What are we to make of the outpouring of grief from highly credible Western news and diplomatic sources for the death – lamentably, of natural causes – of Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual head of Hezbollah, one of the world’s most deadly terrorist organizations and the murderous puppet of Iran?
Fadlallah was the spiritual authority who sanctioned and blessed the suicide truck bombings in Beirut in October 1983 that killed 300 American servicemen and embassy personnel and represented the deadliest single-day death toll for the Marines since the battle of Iwo Jima. He was also the cleric who in the 1980s ordered the kidnapping of the Western hostages that cost them years of their lives. Most recently, Fadlallah authorized the firing of thousands of rockets from southern Lebanon into Israeli civilian population centers, killing dozens and maiming scores more.
In a 2002 interview with The Daily Telegraph Fadlallah said, “I was not the one who launched the idea of so-called suicide bombings, but I have certainly argued in favor of them.” After the Mercaz HaRav massacre in Jerusalem of March 2008, when a Palestinian gunman shot eight rabbinical students dead, Fadlallah called the cowardly attack “heroic.” While some imams courageously ruled that suicide bombings were against Islamic law, Fadlallah defended the religious basis for these terrorist attacks to The Daily Star.
The State Department officially classified Fadlallah a terrorist and, according to Bob Woodward, it was the CIA who, in 1985, was behind an attempt to kill Fadlallah with a car bomb in Beirut in recompense for the death of the CIA station chief in the 1983 bombing.
The London Telegraph’s executive foreign editor Con Coughlin wrote of Fadlallah, “When you look back at his track record you can see he was right up there with other infamous terror masterminds, such as Abu Nidal and Carlos the Jackal.”
But none of this stopped Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, from publishing a statement mourning Fadlallah’s death: “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 Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. Truly he was right…. 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…. If I was sad to hear the news I know other people’s lives will be truly blighted. The world needs more men like him.”
That an official representative of a government involved in the war on terror could praise a mass murderer as a saint who made her into a better human being, and could call for more people to walk in his footsteps staggers the imagination. But then we ought not be all that surprised. Britain is the country that, it seems increasingly clear, did a deal with Muammar Kaddafi in 2007 to grant BP oil drilling rights in return for the release of the Lockerbie bomber, the worst mass murderer in British legal history.
Next it was the turn of CNN’s senior editor for Middle East affairs, Octavia Nasr, to tweet that she was “sad to hear of the passing of” Fadlallah, adding for good measure that the terrorist was “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” To its credit, CNN fired Nasr for her public lauding of a religious fraud who encouraged the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians.
But to her rescue came Tom Friedman, the noted New York Times columnist. It seems that one can win three Pulitzer Prizes and yet remain hopelessly confused about basic morality. After condemning CNN for the firing, Friedman conceded that Nasr’s posting was “troubling” – not because she praised a terrorist but because “reporters covering a beat” undermine their credibility when they “issue condolences” for the personalities they cover.
Incredibly, Friedman then offers praise of his own for Fadlallah, quoting Richard Norton of Boston University who said that Fadlallah was an advocate for women who “was not afraid to speak about sexuality,” adding that “he even once gave [a mosque sermon] about sexual urges and female masturbation.”
How public lectures about masturbation are virtuous enough to excuse mass murder Friedman does not reveal. But lest you conclude that Friedman is whitewashing a terrorist, he grants that Fadlallah “was not a social worker. He had some dark side.” Really, Tom, you don’t say?
I too am a cleric who writes about sexuality, having published “Kosher Sex” and “The Kosher Sutra.” Having been raised by a single mother and as a father of six daughters, I too am a strong advocate for women. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were the spiritual head of a terrorist movement who publicly advocated dismembering women and children I might be remembered for something other than my lectures on carnal lust.
Why then are so many literate Westerners grieving over Fadlallah’s death?
The answer lies in the hidden contempt shown by many apologists on the left for Arabs and Islam. As a rabbi, I see my Arab brothers as my unqualified equals in every respect and Islam as a godly religion. I therefore hold both to the very same standards I hold for myself and my faith.
But then there are those who, like Tom Friedman, treat Arab regimes as inherently uncivilized and Islam as a primitive religion, such that even the slightest deviation on the part of a Muslim cleric from genocidal terror suddenly makes him into a saint and a progressive. For people like Guy, Nasr, and Friedman, an Imam like Fadlallah who wants to kill Americans and Israelis but who is unexpectedly nice to women has taken a giant leap forward from the dark ages, deserving respect and praise.
This attitude is, of course, not only deeply amoral and patronizing nonsense but historically false.
Islam was once a proud and advanced civilization that already in the ninth century prioritized general education, with Al-Mamun, caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, establishing state-funded places of study, focusing on translations of Greek and other works of antiquity, that predated the first European universities by more than 300 years. The Abbasid Muslim empire had an agricultural revolution in the eighth century that produced technological innovations the likes of which wouldn’t be seen in the West until at least 1180. And in the 16th century, Muslim Sultan Akbar of India enacted laws embracing religious toleration and protection of women and children, not to mention being one of the very first commanders to insist upon the proper treatment of captured enemy troops.
Sheik Fadlallah must be judged against the backdrop of this advanced tradition and must be regarded as an abomination to Islam and a pious fraud. Those who care for Islam and wish it to recapture the splendor of its past must utterly condemn clerics who, for all their cosmetic modernity, have allowed a great world faith to be tarnished with the blood of innocents.