Friday, October 19, 2007

The Right Way

There is an interesting editorial that appeared today in The Washington Times entitled Chilling free speech, by Ilan Weinglass, who is the editor of The Terror Finance Blog. This article can also be found at Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld's website.

I reproduce the editorial here in its entirety, minus some typos, and with my commentary:

The U.S. media has started to notice Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz's use of British libel laws to silence allegations that he funded al Qaeda. Even the venerable New York Times has featured an essay on the subject, plus an Op-Ed urging Congress to prevent U.S. courts from enforcing foreign libel judgments. While this would be a worthwhile achievement, most commentators have missed the point that we may have already lost the battle. More than 30 publications and authors have already given in to the billionaire. Since September 11, Mr. Mahfouz has exploited the British legal system, where libel laws favor the plaintiff, to systematically sue anyone alleging that he financed terrorism. He has also used the threat of such suits to intimidate his critics.

First of all, to say we "have already lost the battle" is exactly correct.

It is not necessary to win every battle in order to win a war. In fact, losing some battles can give one side a kick in its complacency that motivates that side to go on and win the war.

That is what I see happening here.

As the author points out, the US media is starting to notice. That may very well be a sign of a turning point in the war, and the beginning of the end of Sheikh bin Mahfouz's campaign to silence those who are sounding the alarm about him.

Several battles have been lost, but don't start counting your virgins, Sheikh bin Mahfouz, 'cuz the jihad ain't over yet!

By the way: I wonder what, if any, impact the blogosphere has had on this. I'm betting quite a bit; since the mainstream media has tended to keep this issue at arms-length (if that), it is the blogosphere that is playing a significant role in keeping this issue on people's minds.

By silencing scholarly authors, who research their work, have it peer reviewed, and stand behind it, making corrections when necessary, Sheikh bin Mahfouz is driving this whole thing underground, into the blogosphere, where anonymous bloggers who are totally unaccountable can say pretty much whatever they like about him -- and are increasingly motivated to do so.

In fact, I'm feeling so motivated, that I have added a new widget to my sidebar -- see if you can find the one I'm talking about.

How do you like that, Sheikh bin Mahfouz?


A number of leading American publications including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and USA Today have publicly retracted allegations made about Mr. Mahfouz on their pages. Most recently, Mr. Mahfouz threatened to sue Cambridge University Press (CUP) for publishing "Alms for Jihad." Overlooking its responsibility and academic integrity, CUP decided to avoid huge legal expenses. It apologized and pulped the book. While criticizing CUP for its capitulation, the American media failed to notice that the authors of the book were not even threatened. Why not? Because of what civil-rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate calls "one of the most important First Amendment cases in the past 25 years," now pending before the New York Court of Appeals.

Cambridge University Press.... on the cutting edge of the West's dhimmification movement.

This case involves Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It." Miss Ehrenfeld was also subject to a lawsuit by Mr. Mahfouz. But unlike the others, she refuses to acknowledge the jurisdiction of a British court over a book published in New York, and she asked a U.S. court to declare the British judgment unenforceable in the United States. After two years, a U.S. appeals court ruled that the New York Court of Appeals must hear her case. This is already a small victory for free speech, as Mr. Mahfouz will have to make his case in an American court.

Oral arguments will be in the middle of next month, so you still have time to support Dr. Ehrenfeld's battle against Sheikh bin Mahfouz.

This small victory pales next to some larger defeats, however. Mr. Mahfouz's Web site shows dozens of otherwise serious, careful scholars making abject apologies to the Saudi. A typical example, from a leading scholar of Al Qaeda: "I withdraw any allegations contained in the Book that you were a financial mainstay of Al Qaeda... I am happy to accept that you abhor terrorism and that you had no part or knowledge of any alleged transfer of funds to support terrorism."

Speaking of your website, I link to it now, Sheikh bin Mahfouz! You're famous at Stop Islamic Conquest!

To get a retraction from me, you will need to stop your lawsuits, and allow these scholars to work in peace. Cooperate with them fully, do not hinder their work, and if they then, under those conditions, say you are clean, I will believe them.

