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. Jazz

    You might as well respect Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and James Jones for sticking to their values in the face of adversity. You are a stupid, stupid woman – and I mean that in the most derogatory way.

    July 7, 2010 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. Joe

    Over 1,000,000 jews were driven from Arab countries and were taken in by Israel. All of their posessions were stolen. They do not lie and whine about it they have moved on and created a great country where one never existed. They should not let children educated in todays western universities comment anywhere as they are brainwashed idiots. And NO I am not a jew or Israeli. I am an educated southerner that has learned real history no Howard Zinn.

    July 7, 2010 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. A. Ros

    I guess following your logic Octavia, it was sad when Adolf Hitler died because he was such a champion for Animal Rights!

    How can you look into a mirror everyday?

    July 7, 2010 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Tedberens

    If Octavia Nasr admired someone who hated the United States, then let her move to Lebanon. Oh, wow, she admires him because he said killing and beating women was wrong. What a brave fellow. And you do know why he wanted all "politicians" to leave Lebanon, don't you? Because he wants the Mullahs to rule via theocracy and fatwahs. Notice how Octavia Nasr carefully states that he was "declared" a terrorist – not that he was one. Her explanation is a bit like saying that she admires Hitler for his organizational skills, or because he didn't beat his dog.

    July 7, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. OxyCon

    A good question to ask would be "WTH is a Muslim terrorist sympethizer doing in a senior position of an American cable news network?"
    Go get a job making Palestinian children's shows where children are tought how to be suicide bombers and how to kill Jews. That's where your heart is. Go...follow your heart. Leave America alone and go to the Middle East where you have so much "respect" for terrorist organizations. It's time for you to go.

    July 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Larry King

    Oh please. I've never read something so ridiculous in my life. How can you respect someone when you claim to disagree with the majority of his viewpoints? I hear Hitler gave a lot of money and was really nice to children. Does that mean I should have respect for him despite everything else he's done?

    Respect is an all or nothing thing. You can't respect a person because you agreed with one thing they said or did over the course of their life. And clearly, whatever he puportedly did for women's rights in the arab world (which clearly was next to nothing) has not resulted in tangible changes for any women in the arab world. When a cleric stands up and says that an arab woman is allowed to drive a car, I'll be impressed.

    July 7, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      I've never read something so ridiculous in my life"

      Have you read the Talmud?

      July 8, 2010 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. robert shanks

    nice job. at least you showed us yours, and CNN's true feelings and bias – revered?, admired? by other terrorists of course. since you wear your status an a "mid-east" journalist on your sleeve so loudly..tell me what happened on October 23, 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon, and who took the credit for the event??

    July 7, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dan Sichel

    He was a murdering SOB and she needs to lose her job for praising anything about him.

    July 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DJ

    Vile anti-Semite.

    CNN has outed itself as an outlet that peddles hate.

    July 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Darrel

    I'm very happy you were fired. Enjoy your long un-employment under Obama's economy, you Islamic terrorist appologist.

    July 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Shame on you... obviously you -and other commentators- dont know Octavia and it is so rude and unacceptable to laucnh a personal attack on her. She's a decent person, very professional and by the way she is not muslim.

      But she did a mistake... an error of judgement. Are you so error-free???

      July 8, 2010 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. Darrel

    CNN is heavily censoring this!!!!!!!!!! Time for a complete 100 percent boycott of CNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 7, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ed

    Nasr is nothing more than an emotional dingbat, harder even to believe the clinton news network has the ba11s to do the right thing, though this is nothing more than playing to the polls. I will keep on finding my news elsewhere, don't really care about emotion or lies.

    July 7, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      Yes, well there's always hollywood, nothing like a movie where americans actually win and in a few years from now when america collapses people will ask. but we were at the height of our power!!! even Fran dresher restored democracy to an entire country with her incessant wailing!!

      July 8, 2010 at 5:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. Degrassifan

    Octavia, I respect you and the right to free speech. I abhore political correctness and I wish you all the best.

    July 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. vain

    Haha it's good to see dimbulbs like Nasr get shafted. Leftists always have some twisted logic for their stupidity. Fortunately more people are taking notice and like Sarah Palin said: "don't sit down and shut up"

    July 7, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      "don't sit down and shut up"

      Yes, bend over backwards and whine instead.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
  15. ojsimpson23

    That will teach her to mess with the Juice!

    July 7, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
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