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. S Hall

    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.

    People at the height of their power don't have to worry about losing a little respect from a small time twitter journalist.

    July 6, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Neuro-conservative

    Your error in judgment was not Twitter's fault, and had nothing to do with the 140-character limit. It revealed a serious moral failing on your part.

    This is no different, and no better, than admiring Mussolini for making the trains run on time, or Hitler for improving the German economy. Such statements would be met with unanimous, and well-deserved, censure throughout our society.

    Moreover, your statement that Fadlallah was "[o]ne of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot" begs the question - which other giants of Hezbollah do you respect a lot"?

    Finally, how does your reporting on the Middle East reflect your rather nuanced position on the moral qualities of Jew-hating terrorists?

    July 6, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Renee

    I'd have much more respect for Nasr (which wouldn't be hard cause right now my respect for her is below zero) if she would just admit and accept that she is biased like everyone else in the world. She would be better trying to convince us she can, and has, effectively keep her bias out of her journalism. I wouldn't be true, but there's a chance I might believe that at least she's trying to be honest. There is no way that tweet can be taken any other way than that she admired that monster. Her "apology" is insulting.

    July 7, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sofie LaSalle

    My God. I never thought that in America you have to be soo reprimanded for not taking a side that favors a Jewish or an Israeli side.
    I mean, as i read most of these people's comments, it sounds to me that they are having a CALL OF DUTY for the Jewish state or something.
    It was just a comments, even let s say an ill or not a wise put comments. That s all..
    This journalist is expressing her personal experience with this figure and backed it by some moderate action that this figure tried doing with his organization.
    Isnt the US Govt doing the same thing with some moderate Taliban to win them over the radical one.
    The fact you keep alienating everyone who opposes Israel as a radical is going to keep the States at war forever.

    We, in Europe, think Israel is America's thorn for a long time to come....

    July 7, 2010 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Sofyan Almoayed

      Sofie LaSalle, very well said. Octavia, thank you for sharing your personal thoughts.

      July 7, 2010 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
    • George

      Very well said!

      July 7, 2010 at 3:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Allen Sellton

      Well, "you" in Europe don't have much time left do you? Probably a good idea to jump off your sinking, socialist failure ship of a continent before Sharia law shows you what a real "thorn in the side" is like.

      July 7, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • .

      you in Europe created this disaster

      I hope Israel remembers some of its friends in Europe if it ever met its demise which is what the world is trying to do

      July 7, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Sofie, you are a fool.

      July 7, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • M

      We, in America, remember that the true necessity of a Jewish state was realized after you, in Europe, couldn't control your rampant anti-Semitism.

      July 7, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      Moral relativism in Europe again. WWI, WWII, Rwanda, the Balkans. You just sit back and let tyrants do as they wish. Let's see what you expect of us when someone attacks your borders again, because I for one, will not vote to come to your rescue.

      July 8, 2010 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      @allen
      "Well, "you" in Europe don't have much time left do you?"
      Talk about denial ( or just plain old stupidity )
      You know, china is gonna want her money ( and her scientists ) back someday;
      Oh well, i guess you can always borrow some unobtanium from the church of Scientology 😛

      July 8, 2010 at 5:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. J D Re

    The loss of one Hezbollah member is irrelevant as his supporters will soon find another to follow who is as full of hate for non-believers as he.

    July 7, 2010 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      I bet you ooze enlightenment at night.

      July 8, 2010 at 5:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. Kevin Bford

    Gee, I wonder how many comments CNN has refused to post? At this point I'm guessing at least a couple hundred – those that think Nasr is full of it.

    July 7, 2010 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. Darine Sabbagh

    Dear Octavia, Thank you for the clarification. Sadly people often forget that everything in the middle east is controversial and dual and there is no simple black and white, it only depends in what respect you are looking at it.

    It is sad how your tweet got misinterpreted by people who are not aware of the Lebanese History, our lifelong traditions of 'live and let live' and tolerance towards all sects, but most importantly the deep respect for the dead we are raised with regardless of the person in discussion.

    It is also forgotten that the word respect, in our middle eastern context, does not mean to follow or agree upon, it just means an unbiased evaluation of a person's charisma and life accomplishments, regardless of right or wrong.

    Anyways, hope the best is taken out of this story, and maybe more people will understand what the middle east is truly about rather than labeling all under the 'terrorrist' and 'opressor' labels.

    July 7, 2010 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Bford

      Octavia clarified essentially nothing about her actual beliefs. In the middle east, not everything is controversial and dual, as you say. If someone is killed they are dead. If someone isn't dead they are alive. That is a concise example of black and white, and that's what Fadlallah understood well.

