After 20 years working for CNN, Senior Mideast Affairs editor Octavia Nasr is leaving. Why? Because she dared to express sadness at the passing of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, stirring all sorts of anger from the right.
Evidently, if you're CNN, it's perfectly fine to hire commentators who refer to a US Supreme Court justice as a "goat f@$king child molester", but God forbid an emotional, somewhat easily misinterpreted tweet should be granted similar mercy.
CNN's internal memo (according to Mediaite) dismisses her with this terse explanation:
I had a conversation with Octavia this morning and I want to share with you that we have decided that she will be leaving the company. As you know, her tweet over the weekend created a wide reaction. As she has stated in her blog on CNN.com, she fully accepts that she should not have made such a simplistic comment without any context whatsoever. However, at this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.
In other words, she didn't carry the requisite press bias toward Israel?
Her original tweet (now apparently deleted) was this:
“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”
Yesterday she posted a clarification on her blog.
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.
She also clarified her position with regard to his other activities with regard to Hezbollah; in fact, she made it clear that acts of Hezbollah had killed members of her own family:
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.
At the same time, she notes that he ultimately emerged as a more moderate voice against the harsher, more powerful Iranian clerics.
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.
The only thing this proves is that when it comes to Israel and the Middle East, emotions run so high and so hot that I doubt anything resembling peace can ever come to pass. There is a centuries-old rift that gets scratched open by the softest fabrics brushing thin skin. It doesn't matter what side the US takes, or what side Nasr takes on these issues. I'm certain Nasr's position at CNN -- even though she is a Lebanese Christian -- has long been a bone of contention among the pro-Israel press.
I will miss her. She was one of the few journalists on Twitter who quoted Pablo Neruda and shared the sheer joy of her travel and her job. She loved that job. I'm sure she's heartbroken.
I agree with the sentiments of her Twitter fan, Bashar Hamad:
I wonder if all these people so quick to jump on @octavianasrCNN comment Re: Fadlallah's passing be so quick to jump on real hate speech
Not only wouldn't they, they're the ones who routinely step up and use it. Whether it's racist comments about our President or libeling Supreme Court justices, they not only don't jump on it, they embrace it in the name of the First Amendment.