(CNSNews.com) – An online tribute in which Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon praised the Hezbollah-linked Shi’ite cleric after his death this week appears to have been removed from an official Foreign Office Web site.
Ambassador Frances Guy on Monday posted an entry on the site describing Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who died the previous day, as the politician in Lebanon she had found most impressive and had most enjoyed meeting.
“When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person,” Guy wrote in a 260-word eulogy headlined “The Passing of Decent Men.” (The full wording appears below).
“The world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths, acknowledging the reality of the modern world and daring to confront old constraints,” she wrote. “May he rest in peace.”
By late Thursday, the page could not be accessed. Instead the Web address brought up a message saying, “Sorry! We couldn’t find your document.” By Friday morning, the address was directing back to the Foreign Office blog homepage
The focus of much media attention this week was on Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs, who lost her job after posting a message on Twitter saying “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah ... One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”
Fadlallah, Lebanon’s top Shi’ite leader, was sometimes described as the spiritual mentor of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed group blamed by the U.S. for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, including 220 U.S. Marines, in suicide truck bombings in Beirut in 1983.
Fadlallah later endorsed suicide bombings – “martyrdom operations” – against Israelis.
He also issued fatwas outlawing “honor killings” and encouraging women to defend themselves against abusive husbands.
It was this “progressive” position on women’s rights that CNN’s Nasr says she was alluding to in her controversial Twitter message.
In a subsequent blog entry designed to explain her words – and quell a storm of protest – she wrote, “I used the words ‘respect’ and ‘sad’ because to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman’s rights.”
Similarly, a Foreign Office spokesman told British media that Guy was expressing a personal view on Fadlallah, adding, “We welcomed his progressive views on women’s rights and interfaith dialogue. But also had profound disagreements, especially over his statements advocating attacks on Israel.”
In her eulogy, Guy did not refer to Fadlallah’s position on women.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah on Thursday denounced CNN for forcing Nasr out, describing the move as “intellectual terrorism.”
“This measure reflects a the double standards that rules the West when dealing with issues related to the region,” Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi said in a statement posted on the group’s Web site.
“It also exposes the American claims on freedom of speech, where the Western media in general, and the American one in particular gives vent to intentional offensives to our sanctities and hides Zionist ongoing crimes committed against our people,” he said.
-- British Ambassador Frances Guy’s full posting on Fadlallah, apparently no longer available online, read as follows:
“One of the privileges of being a diplomat is the people you meet; great and small, passionate and furious. People in Lebanon like to ask me which politician I admire most. It is an unfair question, obviously, and many are seeking to make a political response of their own. I usually avoid answering by referring to those I enjoy meeting the most and those that impress me the most. Until yesterday my preferred answer was to refer to Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, head of the Shia clergy in Lebanon and much admired leader of many Shia Muslims throughout the world. When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person. That for me is the real effect of a true man of religion; leaving an impact on everyone he meets, no matter what their faith. Sheikh Fadlallah passed away yesterday. Lebanon is a lesser place the day after but his absence will be felt well beyond Lebanon's shores. I remember well when I was nominated ambassador to Beirut, a Muslim acquaintance sought me out to tell me how lucky I was because I would get a chance to meet Sheikh Fadlallah. Truly he was right. If I was sad to hear the news I know other peoples' lives will be truly blighted. The world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths, acknowledging the reality of the modern world and daring to confront old constraints. May he rest in peace.”