Published on Friday, July 9, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
Can the Obama Administration Learn from the Death of Ayatollah Fadlallah?
A senior editor at CNN lost her job for tweeting about him. Thousands of Lebanese Shiites poured into the streets to mourn him.
Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Fadlallah, often characterized in western media as the "spiritual adviser to Hezbollah," died of natural causes in
I've met Ayatollah Fadlallah, and he was no terrorist.
The CIA and other intelligence agencies tried to murder Fadlallah several times in the 1980s because they mistakenly thought he was responsible for the bombings of the
Apparently his aura continues to haunt the West. On July 7 Octavia Nasr, CNN Senior Editor for Middle East Affairs, sent out a tweet that she had "respect" for him and was "sad" about his passing. That was enough to get her fired.
Fadlallah held views with which I strongly disagreed. But dismissing him and other
I interviewed Ayatollah Fadlallah in
Fadlallah made a dramatic entrance wearing dark brown robes and the black turban of a sayyed, a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. His hair and beard were already silver-grey. Shadows formed large crescents under his eyes. His dark raiments and worn visage belied his still sharp mind.
Fadlallah said he was never a "spiritual adviser" to Hezbollah. Hezbollah preferred Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a man with whom Fadlallah had many religious and political differences.
Fadlallah confirmed that the CIA and Saudi intelligence had tried to assassinate him with a car bomb in 1985. Eighty people died and 200 were wounded as the bomb blew up a
Bob Baer, a former CIA field officer in Beirut, told me that Fadlallah was not responsible for the
Despite the bombing, however, Fadlallah did not take reflexively anti-US positions. He opposed seizing American hostages during the Lebanese Civil War, for example, and actually worked to get them freed.
Fadlallah went on to build a network of hospitals, schools and other social programs that served
Walid Jumblatt, a Lebanese parliament member strongly opposed to Hezbollah's ideology, told us, "Sometimes Fadlallah sides with Hezbollah, sometimes not. Fadlallah has his own independent way of thinking. He always challenged the Iranian leadership in spiritual issues."
And that's an important point often overlooked in
But the US and Israeli governments choose to ignore Hezbollah's changed views.
Hezbollah initially favored a "one-state" solution in which Palestinians would control all of
In recent years Hezbollah leaders began to face reality. They now say Palestinians must decide this question for themselves. "At the end, this is primarily a Palestinian matter," says Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah. "I, like any other person, may consider what is happening to be right or wrong.... I may have a different assessment, but at the end of the road no one can go to war on behalf of the Palestinians."
In short, if Israelis and Palestinians make peace based on a two-state solution, Hezbollah won't interfere. If
But neither President Obama nor Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have ever seriously explored talks with Hezbollah as part of a wider peace-making process. Instead, they lumped together Fadlallah, Hezbollah and al Qaeda as enemies in a phony War on Terror.
Fadlallah made clear to us that he opposed al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups. He was among the first Muslim leaders to condemn the 9/11 attacks on the
So far the Obama administration has made rhetorical criticisms of
Even before Obama took office, Fadlallah expressed concern that the new president would not break from the past. "
Looks like Fadlallah may have been right.
Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich  is author of Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire , Polipoint Press, September 14, 2010, (Foreword by Bob Baer and afterword by Noam Chomsky.) One chapter of the book covers the life of Ayatollah Fadlallah.
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