“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect.”
That was the execrable tweet that has been hung around Octavia Nasr’s neck like a slain Twitter albatross, as CNN wasted little time in sacking her. After all, how on earth could anyone have expressed any condolences upon the death of “Hezbollah giant” Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah who was implicated, albeit insubstantially, to the Beirut barracks bombing of 1983 that resulted in the deaths of 299 American and French military personnel?
CNN Senior Vice President, Parisa Khosravi, took to the helm in a modern day Zagiew to crucify fellow CNN Senior Middle East Editor of twenty years, Lebanese-born Octavia Nasr, stating:
“…[W]e believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.”
Naturally, expressing condolences at the death of an enemy of the United States and a key ally in particular is unthinkable and unconscionable. Good thing she relapsed from her temporary insanity and openly expressed regret and apologized for her inexcusable indiscretion.
Imagine this hypothetical scenario: A fearsome tyrant who has invaded sovereign neighbors and hammered them into serfdom, who has targeted and downed a civilian airliner belonging to a key U.S. ally, who holds over the USA and the whole world the threat of nuclear terror, and who has committed countless atrocities throughout his career, dies. Such a passing leader could be from a list of many adversaries of the USA: Saddam Hussain, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Osama bin Ladin, Mullah Omar and many others. Imagine that after this death, the following statement is released by the U.S. Department of State on behalf of the President of the United States:
“The President has sent a message expressing his condolences…on the death of [Hypothetical Tyrant]. In his message the President emphasized to the people and Government of [Unnamed nation] his desire for cooperation between the two countries in the search for a more peaceful world.
As the President reaffirmed in his address…the United States has sought and will continue to seek a constructive and realistic dialogue with [Unnamed nation] aimed at building a more productive and stable relationship. Our objective is not dialogue for its own sake, but a dialogue that produces real solutions to the many concrete problems that divide us.”
Can one fathom the above statement being released at the death at one such despot and author of terror? Can we envisage such words of condolences at the death of Saddam Hussain? Can we conceive such words expressing a desire for rapprochement between the USA and the Taliban upon the death of Mullah Omar?
Here I must admit a little fib on my part. The above “hypothetical” statement of condolences over the death of a “hypothetical tyrant” is actually not hypothetical at all. It was none other than the official statement released by the U.S. Department of State on February 10, 1984 upon the death of Yuri Andropov, General Secretary of the Communist Party and Head of State of the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR).
A list of Yuri Andropov’s achievements throughout his career looks like a tally book for Al Capone. As ambassador to Hungary, he orchestrated with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev the bloody Soviet military intervention in repressing the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. These events later convinced him of the necessity to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 and, later, Afghanistan in 1979 – a war which resulted in 1,000,000 Afghan casualties.
In 1967 he was appointed head of the KGB and served as its longest running chairman. This began a career of what he coined “extreme measures” in eradicating all forms of dissent within the Soviet Union.1
Yuri Andropov spearheaded the most aggressive campaign to oppress adherents of all religions in Russian history. The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion2 relates the following from a Russian textbook:
Q: What does the Mullah do?
A: Mullah reads the Qur’an and when someone dies he reads prayers.
Q: What does he read about in the Qur’an?
A: We do not know.
Q: Does he himself understand what he reads?
Q: Does he read the prayers for nothing?
A: No, he gets money for this.
Ultimately, Andropov devised a policy to institutionalize educated people who insisted on adhering to a religious faith; he also considered following religion to be a form of psychosis.3
In spite of this, the U.S. State Department released the following on behalf of President Ronald Reagan at the time of Andropov’s death:
WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT, FEB. 10, 1984 – “The President has sent a message expressing his condolences to Mr. Kuznetsov, the Acting Soviet Chief of State, on the death of Chairman Andropov. In his message the President emphasized to the people and Government of the U.S.S.R. his desire for cooperation between the two countries in the search for a more peaceful world.
