[News] Fadlallah and the Western media's dangerous complicity

Anti-Imperialist News 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 
<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11146.shtml>I've criticized 
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 

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