Over the years, the focus of my criticism of states that deny freedom of expression to their citizens or prevent journalists from doing their work has, given my position, been China, or that country’s impact on such freedoms abroad. However, this does not mean that when other states — especially those that are ideologically aligned with my views — transgress on freedom of the press, I will choose to remain silent.
As it turns out, the US, this great defender of freedom and democracy, has its own problems when it comes to freedom of expression, especially when the topic is the Middle East. Case in point: CNN this week fired Octavia Nasr, a 20-year CNN veteran based in Atlanta, Georgia, after she used Twitter to express, in all of 140 words, her admiration for Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who passed away in Lebanon on Sunday.
Part of Nasr’s message read as follows: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”
Hezbollah, as we all know, is listed as a terrorist organization by the US and other Western governments. However, although Fadlallah was an early supporter of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and was a spiritual leader and mentor to Hezbollah when it was formed following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he later distanced himself from the organization’s ties with Iran and never supported the wave of kidnappings it launched in the 1980s. In other words, he was, at most, a moderate voice within Hezbollah, whose designation as a terrorist group is, in my view as a former intelligence officer who worked on that file for more than a year, questionable and self-defeating.
Fadlallah, like many Lebanese, resisted the invasion of his country by Israeli forces and its shelling by US Navy vessels. And while it was Hezbollah that first brought car bombings into the headlines, those means (and others) were part of a war of resistance, not terrorism, as Israel would want us to believe. Calling him a “giant,” as Nasr did, especially after he distanced himself from the radical arm of Hezbollah, was more support for a cleric who became increasingly moderate than for “terrorism.”
CNN had no right to fire Nasr for her comments, especially as she did not make them on CNN, but rather in a personal Tweet. I’m pretty sure, too, that had another CNN journalist expressed similar admiration for, say, Ariel Sharon, who over his life was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians, and whose views were equally “radical” — if not more — than Fadlallah’s, that reporter would never have been fired.
Shame on CNN for once again highlighting the fact that it is not truly an independent media organization, especially when the Middle East is concerned.