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. Adam T.

    This is laughable! Fadlallah is a terrorist?! Comparable to Bin-Laden (an underachieving BinLaden)? PLEASE PLEASE IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS. You may hate and despise any turban clad, bearded fellow you see but please for the love of all things true, DO NOT lump them all in one camp. Fadlallah and Bin Laden are as similar to the turbans they wear! One wears white and one wears black. One justifies the murders of innocent people, and one is an outspoken critic against terrorism and was the quickest to denounce the 9/11 attacks, 7/7 and any terrorist attacks.

    Not all turbanators are the same. Please folks. Be honest don't be hateful. It does you no good.

    He was, all in all a good man. The Muslim world needs more open-minded, free-thinking scholars. He was very open with his dialogue with the west and did not condone the shameless violence against it, he was even critical against attacks on non-combatants even when it came to Israel.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Orlando22

      It doesn't matter they are both opposed to the USA and Israel's policies and behavior in the Middle East.
      That means they are terrorists and extremists.
      They are irrational and violent because who on earth can oppose the USA and Israel? They are the one true goodness in the world , the city upon a hill,Gods purpose is fulfilled by the existence of both, they will liberate you to heaven if you don't want Coca Cola or Jews from Brooklyn taking over your backyard.Remember Condaleezza Rice said publicly the problem in Iraq was the flow of "foreign fighters" into Iraq not even comprehending the fact that US soldiers are foreign fighters! US soldiers aren't foreigner wherever they go. It's the imperialist mentality deeply ingrained into American culture.

      July 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Orlando22

      Even the language they use is straight from the Pentagon and those in power.
      They even use words like surge what on earth is a surge if not reinforcements ?
      A spike in violence in Iraq that suggests that it will go down again and is just temporary.
      They eat , speak,walk,talk the language of the US government without them even knowing it.Illegal Israeli settlements become Jewish neighborhoods,the Israeli wall becomes a fence.Occupied Palestinian lands become "disputed" lands.
      As if it's something they can settle over a cup of tea.
      Why on earth are Palestinians throwing rocks ? It's just a Jewish neighborhood.

      July 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Adam T.

    Freedom of Speech?!!

    One cannot have an opinion? One cannot speak of it? One cannot even relay that opinion in public (on twitter). Sounds like Iran? North Korea perhaps? Oh wait. I'm talking about America. About an American news agency who fires people because of their personal views and then simultaneously criticize other countries for breaching this basic clause of a democracy.

    Shame on you CNN.

    This is an outrage. What does America truly stand for? I hope its not the facade it looks to be.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  3. OldCorp

    Good for CNN. She SHOULD have been fired; people who hold extremist views have no business deciding what the world should see, hear, or read at a news outlet people look to for unbiased reporting. I'm sure she'll find a job at al-Jazeera or PRESS-TV where she belongs.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. Steve Haweeli

    Re-hire her for Christ's sake.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. Orlando22

    Her comment shows Octavia Nasr is not biased towards any side in the Middle East conflict.
    But that she also sees the good side of Israel's and by extension the USA enemies.
    Firing her shows that CNN wants it's reporting to be biased in the Middle East completely on the side of Israel and the USA.
    With no room for the other sides perspective.
    Not that adults didn't already know that is how CNN reports the Middle East.
    If you want unbaised news about the Middle East don't watch CNN.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. reptile

    Israel = Terrorism = Nazism = Racism = Apartheid Advocacy

    Shame on you Octavia.. you should stand for your opinion and face CNN, who is brilliantly contributing to transforming the US into another "Middle Eastern type" dictatorship, just like its allies.

    And for all Zionists on this forum, just find the closest Palestinian child and murder him (her), baby killers.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    Now mayby she can do a spread for Playboy. That would be nice.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    The fact that CNN would fire a journalist because neo-cons raised a fuss just shows that CNN has zero journalistic credibility (as if any more proof were needed...)

    July 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Guy

    In summarizing his connection to attacks against the West, Nasr clearly made an argument supporting why she should be fired. How do you think he feels about the stoning of Iranian mother with 2 small children Ashtiani???

    July 8, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tony

    It is a shame that CNN took the action that it did , it puts the network right along side with Fox News .
    Would we ever get an impartial news organization that does not promote their own view of things and censor those that not agree with them ? . very unlikable .

    July 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. William L. Dye ("willdye")

    I fear that incidents like this are discouraging candid discussions, and promoting a world of closed-door meetings which issue bland non-statements vetted by a staff of lawyers and secret focus-group tests. How can we expect politicians and business leaders to speak openly and frequently to journalists when even the journalists are fired merely for saying that they "respect" a controversial person? Apparently journalists are required to tolerate and respect everyone everywhere, but fired on the spot if they respect an individual.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Digs

    "One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot"

    July 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. pippo

    I hope that now serious and professional people will stop using tweeter for any kind of comment, and keep it for flash news only (if they can't stop using it, I mean). How can you comment anything in 160 chars??
    Tweeter and facebook are for losers anyway, I wonder why a serious journalist would use them at all.
    Regarding her firing from CNN, well, USA= land of freedom??? Pffffffff........ ridiculous......

    July 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      She was completely free to say what ever she wants and CNN is completely free to take whatever action they want. Everybody wins, no fouls, total freedom.

      July 9, 2010 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  14. viv

    The real tragedy here is that you were let go for HAVING AN INFORMED OPINION. which is based on your experience of over 2 decades of reporting. It doesn't matter whether I agree with you or not– I WANT educated news reporters, not talking puppets. CNN, this is just another example of how far downhill you have gone over the years.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Darrel

    Bye bye you terrorist loving little bimbo twit.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
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