Following the death of Hezbollah's Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, CNN's senior editor of Middle East affairs, Octavia Nasr, tweeted:
"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Hezbollah's giants i respect a lot.."
What is it about Fadlallah's record that earns Nasr's respect?
-Ayatollah Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah, the most important religious authority among the Shiites of Lebanon and the Gulf states, is the most senior Shiite religious figure in Lebanon to have praised the massacre of eight teenage Israeli students at a religious school in Jerusalem on March 6 2008.
-In recent years, an intense effort has been made by American-based academics to portray Fadlallah as a moderate religious leader who is seeking to establish ecumenical understandings between Christians and Muslims. Journalists have characterized his religious rulings as "liberal."
-Yet it was Fadlallah who provided the fatwa (religious opinion) to the suicide bomber who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 which killed 241 American servicemen. Fadlallah supported the seizure and hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, backed suicide bombing attacks in 2002, and praised Iran's efforts to build long-range missiles as the "pride of the Islamic world" in 2008.
In his sermon during Friday prayers, following the massacre of eight teenage Israeli students at a Jewish school in Jerusalem, Fadlallah declared: "the heroic operation in Jerusalem proved that the mujahedeen in Palestine are able to hit the Zionists hard." His remarks were carried by Hizbullah's television network, al-Manar, on March 8 2008.
In Fadlallah's announcement, there is no mention that a religious institution was targeted. Moreover, while the Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva is on the western side of Jerusalem, al-Manar insisted on saying that the Palestinian gunman had struck in "occupied al-Quds." Fadlallah denies that he is formally connected to Hizbullah; nonetheless, he served as its mentor and spiritual guide as he sought to reach out to Shiites beyond the organization. Even today, he has enormous influence over Hizbullah's adherents.
In fact, Ayatollah Fadlallah is the most important source of religious authority among the Shiites of Lebanon and the Gulf states. In recent years, an intense effort has been made, especially by American-based academics like Augustus Richard Norton, to portray Fadlallah as a moderate religious leader who is seeking ways of entering into a dialogue with the West. There are those who argue that one of his main intentions is to establish ecumenical understandings between Christians and Muslims. Journalists have characterized his religious rulings as "liberal."
Alistaire Crooke, the former British intelligence operative who calls for a Western dialog with Islamists, has also been critical of policymakers who do not hear "when respected leaders like Ayatollah Fadlallah call for talk, dialogue and listening." In this context, there is a body of scholars who sought to counter the argument that it was Ayatollah Fadlallah himself who provided the fatwa (religious opinion) to the suicide bomber who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. It is also known that Fadlallah supported the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the holding of its personnel as hostages.
But Fadlallah's statements have to be read carefully. Speaking to the Daily Star in Beirut during June 2002, Fadlallah backed suicide bombing attacks: "Basically it is haram (prohibited by religion) to kill oneself or others; but during jihad (holy war or struggle for the sake of Islam), it is accepted and allowed, as jihad is considered an exceptional case." In early February 2008, he praised Iran's efforts to build long-range missiles as the "pride of the Islamic world," just after meeting Iran's ambassador to Lebanon. It is clear that if Fadlallah was willing to praise the massacre of young students in Jerusalem, he is also granting legitimacy, more broadly, to terrorist acts of this sort which injure and even kill innocent civilians.
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