      You are completely redefining the English word "respect" while destroying the original English meaning. According to your "middle eastern context" definition of respect, Hitler's "charisma and life accomplishments, regardless of right or wrong" deserves respect. Is that "what the middle east is truly about..."? Maybe you should use an arabic word for "respect" instead.

      July 7, 2010 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Antoine

      Well put Darine! Couldn't have said it better...

      July 7, 2010 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • M

      I'm sorry... remind me again how Lebanon's current anti-Israeli policies reflect a tradition of "live and let live" and "tolerance."

      July 7, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      And what might be the deceased life accomplishments? Please clarify so that we can all "evaluate." Shall we measure his accomplishments in terms of innocent lives taken? That would seem to be a good starting place.

      July 8, 2010 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. Thok

    @Octavia Nasr @CNN Why did CNN not cover the funeral ? Where is the video of her interview with Fadlallah ?

    July 7, 2010 at 3:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mireille

    1 – respect is not prize and When a person is to pay attribute to people of an alternative culture, it shows tolerance & broad-mindednes – there is even a famous quote saying – respect your enemies

    July 7, 2010 at 3:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. Kevin Bford

    Do you believe Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, as "One of Hezbollah's giants who [you] respect a lot", was a terrorist? Yes or no please. You say your tweet was about "controversial or sensitive" issues. Actually, it's about fact. Do you believe Fadlallah was a terrorist or not?

    July 7, 2010 at 3:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      Do we believe you're an idiot?
      yes we do.

      July 8, 2010 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Stelza

      One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, fool. And Octavia shame on you for retracting your original message of condolence. Respect factor – for someone who has an opinion regardless of what it was then retracts it at the bark of a dog – is below zero.

      July 8, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. sami ben gharbia

    this incident shows how much people around here disrespect freedom of speech. Nasr is free to express her regret of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. He is not a terrorist neither Hezbollah is. You should requestion the US terrorism first!

    July 7, 2010 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Abdelrahman Ayyash

      Thanks a lot Sami,
      I'm completely agree with what you said,
      the fanatics should turn to the Israeli violations for Human Rights, and the US crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan!!
      This is not shame for Octavia to show sorrow for Fadlallah's passing away! The shame on those who know how to practice repression on the freedom of speech!

      July 7, 2010 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Bford

      Sami,

      Here in America, Nadr is free to speak about Fadlallah the terrorist, and you are free to speak about Fadlallah the terrorist. Thankfully, I too am free to speak about Fadlallah the terrorist, or Hezbollah the terrorists, or Hamas the terrorists, or Al-Qaeda the terrorists, or any of the hundreds of Islamic terrorist organizations. Free speech means people who you don't agree with can still speak.

      July 7, 2010 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
  12. Basma Badran

    Well, expressing sentiment in one sentence and still please everyone requires high cultural and linguistic skills... Ms Nasr should perhaps avoid tweeting altogether, as most of the Middle Eastern issues are highly controversial, easily spun and distorted, requiring elaboration. Good luck with the Aftermath.

    July 7, 2010 at 5:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Bford

      As a CNN editor Nasr must already have high cultural and linguistic skills. Middle Eastern issues are easy to define; non-Muslims (Israel) want to survive and prosper. Muslim countries want to destroy Israel. Syria, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Qatar, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Turkey, AzerBaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Baluchistan, Oman, Kuwait, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Sudan, etc. In a nutshell, all Muslims want to kill non-Muslims.

      July 7, 2010 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Antoine

      @Kevin Bford

      I'm sorry to say but your comment shows how much you really don't know about the region:

      First you say muslim countries and you include Lebanon. FYI, Lebanon is not a muslim country, almost 50% of the population is Christian, that makes them non-muslim and there goes your argument right there... Second Israel's population is not all jews, you have Christians as well as muslims... So stop making this about religion please!

      Second, and back to the main issue at hand, Mrs Nasr has clearly explained in her post that she does not agree with Hezbollah's actions past & present so I don't really see the point of bashing this over & over...

      You people try and read between 140 characters of a tweet and fail to understand what she is clearly saying in her post above!

      If you're trying to get her to take a side, I don't believe that will happen for the very simple reason that as a journalist you should stay unbiased. And as one person mentioned it earlier, you are always free to watch Fox who's not biased at all (in case you missed it, that was a sarcasm)...

      Good day sir!

      July 7, 2010 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Bford

      @Antoine

      First, Lebanon is 60% Muslim and 39% Christian. Even though you are wrong, when you say "almost 50% of the population is Christian" that still means that Lebanon is less than 50% Christian – so even by your own incorrect standards Lebanon is a Muslim majority country. Do the math.

