No Freedom of Speech on Middle East?

No Freedom of Speech on Middle East?

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If you search “Anchors & Reporters” on CNN’s website, you can still catch a glimpse of a smiling Octavia Nasr followed by an unending list of her outstanding journalistic achievements-- but not for long. In due time, her CNN profile will be erased, along with a highly revered legacy as the network’s senior editor of Middle East affairs.

Nasr, a Lebanese American, was asked to leave the network just a few days after she tweeted that she was “sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

It is this incident, coupled with the recent resignation of Helen Thomas, that has frustrated Arab American communities across the country. Many have expressed fears over the seemingly new trend in which journalists who communicate an unpopular opinion--perhaps against US interests--are castigated, or even worse, fired.

Ray Hanania, a Palestinian American radio host and syndicated columnist, worries about the future of those vocal Arab American journalists who have high visibility to the public. “I think there is a great concern that every Arab American journalist should have,” he said. “We have to watch our professional backs.”

Amongst Nasr’s biggest tweet critics was the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization which called on CNN to “take steps to insure that its journalists and editors understand that making known their personal views by tweeting or other methods is out of bounds.”

Yet Syrian American, Mazin Elias, says the problem was not that Nasr shared her opinion but rather that she shared the “wrong” opinion.

“Many reporters offer their personal opinions from time to time and not in their capacity as correspondents. However, when a reporter offers an opinion regarding the Israeli-Arab issue, and that opinion is not the right one, the reporter is typically cast aside and berated,” said Elias.

Elias refers to the perspective of many that perhaps Nasr’s crime is not that she vocalized respect for Fadalallah, who is branded a “terrorist” by the US, but rather, her crime is that she expressed support for a leader who has taken a clear stance against Israel and Israeli aggression.

Clovis Maksoud, Professor of International Law and Director of the Global South at American University, will travel to France next week to meet with journalists and discuss this stark reality.

“With the background of what has happened to Thomas, and now Nasr, it just goes to show that anyone who expresses a view that is the least bit critical of Israel’s actions will be dropped without question. This is unfair,” said Maksoud. “Actually, it is intellectual terrorism.”

While Maksoud understood what Nasr and Thomas were trying to say, he is frustrated with the media who he says did not take the time to analyze what each journalist intended to convey. “The media didn’t care. These women were dropped in an instant, without even the decency of explaining the context behind their words.”

Lebanese American, Sirene Abou-Chakra, echoes Maksoud’s sentiments. She says that while their words, in a sound-byte or tweet, sound somewhat radical, they are expressing viewpoints that are actually ubiquitous when better contextualized.

“The fact of the matter remains that both Thomas and Nasr's comments, if allowed to fully develop, represent a popular sentiment among a vital American and non-American constituency,” she said.

Like Abou-Chakra, Arab Americans all over the country are expressing frustration over the bitter end to two notable journalistic careers-- an end which reminds journalists from here on out that “freedom of speech” on Middle Eastern issues may never escape the austerity of censorship.