UK foreign ministry pulls ambassador’s blog post praising Hezbollah-linked cleric after outcry

By Raphael G. Satter, AP
Friday, July 9, 2010

UK removes blog post praising late Lebanese cleric

LONDON — Britain’s ambassador to Beirut angered Israelis and embarrassed officials in London after writing a blog post praising the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon’s top Shiite cleric, who supported Hezbollah’s and other militants’ attacks on Israel.

Frances Guy, who has served nearly four years as the Britain’s ambassador in Lebanon, made her tribute following the cleric’s death late last week. Writing in a blog carried on the Foreign Office’s Web site, she called Fadlallah a decent human being and a “true man of religion.”

“Lebanon is a lesser place the day after,” she wrote. “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.”

Officials in Jerusalem were furious. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor described Fadlallah as an extremist who inspired “suicide bombings, assassinations and all kinds of wanton violence.”

“The British ambassador must decide whether promoting terror and giving it religious justification can be considered a heritage to be cherished,” Palmor said.

Britain’s Foreign Office said the posting had been removed “after mature consideration.” A spokeswoman declined to elaborate. Guy could not immediately be reached; the embassy said she was out of the country.

Fadlallah was widely revered by Shiites in Lebanon and around the Muslim world, but was branded a terrorist by the U.S. government. The cleric supported attacks by Lebanon’s Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah against Western forces in Lebanon during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war. Hezbollah was blamed for a string of high-profile attacks, including the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks and French military headquarters in Beirut.

Fadlallah also backed attacks by Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups against Israel.

Western intelligence claimed that Fadlallah was Hezbollah’s spiritual leader, an allegation denied by the cleric and by the group, which considers Iran’s supreme leader its religious guide.

Fadlallah’s legacy extended far beyond Lebanon — he threw his support behind the Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and was one of the founders of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s governing Dawa Party.

He mellowed with age, losing much of his 1980s militancy. His sermons, once fiery diatribes denouncing American imperialism, took on a pragmatic tone as he urged dialogue among nations and split with Iran on some issues. He was also relatively liberal on many social issues, a large source of his popularity among his followers.

The uproar over Guy’s message follows the dismissal of CNN editor Octavia Nasr after she expressed admiration for Fadlallah in a message posted to Twitter.

Nasr, who had worked at the news network for 20 years, was fired on Wednesday after saying Fadlallah was “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

She later said in a blog that she had been referring to Fadlallah’s attitude toward women’s rights. She wrote that Fadlallah was “revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It’s something I deeply regret.”

Hezbollah on Friday denounced her firing. The movement’s spokesman, Ibrahim Moussawi says CNN’s decision amounts to “intellectual terrorism” and reflects the West’s “double standards” in dealing with the Mideast.

Associated Press Writers Matti Friedman in Jerusalem and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.


Guy’s blog:

Her cached post, available via Google:

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