Sunday, August 01, 2010


Reuters/US State dept
Rob Payne:
"The idea that Americans, much less people like Obama and Clinton, care about Afghan women is absolutely priceless. And if things aren’t hunky dory in Afghanistan for women it isn’t for anyone else either."

Rob's discussion[here; also here] of a recent NYT item about women in Afghanistan reminded me of some thoughts I had about the death last month of Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah. I heard about the death of Ayatollah Fadlallah's death very indirectly, via an ATR item about CNN firing Octavia Nasr for praising him on Twitter, where she called him one of "Hizbollah's giants." (Just as with McChrystal mouthing off to Rolling Stone earlier this year, I wondered if this was a case of a smart person who wanted to be fired and decided to produce the circumstances that would make it so...). Then I came across Robert Fisk's discussion of Nasr's firing--

Well, he wasn't Hizbollah's man, but no matter. He was definitely a giant. A man of immense learning and jurisprudence, a believer in women's rights, a hater of "honour crimes", a critic of the theocratic system of government in Iran, a ... Well, I'd better be careful because I might get a phone call from Parisa Khosravi, who goes by the title of CNN's "senior vice president" – what these boss types do or what they get paid for their gutless decisions I have no idea – who said this week that she had "had a conversation" with Nasr (who'd been with the company for 20 years) and "we have decided that she will be leaving the company".

Oh deary, deary. Poor old CNN goes on getting more cowardly by the hour. That's why no one cares about it any more. That can't be said about Fadlallah. The Americans put it about that he had blessed the suicide bomber who struck the US marine base in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 service personnel. Fadlallah always denied this to me and I believe him. Suicide bombers, however insane we regard them, don't need to be blessed; they think they are doing God's duty without any help from a marja like Fadlallah. But anyway, Washington used Saudi money to arrange a car bombing to assassinate Fadlallah in 1985. It missed Fadlallah. But it killed more than 80 innocent people. I do wonder what Ms Khosravi would have thought of that. No comment, I guess.
In those days, we journos called Fadlallah Hizbollah's "spiritual mentor", though that wasn't true. He did support the Lebanese resistance during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and he was a fierce opponent of US policy in the region – like almost everyone else in the world, including the US, it seems – and he demanded an end of Shia blood-shedding ceremonies at Ashura (when Shias mourn the killing of the Prophet's grandson).

As an Arab-American and more specifically an Iraqi-American, the Ashura rites have always troubled me. During the Ba'athist era the Ashura ceremonies were forbidden by Saddam, but after the US invasion some Shi'ite men (and adolescent boys) have started it up again, whipping themselves till their backs bleed in honor of the Shi'a martyr Ali. Of course Saddam banned the Ashura ceremony for political reasons, seeing it as a rallying point for Shi'a malcontents who opposed Ba'athist rule. But Fadlallah was Shi'a, and wanted to end a savage and unnecessary practice. He also issued fatwas condemning honor killings and female circumcision, and condemned the 9-11 attacks.

American TV journalists and op-ed types frequently lament the lack of a so-called Muslim Gandhi, a rhetorical game that's designed to glide past the need to discuss any actual moderating influences within Islam. The rub of course is that Fadlallah was not consistently against violence. At one point he praised suicide bombings, which I wish he hadn't, although by 2006 he had backed away from such rhetoric when he condemned the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.

All the same, Fadlallah doesn't have to be a Gandhi for the point about Fadlallah's positive aspects to be worth communicating to regular American TV viewers and readers. To be fair the Yahoo/AP article linked below does touch upon these; even the Fox News online obit does. But I imagine that the next time a TV talking head wants to bemoan the lack of moderate figures in Islam they wont remember him. You'd think they could at least call him a "problematic figure" while acknowledging the existence of those kinds of views. I guess I'm tilting at a straw man, at least at this point, since I haven't seen such an op-ed since he died in early July. We'll see.

Incidentally, an international treaty banning the use of cluster bombs went into effect today, August 1st, 2010. Most of the European countries, including the UK, signed on, as did Japan, Australia, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq- but not the US.

Fadlallah obits: Yahoo/AP, Fox News, Reuters, BBC

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At August 01, 2010 12:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

It’s been the job of the news media to portray Muslims as all being crazy people. I would say they’ve done a pretty good job of it. So it’s a little dishonest of them to lament a lack of moderate Muslims seeing as they are the ones to have created that image in the first place. When the neocons famously or infamously said that we create our own reality I had to laugh because that’s what all people do all the time. There was nothing new or revolutionary in what the neocon said. That all Muslims are crazy people in the minds of many Americans is the perfect example.

At August 02, 2010 1:39 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

That's right. And perhaps ironically, one of the reasons that one US Muslim organization wants to build an information center in Manhattan, supposedly a block away from ground zero(I understand it's more like 2-3 blocks away, but people keep saying "just a block away...").


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