Influential residents of repressive regimes in the Middle East can use a wide range of official measures to counter criticism and suppress dissent. Now, a trio of Western authors contend that one such controversial figure — billionaire Saudi financier Khalid bin Mahfouz — has hit upon a novel extension of such strategies, using Britain's plaintiff-friendly libel law to cancel the publication of two books alleging that he has helped fund terrorists.
Bin Mahfouz has long disputed that he has had any role in funding Islamic terrorist groups. Both of the books he challenged seek to link funds from the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, which he founded, and the Muwafaq charitable foundation, where he is principal donor, to al Qaeda. Bin Mahfouz first won a $225,000 judgment in 2005 in a libel action against Rachel Ehrenfeld, a U.S. citizen who directs the American Center for Democracy and the author of "Funding Evil." Her publisher, Bonus Books, can no longer market the title in Britain.
Another pair of American writers, J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, saw their book on the same subject, "Alms for Jihad," pulped outright by their British publisher, Cambridge University Press, after bin Mahfouz threatened to sue the company.
British libel law doesn't require proof, as U.S. law does, that a defendant acted out of "actual malice" and "reckless disregard" for the truth of a published claim. Rather, it hinges on the rebuttable presumption that a defamatory statement is false — sparking a libel-plaintiffs rush into British courts known as "libel tourism."
In a previous post, I called Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, Financier of Holy Terror, a "Libel Terrorist", and that's exactly what this is about -- legal jihad through lawsuits, and financial jihad by forcing the victim (defendant) to spend money on legal defense: Libel Terrorism.
This second concept of indirect financial jihad is important to keep in mind, because Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, Financier of Holy Terror, is a multi-billionaire, and is one of the very richest men in the world. Anyone willing to step into the legal ring and go umpteen rounds with Mohammed Mahfouz needs money.
With that thought in mind, go to Dr. Ehrenfeld's website, learn about her work, and make a donation.
The three American authors targeted by bin Mahfouz all say they stand by their work and deny any basis for a libel claim against them. But the broader worry is that judgments like these will intimidate authors from grappling with controversial subjects such as the international funding of terrorism.
Oh, no -- the broader worry is far broader than that. That is only the tip of the iceberg.
Bin Mahfouz won his British suit against Ehrenfeld after she elected not to contest it in British court. Instead, she has asked the New York Court of Appeals to assert jurisdiction over the case and protect her from the British court's action, after a federal court agreed the state court could consider the case. Her appeal is backed by a coalition of media groups, including the Association of American Publishers (which counts CQ among its members) and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, along with online retailer Amazon.com. Arguments in the case are scheduled to begin Nov. 15.
Oral arguments begin November 15th. Go to Dr. Ehrenfeld's website and hit her tip jar in a timely manner, please.
In the Cambridge case, meanwhile, Burr says he and his co-author Collins vigorously disputed the company's decision. The press sent a letter of apology to bin Mahfouz in July, conveying "regret" for alleged "inaccurate and misleading information" in the book. But that may not be the last word: Burr says he and Collins recently re-obtained the copyright to "Alms for Jihad" from Cambridge and are looking for a new publisher.
Yeah, well, Cambridge University Press chickened out.
Having said that, they probably figured that, given the laws in the UK, any legal defense would have been legal and financial suicide, so maybe chickening out made sense to them.
And this is the point I am getting to.
Because of the way libel laws are written in the UK, defense against a libel accusation is legal suicide. Thanks to these cases, we are now aware of that.
What is not obvious is the part of this iceberg that is still hidden from view.
People decry hate speech, and perhaps we should.
Many of these jihadis get transformed into jihadis by nursing on the venomous milk of hatred that flows from their local mosques, which, in many places, are being increasingly radicalized -- radicalized often due to the bite of our ally in the War on Terror, Saudi Arabia.
But, hate speech is partly political in nature, and, as such, does it not deserve protection under our First Amendment? The logic is similar with hateful CD's, pamphlets, and so on.
More importantly than that, however, is that if this kind of material is driven underground by hate speech laws, then how will we be able to identify who the preachers of hatred are? How will we know who is molding a group of potential terrorists if we do not permit them to speak? Is it not better to let them speak, so their arguments can be repudiated and they can be identified as the fools and potential terrorists they are?
The iceberg, however, only begins here.
No matter how terms like "libel" and "hate speech" are defined, it always boils down to interpretation by people, backed up by arguments in a courtroom.
It always boils down to someone saying "Yes, I believe in Freedom of Speech, but that kind of speech doesn't deserve protection."
Once that precedent is established, it is a short trip to government censorship, and from there to totalitarianism, only in this kind of totalitarianism, it will be those who can afford good lawyers filling the gulags with those who can't: Libel Totalitarianism.
Shabby and dangerous is a world where the government has too much power to decide what can be said and by whom, what is righteous truth and what is a hateful lie -- freedom in such a world is but a dream, and power goes to the highest bidder.
Our freedom is not free, it has been bought at a very high price, and it continues to be paid for even today. We must beware lest, as freedom changes hands, it gets sold again, and our liberty sinks upon collision with an innocent- and even wise-sounding argument, the dangerous implications of which we realize only too late.
Hat tip to my email tipster.