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. Phil Giordano

    Darn carpet head lover. No brains. Go ahead and live with them. Just don't get accused of cheating. You may die by rocks being thrown at your head. Go to sleep thinking about that tonight.

    July 7, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Josey

    CNN is hardly a relevant news source so it doesn't surprise me that they would hire then fire a terrorist sympathizer.

    July 7, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John

    CNN should be ashamed. They are incapable of dealing with the truth in all of it's complexity. Rather, they seek to paint the entire middle eastern situation in broad black and white, good guy bad guy terms, when nothing could be further from the truth. CNN seeks to keep the average US news consumer fat dumb and misinformed.

    I hope Ms. Nasr can find work at a real news organization.

    July 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Respecting Terrorists is a surefire to lose one's credibility for objectivity. Well done, CNN!

      July 7, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Todd

    Sure are a lot of apologists here for a nation in the middle of a long-term genocide. It's funny how many people here outright say they hate CNN for their anti-Israeli bias (hahaha a Western news source with an anti-Israel bias, are you people insane?) yet are more than happy to comment on a CNN blog.

    For people incapable of reading the apology without injecting their own bias into it, have a friend that doesn't immediately spaz out and accuse everyone of anti-semitism read it and tell you their impressions.

    July 7, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Timothy Lindley

    I bet you could pick up a job at Al Jazeera now! They would love to take in a terrorist supporter.

    July 7, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. joe

    Good riddance to both pieces of excrement.
    I am very happy to read that these two pieces of garbage have got some of what's due them.
    Too bad only one is singing in the dirt. What a fitting finish for the other. Just too bad it took so long.

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

      That is no way to talk about your parents!!
      Do you french kiss your mama with that tongue?

      July 8, 2010 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. MLE

    Hateful, narrow-minded, and bigoted= people who make comments on CNN blog posts.

    July 7, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ronald Pottol

    This was absurd. Not a saint, but a good guy as far as major figures in current Islam. And yet there is no problem with pro-Israeli slant (frankly, Israel gave up the moral high ground a few decades ago, in their own words, they are deliberately starving the west bank, just lucky the Palestinians aren't up for sitting down an singing "We Shall Overcome").

    Here is what the British Ambassador said:"The passing of decent men" http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/guy/entry/the_passing_of_decent_men

    July 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. john (not really my name)

    CNN is incapable of the depth of reporting that is necessary to actually report the news.

    That is why it is terrifying to them that one of their reporters would voice some respect of a member of Hezbollah as the result of her actual knowledge of the situation, and her ability to see who is capable of good or potentially good actions, as opposed to those who sow only discord.

    They would be equally reticent to report the truth ( warts and all ) about Israel itself; deliniating between who are the ones who are exacterbating the situation, violating human rights and breaking international law, and those that are working sincerely towards an actual peace.

    Rather, they are happy to feed the American public a constant diet of vapid talking heads who regurgitate the same pointless, jingoistic drivel about the entire situation in the middle east, leaving people here with no understanding of how the VAST majority of the world views the situation, much less those in the middle east.

    CNN is really just FOX re branded, a world federated wrestling version of the news, with cartoon good guys and bad guys that everyone is fooled into loving or hating.

    Perhaps after 9/11 part 2, people here will start to become sufficiently angry at our news sources and government for rolling over and selling this drivel about "hating our freedoms" that got us stuck in Iraq for nothing when the truth is a GREAT deal more complex and would help us to form foreign policy that would put an end to the war on terror forever..

    July 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • StarofDavid

      well said but violence and terrorist acts are not neccessary to make our wake our people, it will take few more years but the seeds of doubts are growing and the answers are political not military misadventures or stupid Mossad operations in the USA

      July 9, 2010 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. The Sanity Inspector

    Civilization's enemies have a way of becoming liberals' mascots.

    July 7, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. john (not really my name)

    Her explanation of her comments is probably the most informative thing I have ever seen or heard about the middle east from CNN (well, not from CNN, but DESPITE CNN, I suppose).

    It is clear why they must fire her. She raised the bar on news reporting above the black and white, jingoistic drivel that CNN is committed to.

    I wish her well, Boycott CNN.

    July 7, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Peace on Earth

    Time to start some serious house cleaning at CNN, or maybe it's time for a merger with Al-Jazeera?

    July 7, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. miscellany101

    I deeply regret that Nasr was fired for a Tweet whose maximum allowed number of words is 140 when her more precise 747 word essay above probably more clearly defines her position. Free speech, I thought, was also something that was revered in America as long as it didn't involve inciting or inflaming others towards violence or in the case of a journalist, infringe on their ability to do their job. She didn't ask any CNN employee to go on the air with a script that contained any elements of her tweet! Other illustrious CNN employees like Wolf Blitzer, and Larry King are free to express their opinions both on and off television about controversial issues without any damage to their careers. Deborah Solomon of the NYT is able to interview Tzipi Livni and speak of the romanticism of the era of terrorism in which her (Livni's) parents married and nothing is made of that despite the fact Livni's parents were members of a group, the Irgum which was internationally recognized as a terrorist organization at that time. There clearly is a double standard in the arena of public opinion which must stop. It's sad CNN doesn't have the courage or integrity to be the world's leader in respecting free speech, promoting it or respecting the rights of their employees to self expression. Ms. Nasr, my deepest apologies.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
  14. M

    Just out of curiosity: If Nasr had claimed to be "sad to hear of the passing" of an ardent racist who was one of the white supremacist movement's "giants [she] respect[ed] a lot," would everyone here still be defending her "freedom of speech"?

    July 8, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Gerard Mc Ardle, Belfast & Drogheda

    I'm sure her services will now be required by Press TV (Depressed TV) who would welcome her with open arms. (Sorry for mentioning that arms word, but I meant the limbs protruding from the shoulders not the things you fire). As for the deceased Ayatollah, he may have been an all right of a fellow years ago but he was a wee devil (literally speaking) at the time of his passing to many who detest Hezbollah, me included. But God will judge him properly...because God knows his sins best.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
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