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. Jill Harper

    i respect and admire Octavia. i might not necessarily agree with her opinion but i think she is allowed to have it. i think she explained her stance. CNN is a joke to get rid of her after all the controversial mess that they allowed Lou Dobbs to do. Obviously CNN is controlled by people who are sympathetic to Israel and that is why this travesty was allowed.

    i think we should have a movement to have CNN bring Octavia back!!

    July 8, 2010 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. freedom4usa

    At least CNN did the right thing and let her go...she was fired today from what I understand;though I still don't watch CNN unless I have no choice.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  3. Nick Morton

    Serves you right, lover of terrorists. Hypocrisy is that the people who fired you love those same terrorists just as much.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. Surprised by CNN

    Does it really matter, her job is in no danger on CNN, they have always supported terrorist and told the American people not fear people like this....come on what is a few bombings among people you have a deep respect for. CNN will have to put her in time out, but she will find her way back and be better than ever...this is just like Obama one minute he has problems with Israel...then people in the US let it be known we back them now Barack is best friends with them again. CNN will learn from the Chosen One lead.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. BobtheBuilder

    Would it be fair if an Iranian news reporter, for example, said he admires Bush for being a women's rights pioneer and gets fired for that statement?

    July 8, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  6. Talleyrand

    Ms. Nasr, working at CNN tells most of us you are not a journalist anyway. But with those creds, you may well get a good job elsewhere, while real journalists get paid crumbs for writing real stuff. Believe me, I know how it works, 28 years in the business...

    What the story reveals, however, is exactly the problem why we have war in the Middle East, why we had 9/11, etc.... It is because the news media in the USA inevitably mix up fact and opinion, and the readership by now (check some of the posts above) has been so dumbed down, you wonder sometimes how they can actually type. I am not talking about typos, I am talking about the inability to apply even the simplest logic.

    That dumbing down cost us our precious democracy. It's not Obama, who is a threat to democracy, it's the people themselves. Timorous, vain, frustrated, incapable of drawing the right conclusions from the screeching dissonance between fact and what they would like to see. In other words, incapable of killing off their hallucinations. So we swallow all the sweet pills, we are obsessed with technological gimmicks (what do you think Tweeter is?), doesn't matter if they break our economy, screw up our private lives, we just go for them, and the minority just has to follow.

    What a sad bunch of people, honestly. Given the greatest opportunities, and turning it into excrement.

    July 8, 2010 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bahaa Kaeen

    Frances GuyAmbassador of England in Lebanon Said in her article "The passing of decent men " " When you visit Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person."


    July 8, 2010 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rob

    @Allen Selton

    Surely you realize the gross contradiction in your post? How is CNN at the same time "anti West" and "PR firm for the world's worst murderers, human rights abusers and religious fanatics"? Looking at the West and specifically at the USA you ought to realize that's all you.

    July 8, 2010 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. grigoryrasputin

    Clearly, Nasr is an idiot. Say hello to Helen for us – and go make some coffee. There's a good girl.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      Amazing! you can type.. go get a banana... there's a good gorilla.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. affinity

    I came upon this article and could not stop reading as it is like watching a train wreck. You don't want to see it but just can't turn away. Many people here do not understand that the news agency, any of them are biased. We are talking about people here. The only time the news is unbiased is when they aren't sure what the hell they are talking about. People are biased and if that wasn't true, nothing this lady said would affect you in any way unless you are biased. The lady sent a tweet, she didn't write an article, she didn't produce a news segment, she wrote a freakin tweet. Take it for what it is a tweet. Regarding the pro/anti-Israel stance, I would say this blog isn't the place to argue it as many have said it is complex and both sides have done wrong which means both sides are wrong. The middle east can be black and white it's that no one (middle east leaders as well as foreign ) want's it to be. Until there are leaders and governments that stop spreading BS and trying to out position each other, nothing is going to change. Children have to grow up and the current world leaders as it stands now are not up to that task. As a Pro-American I'd rather work on our own issues and try to educate the masses, as many in this comment thread on this blog are simply blind.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. affinity

    News agency's are for profit businesses. They have to sell the stories to their targeted audience.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:14 am | Report abuse |
  12. bleem

    Howz it feel to be the new Jihad Jane? Adios Jane!

    Hard to believe the Left Stream Media is policing its own.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. Marshmellows

    I respect you Octavia for expressing your thoughts and feelings. The world will never learn to look at people only without checking their ethnic groups. Just talk about a person who happens to hate Israel and you become a terror supporter what a rational way of thinking: CNN you keep proving to the whole world how much 'not- biased' you are.

    July 8, 2010 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. Reez


    As a Lebanese, as a person who lived the Israili war on Lebanon and Hizbolla (and please do not think reporting is even close to living), I deeply regret that you are ready to suppress your humane views and personal compassion just so that the US public and people who believe rebellion is terrorism would not "React" to your tweet.

    July 8, 2010 at 4:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. AK

    Sorry for this Octavia
    No one has the right to confiscate other's opinion and threat them by their living!!!!
    I bet if you have praised the other side you might have been promoted...
    The israeils have killed thousands and thousands of innocent non armed people however no one dares to criticize them. They all, like sheeps, praise them.
    Unfortunately this is the twisted democracy of the american emperrors

    July 8, 2010 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Dearest... it has nothing to do with Israel and the bla bla bla... about democracy!!!
      SIMPLY... you just dont praise a man who took pride in killing US soldiers while working in a US company and holding a US citizenship. Just reverse it: if an Arab jouralist working in Al Jazeera praised Ariel Sharon (when he dies since he's in coma since Jan 2006), because he was so good to his people.... this journalist will not only be fired from Al Jazeera; beleive me he will be hanged in the city center.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
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