, they did not come over here and bomb our country, or kill our American soldiers, or danced in the streets with joy when 911 occurred. We are now cozying up and giving rights to people that hate us, what is wrong with that picture and why aren't more Americans outraged by this?

    July 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cherubian

    America has done a good job supporting Israel until we got this current president, who seems to be pro-muslim, but we always seem to brush over that. Even how the Prime Minister of Israel came to the White house this year and our dear president disrespected him.

    I am a proud American and anything that threatens our well being as Nation should be dealt with by our leaders. Israel is not a threat, they did not come over here and bomb our country, or kill our American soldiers, or danced in the streets with joy when 911 occurred. We are now cozying up and giving rights to people that hate us, what is wrong with that picture and why aren't more Americans outraged by this?

    July 8, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sara

    Shame on every single person who has judged the deceased without knowing them. Why do you have minds? To THINK, QUESTION AND INVESTIGATE not to absorb the lies that CNN spins and regurgitate it at any given chance. Sayed Fadlallah built schools, helped the poor, set up mosques and orphanages, and yet he is labelled a terrorist? The terrorists aren't- and never were, Muslim sheik's with long beards... The real terrorists and the Zionist animals in Israel, building up hatred of Muslims and executing a second holocaust in Palestine. Every day that you are fed lies, an innocent mother and her child are being ripped apart and murdered by Israeli troops. But all you do is let someone do the thinking for you.. PATHETIC.

    July 8, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. shiva

    so like, was the case against octavia stronger because she's not white? very sad. can't imagine the land of the free would be so full of chains

    July 8, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. shiva

    nyt and wp are not pro-zionist? are you joking?

    July 8, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. shiva

    CNN is worse than FOX and ABC. BTW, is a bias for israel and against arabs not a bias somehow??? cos apparently that's what a lot of people on this blog think???

    July 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Heather

    I think we are living under a USSR regime!

    July 8, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. humphrey20

    Our puppet government in Iraq - led by Maliki – went to pay their respects to this man. Maliki rarely leaves the Green Zone, but he trooped up there to Lebanon to say goodbye.

    So why is it that we have spent $3 trillion dollars (according to Stiglitz/Bilmes), and lost 5000 young lives to put in place the Maliki government which loves this guy, but we cannot tolerate one little journalist who likes him?

    July 8, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Steven J.

    Dear CNN,

    There is a big world outside washington. A long carear destroyed by tweet was wrong. There are cetain double standards you like to look into.

    Heres something to think about:

    Iraq's Dawa Party, the party of our close ally, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attended the funeral of Fadlallah's funeral. United States spends nearly a trillion dollars, loses over 4,000 of its own troops and yet we approve of this.

    EU examples: Frances Guy, heaped praise on Fadlallah far more gushing than anything Nasr said. Ambassador Guy wrote that he was one of the people whom she enjoyed meeting most and with whom she was most impressed; that he was "a true man of religion, leaving an impact on everyone he meets, no matter what their faith"; that "Lebanon is a lesser place the day after his absence"; and that "the world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths."
    Many EU countries sent messages of grief.

    Nasr's summary firing even more astonishing is that Nasr herself was an unremarkable journalist who rarely if ever provoked controversy, had no history of anti-Israel or pro-Terrorist sentiments, and blended perfectly into the American corporate media woodwork.

    And having a former AIPAC official with an obvious bias toward Israel is perfectly consistent with a news network's "credibility. Wolf Blitzer??

    Do you remmember, CNN's Chief News Executive Eason Jordan after complaining about journalist's deaths during Iraq war. How Lebanon and Iraq war were covered??

    There are plenty of reason why US is the only country which vetos in the UN. CNN you do not understand the world view. Beyond borders looks like a gimmick to people.

    CNN missed a big context that this man was a religious spiritual leader in a country(Lebanon) which was invaded more than twice during his life time by Israel.

    The reality is that "pro-Israel" is not considered a viewpoint at all; it's considered "objective." And here lies the problem.

    I would like the editors to think about it.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Liz

    I can not believe that CNN, whom should be setting an example for freedom of expression is actually suppressing such freedom. A lady obviously dedicated to her job, doing it for 20 years, is getting fired over a tweet, just because CNN has to please the jewish community and lobbist. How far will the media go to kiss up. What happened to American liberties? I guess America is no longer ran by Americans. White House and financial industry is a perfect example. So disgusted by CNN.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • PaulTheOctopus

      "Sayyed Fadlallah. Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist"
      I think in her attempt to limit the damage in the post above,she actually aggravated it.

      July 9, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
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