As the President reaffirmed in his address of January 16, the United States has sought and will continue to seek a constructive and realistic dialogue with the Soviet Union aimed at building a more productive and stable relationship. Our objective is not dialogue for its own sake, but a dialogue that produces real solutions to the many concrete problems that divide us.
There are, to be sure, fundamental differences between the American and Soviet systems and our respective political beliefs. But the American and Soviet peoples have a common interest in the avoidance of war and the reduction of arms. It is this need to preserve and strengthen the peace that is at the heart of U.S. policy.
The President’s policy toward the Soviet Union seeks to achieve progress in three broad areas: developing ways to eliminate the use and the threat of force in international relations; significantly reducing the vast arms stockpiles in the world, particularly nuclear weapons; and establishing a better working relationship with Moscow, characterized by greater cooperation and understanding and based on mutual restraint and respect.
At this time of transition in the Soviet Union, our two nations should look to the future in order to find ways to realize these goals. In the nuclear age, there is no alternative to dialogue.
The United States hopes that the Soviet leader will work with us in this spirit and take advantage of the opportunities at hand to find common ground and establish a mutually beneficial relationship.”
U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz released the following statement:
“The President has expressed his personal condolences to the Soviet leadership on the death of Chairman Andropov, and I have sent a similar message to Foreign Minister Gromyko.
At this time of transition in Moscow, let me reaffirm the basic principles of our policy toward the Soviet Union. We remain ready for a constructive and realistic dialogue with the Soviet Union. In this nuclear age, the United States will work to build a more stable and more positive relationship. As the President has stressed, we seek to find solutions to real problems, not just to improve the atmosphere of our relations. This applies, in particular, to the task of reaching equitable and verifiable agreements for arms reduction and reducing the risk of war.
The President has made clear to the people and Government of the Soviet Union his desire for constructive cooperation in the search for peace. We invite the Soviet leadership to work with us to that end. There are opportunities at hand. Let us find common ground, and let us make the world a safer place.”
These statements of condolences were made about a man whom President Ronald Reagan had reviled as the embodiment of evil itself. Reagan was quoted as saying about the USSR under Andropov that they were the “focus of evil in the modern world,” that they were the “prime example” of “sin and evil” that Americans were “enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose.”4 David Remnick of the Washington Post had reviled him as “profoundly corrupt, a beast.”5
In all honesty, this was an era when America had not yet lost its soul. Though the existence of a near rogue CIA with various questionable covert operations hid in the ether, America could still unabashedly call itself the “Land of the Free” without breaking a nervous sweat. Such conciliatory messages upon the death of an enemy are no short of chivalry one would expect from the knights of yore.
Yet, as Parisa Khosravi and CNN have quite plainly exemplified, those days are gone. Now it seems that freedom of expression, thought and speech all have an unreasonably qualifying footnote “Not for the benefit of Muslims in any way, shape or form.”
An alarmingly increasing demographic of America seeks to silence religious freedom in deference to Christian dominance and a redefining of America’s foundations to be for the purposes of establishing a Bible based law. Yet, while waving their Bibles in the air they seem to have forgotten to read it:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the LORD. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” [Romans 12:17-21]
The Qur’an has a similar message:
“And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” (41:34)
As a Lebanese-American Christian, it is seriously doubtful that Octavia Nasr harbored any religious devotion to Shi`ite Muslim cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. She was one of the first to ever interview him and as an objective journalist, she would, naturally, respect with indifference someone who wielded so much spiritual influence over a tumultuous part of the world. Being an Arab, a Christian and a woman gives her the ability to peer into the perspectives of both East and West. She explains her reasons lucidly and in depth in a CNN published blog which I highly recommend.
Perhaps, America can learn a thing or two from Octavia Nasr about truly living in accordance to the principles lauded in the Bible rather than rattling the Bible like a saber for political gain.
