The perils of Fadlallah-blogging

The perils of Fadlallah-blogging

For the second time this week, someone on the Internet has gotten in trouble for expressing respect for the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. CNN Mideast Affairs Editor Octavia Nasr lost her job on Wednesday over a tweet about Fadlallah. Now, Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, is taking fire from the Israeli government and others over a post on her foreign ministry blog about the late Shiite cleric. The ministry has taken the post down but a cached version is still available on Google. An excerpt:

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.     

Those confused about the source of this controversy would do well to check out my colleague David Kenner’s piece on the legacy of Fadlallah,  who is frequently described as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, but whose views, particuarly on Iran and women’s rights, are far more complex. 

The British foreign ministry has been very active, and largely very successful, in encouraging diplomats to blog. But the Guy affair is an example of the tensions that can occur when people representing a government write in a medium generally designed for self-expression. The U.S. State Department got a taste of this recently with the uproar over irrevent tweets written on a trip to Syria by two State Department blog that were reprinted by FP‘s Josh Rogin. 

Though if Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin’s Twitter is any indication, the Russian foreign ministry doesn’t seem to worry about this too much.