      Second, I never made any mention of Jews in Israel – I said non-Muslims. The majority of Israel is by far non-Muslim, but the small minority of Muslims in Israel have far more freedom than in any Muslim nation in the middle east – I'm glad that muslims get to experience freedom in Israel!

      In fact it is all about religion and Muhammad's decree against Jews and "People of the Book", as clearly stated in the Quran – even to the point of murdering them if necessary.

      Nasr has never specifically stated that she personally considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization – she simply stated what Western countries believe. As a CNN editor, if she doesn't consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, she should leave the country and start working for Al-Jazeera.

      July 7, 2010 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Antoine

      @Kevin Bford

      I believe you have your own mind set and I respect that but you better check your sources cos the numbers you mention are far from the truth.

      Second, if there is a country in the middle east where muslims enjoy freedom more than anywhere else, it's Lebanon which is a model for how so many different religions can co-exist. Granted, there are parts where people enjoy lesser freedom but that's no more different than Israel or any place else.

      Again, you bring up the religion issue and I will not comment on that because it wouldn't be constructive at this point to fuel and direct this mini-debate in a direction where it's not supposed to be heading.

      Regarding the hezbolla debate, let it be known once and for all that most of us do not approve of their ways or beliefs, however and unfortunately for the time being, they are necessary. Why? well, because a certain neighboring country (Israel in case u missed it) feels that they can violate our air space or land whenever it pleases them and nobody does a thing about it and because if it wasn't for the presence of the hizbolla militia, Israel wouldn't have left Lebanon in 2000. I would have preferred that our own army be responsible for that, unfortunately, due to the politics at the time (US had given syria and israel a green light to pillage Lebanon, under the pretext that they are helping resolve the palestinian headache and don't even get me started there!)

      Anyway, my rant here is opening doors for an endless debate about who's right or wrong, when clearly nowadays the focus should be on peaceful coexistence...

      Back to Mrs Nasr issue, I honestly believe that her tweet meant nothing more than it is, paying respect to a dead man regardless of this man's beliefs or actions... & this is part of our culture as Christians...

      July 7, 2010 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  13. Omar

    No one should apologize for expressing his/her views and opinions!!!! i am not with hizballa nor with fadlalla, but i think in a country like US freedom of expression is one of the basic rights, people should write, talk and blog freely with no restrictions. Do you call it freedom to stop journalists and bloggers from expressing their views!!!!!

    July 7, 2010 at 5:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Bford

      Omar,

      Who has stopped "journalists and bloggers from expressing their views".? Who has stopped Nasr from writing, talking or blogging freely with no restrictions? Who is demanding an apology for his/her views and opinions?

      Obviously you don't understand what Freedom of Speech means.

      July 7, 2010 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. Tarek

    I don't understand why you felt the need to apologize Ms. Nasr...

    Does a person HAVE to be pro-Israeli or else he's a terrorist or a supporter of terror?!? George Bush's rhetoric you're either on our side or theirs, expired with the expiry of the whole neo cons rule of the world with their pro-Zionist hate-spreading, war creating agenda...

    Fadlallah was a moderate among extremists and for that I believe he deserves a lot of respect....

    July 7, 2010 at 5:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Bford

      Tarek,

      Nasr didn't "apologize" for her tweet. Where does she say "apologize"?

      Nasr says she lost "family members" (plural) in the U.S. Marine barracks attack by Islamic Jihad that killed 299 in Beirut in 1983. Fadlallah was the spiritual leader of Islamic Jihad at that time. Seven years later in 1990, she interviewed Fadlallah and says she respected him in his interview.

      My question: Why would Nasr interview and respect Fadlallah when he led to the death of her family?

      July 7, 2010 at 6:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. Omar

    ok Kevin,
    Terrorism terrorism terrorism....Facts? what facts... apparently i know much better about freedom of expression, because at least i can say that terrorism starts when individuals/ nations kill unarmed citizens. I totally agree that whomever is with killing unarmed citizens is a terrorist...But don't forget state terrorism!!! Vietnam/ Hiroshima/ Afghanistan/ Iraq/ Palestine etc...

    July 7, 2010 at 6:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin Bford

      Omar,

      Let's stay on topic, Omar. You said "Do you call it freedom to stop journalists and bloggers from expressing their views!!!!!". My first question to you was "Who has stopped journalists and bloggers from expressing their views".?

      Do you have an answer to that question or not?

      July 7, 2010 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      @kevin
      well lets see, JewNN has sacked Octavia for expressing her own personal views ..
      freedom of speech in america stops at the gates of holy Judea, the seat of american legislative and executive powers.
      Is that clear or do you feel like watching another hollywood movie for reference?

      July 8, 2010 at 5:17 am | Report abuse |
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