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. gina

    why is a middle eastern woman the editor in charge of middle eastern news? Shouldn't an American network be promoting the American take on the world?

    July 8, 2010 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Dearest.... First you have to understand the world before you take on its news!! 🙂 🙂

      July 8, 2010 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. ojsimpson23

    Finally occurred to me she was kissing @ss to get an interview with some other source, but trying to improve her status......she probably will surface with a freelance interview with nasrallah or some other outlaw leader, maybe on aljazeera, these guys killed members of her family, how ironic and sad. These shia have terrorized her people, but she's still kissing up........

    July 8, 2010 at 6:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. Peter

    Dear Octavia... you should have known better!!!
    A person with your experience and knowledge should have know better not to praise/respect (all the bla bla bla) a man who took pride in bombing the US Marines in Beirut and killing hundrerds of soldiers. Along with kiling hundreds of Lebanese citizens during his term as the head of Hizbullah.

    Sad.. this is what we should be sad about!

    July 8, 2010 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Quazi

    I am not clear on something: Hizbulla is an Iranian organization acting as a small army in Lebanon ? Its odd, isn't it like the mexican army having units in Arizona?

    July 8, 2010 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. Boulos

    Correction: Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah was not adored by the Lebanese. He was admired by the Arab Muslims who have come to occupy Lebanon. I can assure you that the 40% of Christians that are in Lebanon are rejoicing at this monsters death. Islam is incompatible with Western (and often Christian) values. Lebanon is a great example of this.

    July 8, 2010 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  6. Shame on YOU CNN freedom of speach free media all lie

    FREEDOM OF SPEACH and freedom ahhhhhh what a sick media you are only shows one face
    we already dont like anymore and dont even trust your reports

    We dont trust any reports from CNN

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

    The Truth is what you get hearing both sides..not only what your media is infiltrating into your brains.
    Make your own choice, read.

    July 8, 2010 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. pascaline

    Dear Mrs Nasr... it was with really deep regret that i heard about what the CNN did to you. it's a barbarian reaction towards freedom of speech. You are free to love, appreciate, hate, criticize whomever you want to on your own blog! You don't have to apologize for what you said nor explain why you did say it. Those who can't afford to accept your ideas should just back off and respect your way of thinking. But guess we're in the time of a dictature over what we say and think. You are Lebanese and proud to be! You respect some Lebanese leaders, that's your choice and everyone should respect it. Plus, as you said, Fadlallah is indeed a great loss. Let them read his story and take a deep look to what he said and taught before judging him... But i can't blame what just happened, you know why? because we were dying in Lebanon because of the israeli bombs and all the media was talking about Hezbollah's "terrorist" acts while Hezbollah was the only one trying to defend the Lebanese children againt the "gift" of the Israeli kids: bombs and attacks... Mrs Nasr, i sympathize with you cos I stood up recently for what i believed when i presented my thesis about Hezbollah and the jury was as intolerant as the CNN was unfortunately... people, some culture and understanding please, or else, it's only the dictature of minds and hearts we'll be spreading to world....

    July 8, 2010 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jos Hoekstra

    Why is it that respect in the US is totally agreeing with an opinion and in the rest of the world it's acknowledging an opinion?
    I can respect for in instance this guy in a lot of ways but still totally or partially disagree with him, someone who is respected is not the same as agreed upon.

    Nasr, I hope your next job will be ok, it's not the end of the world 😉

    Just hope this will make some people think about humanity, why can't one be sad for the loss of some guy who is respected among his peers even though he doesn't completely share your ideas?

    July 8, 2010 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  10. IntelVet

    The state of Israel was formed by the UN with the intent that Israel would show the generosity and good neighbor characteristics not found in Nazi Germany.

    Instead, Israel has become Nazi Germany in many respects, bottling up and laying siege to the remaining gulags using the "best" apartheid tactics.

    Israel receives billions, both from US "aid" and extorted monies from anyone with even the slightest connection to Judaism.

    Instead of setting the stage for responsible leadership, the state has promoted their own version of the mythical "uber" soldier.

    It would not be "terrorism" to advocate regime change for Israel. It would be an act of fighting terrorism.

    July 8, 2010 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. JJD

    Why is everyone so afraid of liking anyone who does not like Israel? Being kosher is the quality of a vocal and troublesome minority, certainly not an American democratic quality. Since when does AIPAC dictate our likes or dislikes? CNN should show a little backbone and rehire Ottavia.

    July 8, 2010 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Peter

    How does this Shia religious leader differ than the war criminals and racists that run the apartheid state that occupies the West Bank and starves the children of Gaza? We should put our efforts into "boycott Israel and free Palestine" like the rest of the world.

    July 8, 2010 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. mohamed-israel

    I can't understand the proplem. she can say free what she feel and believe, so who fell it's wrong step can go and drink from dead sea or Gaza sea.

    July 8, 2010 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. Woland

    You got fired for a private message while off work in which you, as a human, commented on the death of a man you knew. Now you are publically apologizing for getting fired for it. How sad for you. I hope, that when things settle, you won't turn out to be as gutless as your former network.

    July 8, 2010 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. lifeofliberty

    CNN fired Nasr, but CNN is a rag anyway, incapable of accurate news reporting. To fire Nasr over this will have serious backlash. Only idiots make such warped conjecture, which is what CNN did. You can respect someone for specific positions they hold, but not for all that they do. A senior editor is not that stupid, but CNN bosses apparently are. How many people realize that many of Osama Bin Laden's own comments regarding the United States are in fact, quite correct? Does that make me a "supporter"? His alleged involvement on attacks in the United States does not negate his previous statements. The CNN party line is simply fascists stick together, rabidly attacking anyone who does not toe the line. The real fools are the people behind this firing, who believe that everyone should be as stupidly narrow minded and as ignorant as they are. Accurate news reporting permits ALL the views, not just those that are politically correct. CNN still has an awful lot to learn in this regard.

    July 8, 2010 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
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