David Kenner at foreignpolicy.com writes incisively about Fadlallah’s legacy as a religious leader who inspired Hezbollah and the Dawa Party but charted an independent course. As Kenner chronicles, the United States government misunderstood Fadlallah’s role, for years mistakenly considering him an operational leader of Hezbollah and trying to assassinate him in 1985.
There was an element of truth to the U.S. stance: Fadlallah was certainly no liberal, nor an ally to be recruited to advance U.S. security goals. However, even a quarter-century after that misguided assassination attempt, U.S. officials failed to appreciate the areas where their interests and Fadlallah’s overlapped, both in isolating Iran and reducing the appeal of fundamentalism within Lebanon. The United States always preferred blunt instruments and simple epithets — crude tools indeed for a complex man.
Unlike Hezbollah leaders, Fadlallah liked to meet with and debate those with whom he disagreed. A remarkable testament to this side of Fadlallah comes in this remembrance posted by the British Ambassador to Lebanon Frances Guy on her blog (where she regularly writes with surprising candor about things that other diplomats will hesitate to discuss as openly at background briefings).
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. … 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.
Fallout continues for public figures who praised Fadlallah after his death. First, CNN fired long-time Middle East editor Octavia Nasr after she posted a comment on Twitter expressing her sadness at the passing of a “Hezbollah giant” whom she “greatly respected.” (No matter that he wasn’t actually a Hezbollah figure, although he provided the religious justification for many of its tactics, include suicide bombings.) Now, the British Foreign Office has taken down Ambassador Guy’s blog post, “after mature consideration,” a spokesman told the Guardian newspaper.
Here’s the full text, of the post, as preserved by the Guardian.
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.