[News] Fadlallah and the Western media's dangerous complicity
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 14 11:34:02 EDT 2010
Fadlallah and the Western media's dangerous complicity
Matthew Cassel, The Electronic Intifada, 14 July 2010
There is a lot to say about Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein
Fadlallah, the Lebanese Shia Muslim cleric who passed away on 4 July
2010 at the age of 75. Unfortunately, much of what there is to say is
being left unsaid for more of the same sensationalist reporting on
this region and its people.
Fadlallah was a progressive Shia cleric, known for his defense of
armed resistance and women's rights. He was outspoken against
Israel's 22 year occupation of south Lebanon and cheered attacks
against it. In 1985 the CIA is thought to have been behind a massive
car bomb that attempted to take his life -- it missed the Ayatollah
killing 80 other Lebanese civilians and injured hundreds more.
However, his support for resistance didn't end with the Israeli
invaders; Ayatollah Fadlallah also said that women have the right to
use violence to resist domestic abuse.
The day after his death, Nasawiya, a feminist collective in Lebanon,
wrote a post on Facebook telling Fadlallah: "Your feminist voice will
be missed." The post linked to an obituary by journalist Zeinab Yaghi
writing in Arabic for the Lebanese daily As-Safir where she wrote of
Fadlallah: "Women used to see him as a father" and that he
"encouraged women to work."
He was a leader for many Shia Muslims in Lebanon and elsewhere around
the world. In Lebanon, a country divided along strict sectarian
lines, he was a truly unique religious figure for the respect that he
garnered from people of other faiths and the secular alike.
Most headlines in English-language media outlets have wrongly linked
Fadlallah to Hizballah, the Shia Islamic resistance and political
group in Lebanon. It is said that Fadlallah influenced some of
Hizballah's founders along with numerous other young Shias in the
years leading up to and during Hizballah's formation in the early
1980s. But in Lebanon it is widely known that, despite their mutual
respect for each other, Fadlallah and Hizballah did not work together
and even disagreed on many issues. Some of these fundamental
differences stem from Hizballah's close relationship with the Islamic
Republic of Iran, whereas Fadlallah had long opposed the Ayatollah
Khomeini-inspired clerical leadership of the country after its 1979 revolution.
This intentional mistake of linking Fadlallah to Hizballah should
come as little surprise from a media that too often chooses
sensationalism over accuracy when covering Lebanon and the region. As
a journalist and photographer working in Lebanon, I know that
European and US media are rarely interested in political or religious
topics when the focus is not Hizballah. Ayatollah Fadlallah's
importance had little to do with Hizballah, and that was clear on 6
July 2010 when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to mourn his death.
Breaking from this sensationalist coverage was a blog post on the
British government's website by Frances Guy, the British ambassador
in Lebanon (whose positions
in the past), which contained the following:
"The world needs more men like [Fadlallah] willing to reach out
across faiths, acknowledging the reality of the modern world and
daring to confront old constraints. May he rest in peace. "
It was a very kind tribute to a religious leader based on Guy's
experience learning about Fadlallah and meeting him in Beirut. She
even succeeded in not mentioning "Hizballah" once. I would happily
link to the post had it not been removed "after mature consideration"
by the UK Foreign Office who thought that Guy was being a bit too
laudatory of a person who died under the "Hizballah leader"
headlines. (Fortunately, what goes on the web stays on the web and
you can find her post cached
Guy later wrote a new post expressing regret for ever writing the tribute:
"I have no truck with terrorism wherever it is committed in whoever's
name. The British Government has been clear that it condemns
terrorist activity carried out by Hizballah. I share that view."
Similar to Guy, Octavia Nasr, CNN's senior editor of Mideast affairs,
also offered her admiration for Fadlallah after his death over the
social networking site Twitter:
"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah..
One of Hizballah's giants I respect a lot."
Nasr, a Lebanese-American journalist who has worked with CNN for 20
years, later wrote an article regretting her tweet which was then
removed; in her article she was sure to remind us which side she is
on, using the words "terror" or terrorist" five times. I've followed
her work with CNN and know that her reporting would hardly upset
anyone in any recent US administration. Yet the one time she does,
she loses her job as a result.
These blatant acts of censorship by western governments and media
prove that showing an accurate or nuanced picture of the Middle East
is not high on their agendas. After all, an accurate picture would
show that western-waged and backed wars in this region are far from
just, and therefore it's easy to understand how resistance to them is
widely supported. Not only did Fadlallah support resistance, but he
also challenged the stereotype many have in the west of Islam as a
religion intolerant of women's rights.
Fadlallah was a leader that anyone even slightly familiar with this
region could easily respect. The censored coverage of his passing in
the west proves the complicity of our media with our government's
deadly and oppressive policies in the Middle East.
Matthew Cassel is based in Beirut, Lebanon and is Assistant Editor of
The Electronic Intifada. His website is
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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