Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fighting jihad by following the money

Laina Farhat-Holzman in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on October 21, 2007

Almost immediately after the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began to "follow the money" — to see who was financing jihad and how it was being transmitted. This started a long process that is still ongoing, but it has encountered many roadblocks.

One of these roadblocks is a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz, who has either sued or threatened to sue 36 writers who have fingered him as a major financier of Islamist mayhem. He has taken them on in British courts because England has libel laws that favor individual rights over public rights. Mahfouz has been able to spike the sale and availability of a number of books that would otherwise expose the charitable foundations and his own Saudi bank supporting al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. When he sues an author, the British courts demand punitive damages, an apology, and the destruction of all copies of the books.

This apparently happened to J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, who wrote a scholarly compendium, "Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World," published by Cambridge University Press in 2006. They yielded to the court and most copies of their book vanished. Amazon and Barnes & Noble both list the book as "unavailable" I started last summer to try to track down a copy of it in local bookstores and then through a library search, and finally received a library copy from my local university.

It seems that for months, copies were vanishing from university stacks or were checked out and "lost," but with diligence there are copies around that were bought before the British courts spiked them. But persistence is needed.

This particular book [out of 36 or so others on this topic, also difficult to find], is a roadmap of Muslim charities, who runs them and where the money is going. It names names and tracks this money to Afghanistan, Sudan, the Balkans, Russia and Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Holy Land, Europe [for Islamization] and North America. The book is scholarly, detailed, and by no means sensational. It should be available in more than the few copies kicking around.

Happily, not every author is as passive about fighting back as Californians Burr and Collins. One woman, Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It," ran into the same roadblock: a law suit by Khalid bin Mahfouz. She lost in the British courts, which fined her $225,900 in damages and ordered her to publicly apologize and destroy the book. She refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the British court or its ruling and took it to an American court, knowing that she could defend her book's content against a Mahfouz suit.

She won the suit that Mahfouz's English default judgment is unenforceable in the U.S. because it violates her First Amendment rights. As a result, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared that her case is ripe for hearing in a U.S. court, noting that the case has implications for all U.S. authors and publishers whose First Amendment rights are threatened by foreign libel rulings. The oral arguments on jurisdiction will be held on Nov. 15.

This is an issue that ought to be protected by congressional reinforcement of the First Amendment with a new statute prohibiting enforcement of foreign libel judgments in the U.S., whenever American authors and publishers report responsibility on terror-related and other national security threats. As Ehrenfeld notes: "We are at war with enormously wealthy and determined enemies. We should prevent their use of their tremendous wealth to deprive American writers from exposing actions that threaten our safety and freedoms"

I would also hope that American publishers and newspapers would show a little more backbone than they have to date, apparently fearing an expensive law suit in London. Until the British stop being so soft-headed in the face of Saudi money, the United States should champion such authors' rights to be heard. In our courts, they can prove that their claims are not libelous and their books should be available globally.

Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer and author.
You may contact her at or

No comments:

Mahfouz vs Free Speech Headline Animator