Outcry as British ambassador praises Hezbollah cleric

Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon has sparked anger in Israel after praising a man regarded as the spiritual mentor of Hezbollah.

An obituary to Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah – entitled ‘The Passing of Decent Men’ – has been taken down from ambassador Frances Guy’s internet blog after intense criticism.

The Foreign Office today confirmed the article was removed ‘after mature consideration’.

Fadlallah, who died last week, was regarded as a key figure in the founding of Hezbollah in 1982, but both he and the militant group denied he was its spiritual leader.

He was revered as one of Shia Islam’s highest religious authorities and won support from many Muslims for his anti-American stance and his support for the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

But he condemned the 9/11 terror attacks and had relatively progressive views on the role of women in society.

Ms Guy’s obituary described Fadlallah as the politician in Lebanon she enjoyed meeting the most.

She wrote: ‘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.

‘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.’

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the Jerusalem Post: ‘Sheikh Fadlallah was behind hostage-taking, suicide bombings and other sorts of wanton violence, but ambassador Guy said he was a man of peace, and ambassador Guy is an honourable woman.’

Ms Guy was born in Edinburgh in 1959, where she went to school. She studied international relations at Aberdeen University, Johns Hopkins University (Bologna Centre) and Carleton University in Ottawa.

She was the ambassador to the Yemen between 2001 and 2004 and was also head of Engaging with Islamic World between 2004 and 2006.

She has also been a diplomat in Ethiopia, Sudan, Thailand and France and previously worked in the British Council in Damascus.

She is married to Hugo Raybaudo and has three children, two daughters and a son.

She was born on 1 February 1959 in Edinburgh, Scotland where she went to school. Frances Guy studied international relations at Aberdeen University, Johns Hopkins University (Bologna Centre) and Carleton University, Ottawa.

The news comes after CNN sacked an editor responsible for Middle Eastern coverage after she posted a note on Twitter expressing admiration for Fadlallah.
Octavia Nasr later apologised for the message, but CNN senior vice president for international newsgathering – Parisa Khosravi – said her credibility had been compromised.

Ms Nasr had worked at CNN for 20 years and would appear as an on-screen analyst during discussions on Middle Eastern topics.

In her tweet, she said she was sad to hear of Fadlallah’s death and called him ‘one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot’.

She later said in a blog that she had been referring to his attitude towards women’s rights. The cleric had issued edicts banning so-called ‘honour killing’ of women and giving women the right to hit their husbands if attacked first.

She wrote: ‘Fadlallah was revered across borders yet designated a terrorist.

‘Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It’s something I deeply regret.’

Hezbollah has criticised CNN’s decision to sack Ms Nasr.

Spokesman Ibrahim Mossawi said the decision amounted to ‘intellectual terrorism’ and reflected the West’s ‘double standards’ in dealing with the Middle East.

He said in a statement today that the decision exposed false claims made by the U.S. regarding freedom of expression.