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The Western Press and Hezbollah

Two, three, many Nasrs.

12:00 AM, Jul 10, 2010 • By LEE SMITH
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This is why a group of Lebanese colleagues and I decided to bring over delegations of American journalists during the last two years, so that there was at least someone listening to the other side. This infatuation with Hezbollah has been going on for years, and it’s not just because the party established a formidable style of press criticism by kidnapping journalists back in the ’80s. The U.S. media actually likes Hezbollah--it is an impressive thing, after all, to be able to kill your enemies--whether they are Jews or fellow Lebanese--whereas liberalism, non-violent resistance, rule of law, and opposition to political murder lacks sex appeal. Let’s not forget that since the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri the U.S. media had tended to dismiss the Cedar Revolution as insufficiently authentic. The multi-sectarian coalition was not, in the eyes of most American journalists, made up of “real” Arabs, like Hezbollah; rather, it was a “Gucci” revolution.

This is the political milieu in which Nasr worked--and there’s no upside to being a Lebanese Christian, as she is. Where Hezbollah is treated with equanimity, if not adulation, the Christian community is typically dismissed as politically retrograde and racist toward Muslims. In her blog post elaborating on why a Christian woman “respected” Fadlallah, Nasr explained how she had interviewed the cleric when she worked at the Lebanese Broadcasting Company (LBC), owned then by the Lebanese Forces, at the time the main Christian party. Today in the American press it is hard to find a reference to the LF without it being preceded by the modifier “right-wing”--the word the fashion-conscious U.S. media uses to ostracize its opponents.

Who knows if Nasr was overcompensating for the way her American colleagues perceive her confessional sect, or even what she meant by "respecting" Fadlallah. In the Middle East the bar is famously low--a religious figure who thinks it’s wrong to mutilate women’s genitalia is hailed as a progressive--and in Lebanon it’s further skewed. Hassan Nasrallah is “respected” as a man of vision and probity, even as he hides in a bunker four years after dragging his country to war on behalf of Iran and Syria. On the other hand, Samir Geagea, the Christian leader of the Lebanese Forces, is despised even after he spent more than a decade in solitary confinement as the only militia leader to pay for his crimes during the Lebanese civil war rather than make his amends with the regime in Damascus.

Who knows what Octavia Nasr really thinks about Fadlallah, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that she fell prey to minority politics, twice over. As a Christian journalist working in a Muslim majority region, she imagined her profession of respect for a theorist of terror would win her bona fides as an “objective” reporter. And as an Arab she’s taking the fall for a conviction held by virtually all of her Western professional peers.

Lee Smith is the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. 

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