(Shall we hold our breath waiting?)

Looking closely through publicly available scholarship on Mr. Mahfouz, it is doubtful one will find any terror-finance allegations that have not been explicitly retracted in such a manner, with the exception of those made by Miss Ehrenfeld. While all claims must be subject to rigorous investigation, this is disturbing, since the Treasury Department designated Yassin al-Qadi, the director of Mr. Mahfouz's "charitable" foundation, as a terrorist. Moreover, Treasury determined that a Mahfouz-owned bank sent $3 million to the same foundation, plus other "charities that serve as a front for bin Laden." We have lost valuable time in the battle against terror financiers regardless of the outcome of the Ehrenfeld case. As scholar Matthew Levitt writes, "such suits threaten to have a chilling effect on scholars conducting serious, careful, and peer-reviewed research into critical and sometimes contentious policy debates." While Mr. Levitt, who himself faced a libel suit in the United States that was rightly dismissed under U.S. libel laws, is correct in pointing out the "chilling effect" of such suits, the cold fact is that much damage has already been done.

They aren't going to chill anything -- anymore than attacking the Twin Towers and threatening more attacks is going to get us to submit and bow towards Mecca for bin Laden.

But you and your buddy Osama don't get that, do you, Sheikh bin Mahfouz?

Your brand of Islam, Sheikh bin Mahfouz, is an all-consuming fire of hate and anger, power and exploitation -- and it's generating a backdraft.

Ultimately, we will never know how much damage The Washington Post or Wall Street Journal could have prevented if they stood up for their First Amendment rights. Whatever the outcome of Miss Ehrenfeld's case, it is a black mark on these publications that they chose the easy way out, while a lone brave woman is the only thing preventing a total blackout on research into a possible funding source of al Qaeda.

Ilan Weinglass is a counterterrorism consultant in New York City, and editor of the Terror Finance Blog. He was a research assistant for "Funding Evil".

The mainstream media "chose the easy way out".

In my original post on Dr. Ehrenfeld, I compared her to Batman, and how appropriate was that comparison!

As Batman tells Robin in the cartoons, this is one of those occasions where we do things the right way, not the easy way -- and that's exactly what Dr. Ehrenfeld is doing, for all of us.

Help her out, if you can.

Thanks to my email tipsters for keeping me in the loop.


JMD said...

I’m afraid, I need to take exception to Ilan Weinglass's reference to The Wall Street Journal in The Washington Times and on blogs. The Wall Street Journal is the one major Western publication that has not succumbed to Saudi libel litigation efforts and deserves credit for that. I would be happy to make available a 63-page ruling by the House of Lords in the UK from October last year, which has changed British libel law albeit insufficiently and has enhanced protection of journalists and writers in the UK. It was achieved after a 4.5 year, GPB 4 million legal battle.

The case was the Wall Street Journal vs Jameel and involved a story of mine over funding of terrorism, in which among others Khaled Bin Mahfouz was among five Saudis mentioned alongside Mohammed Abdellatif Jameel and Al Rajhi. The House of Lords ruled that the story was an example of a story in the public interest and a model of reporting and editing. A second case brought against the Journal over this story by Al Rajhi was settled out of court in the Journal’s favor.

Ironically, Bin Mahfouz did not sue the Journal despite being mentioned in the story. There have been in recent years two major allegations against Bin Mahfouz that have been contested: that there is a relationship through marriage between Khaled Bin Mahfouz and Osama Bin Laden and that Bin Mahfouz is a financier of terrorism. The Wall Street Journal on May 29, 2002 ran a correction to a story it published that said there was a marital relationship. That relationship has never been proven and consistently been denied by Bin Mahfouz. It is now generally acknowledged that it is incorrect. The WSJ contrary to others, to the best of my knowledge, did not correct or apologize for any suggestion that Bin Mahfouz may have been involved in terror financing.

James M. Dorsey

Yankee Doodle said...

Thank you for your comment, Mr. Dorsey. I used your remarks as a jumping off point for a new post.