- The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Andrew, Mitrokhin. ↩
- Forced Secularization in Soviet Russia: Why an Atheistic Monopoly Failed. Vol. 43, pp. 35-50. ↩
- Religious Policy in the Soviet Union, p. 261, Ramet. ↩
- President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination, p. 140. ↩
- Lenin’s Tomb:The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, Remnick, p. 191. ↩
As salamu alaikum,
Beautiful article, jazakAllahu khairan. The country is truly at a contentious point right now. If it doesn’t already exist, there should be a documentary showing the embrace of Islam and Muslim achievement in early American history. For example, I visited Yale University last weekend and was presently surprised to see the relief etched into the library with the first words of Quran relieved to the Prophet sallallahu alayhi wassalam. The library at Yale was built in 1931!
This post made a great point; yet I am not surprised at the action of CNN – typical double standard that we see – whether it’s a political game or a clear dislike for any positive or respectful thought towards those whom America views in a negative light. I used to watch Octavia Nasr on CNN.com when Middle East issues came up – though I can’t stand CNN anymore (I watch Al Jazeera now via YouTube or other means) when I saw that there was a Octavia Nasr video posted, I would always check it out.
Something similar happened to the British Ambassador to Lebanon:
Britain has moved to quash a row over its Middle East policy by taking down a controversial blog post by its ambassador in Beirut praising the late Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a staunchly anti-American cleric who was a mentor for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah movement.
Frances Guy had commented in her blog – on the Foreign Office website – that Fadlallah’s death was sad news, calling the religious leader a decent man and saying “the world needs more men like him”.
Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/09/foreign-office-blog-lebanon-hezbollah-fadlallah
JazakAllah khayr for the article. The Andropov case, in particular, was interesting.
Actually, the analogy between Nasr’s tweet and the State Department statement is a false one – the former is a news professional while the latter is a political entity. Many news organizations have policies that discourage journalists (especially those covering politics) from openly displaying their political views. This does not imply that they cannot hold any views (indeed it would be difficult to expect otherwise) but simply that they should not make a public declaration of the same, so as to not compromise neutrality in the slightest (even if it’s perceived neutrality in the eyes of the reader/listener/viewer).
Undoubtedly, there are double standards in place within media (especially as far as news coverage is concerned), but before we allege a double standard in this particular case, it may be helpful to consider whether or not Nasr violated CNN’s policy. We may not agree with the policy (if there is one; I personally don’t know), but if she did in fact violate it, is it really a double standard for them to follow this course of action?
Just something to consider. Wa Allahu ‘alam.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by bayareawomen and ICNA BAYAREA, Rizwana. Rizwana said: Octavia Nasr’s Twitter Disaster – by Shibli Zaman “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadl… http://ow.ly/18atSL […]
At least she went out in a dignified way. She said she was referring to Fadlallah’s humanitarian/human rights work.
It really reminds us what the realities are especially in areas that get too close to controversies.
Abiya, you make some interesting comments in defense of CNN. You stated:
“Actually, the analogy between Nasr’s tweet and the State Department statement is a false one – the former is a news professional while the latter is a political entity. Many news organizations have policies that discourage journalists (especially those covering politics) from openly displaying their political views.”
First of all, it is patently absurd to say that an expression of sadness and consolation at someone’s death is a “political view”. To believe it is, is the actual political view. Second, Octavia Nasr expressing regret at someone’s death on Twitter makes her a “compromised” journalist…yet, Worlf Blitzer, who is CNN’s chief news anchor, being a former senior editor for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is NOT compromising?
Then you state: “[B]ut before we allege a double standard in this particular case, it may be helpful to consider whether or not Nasr violated CNN’s policy.” Yet, immediately thereafter state: “if there is one; I personally don’t know”.
So I should dismiss the clear and evident double standard out of consideration for a mythical policy that neither of us even knows exists? No thank you, my friend. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments.
Further evidence that Al-Jazeerah had the right idea. Muslims and Arabs need their own media, so that they can be free to express viewpoints that the West may not agree with, without suffering from political persecution.
Although even Muslim or Arab ownership does not guarantee freedom of expression, as the IslamOnline debacle clearly illustrates.