Last month we blogged a conference call with Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, who's had to endure professional, financial, and potentially physical threats and harassment because of her book Funding Evil, Updated: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, which identified Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz as a node of international terrorist financing. Bin Mahfouz had the book imported into Britain, enabling Ehrenfeld to be sued her for libel in British courts (caveat: it might not have been Bin Mahfouz - you have to be careful with accusations like this - it might just have been someone who coincidentally did exactly what Bin Mahfouz needed to enable a suit in Britain). Since the burden of proof in Britain is on the author to prove her allegations and since Ehrenfeld refused to reveal her sources, Bin Mahfouz won and now she can't travel to Britain for fear of arrest. The Anglo tradition of freedom of speech.
Ehrenfeld's literal persecution gets bound up with another controversy about Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World,, the 2006 book by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins that also identified Bin Mahfouz as a financial sponsor of jihad and that was also the subject of a lawsuit in Britain. In fact, all of Bin Mahfouz's lawsuits have taken place in Britain, even though he keeps threatening other lawsuits. The publisher of Alms For Jihad settled out of court, and then undertook one of the most dramatic suppressions of speech in the history of commercial publishing. After the jump: a description of the literally Stalinist suppression of Alms, the qualified good news about its potential republishing, and the Wall Street Journal's fight to challenge Britain's absurd libel standards.
A press release by Bin Mahfouz's lawyers at Kendall Freeman announced that, in addition to publishing a comprehensive apology, paying substantial damages, and pulping unsold copies of the book, "Cambridge University Press is taking the almost unprecedented step of … writing to over 200 libraries worldwide which carry the book telling them of the settlement and asking them to withdraw the book from their shelves." Two weeks later, Cambridge Intellectual Property Director Kevin Taylor followed through with a letter to libraries known to hold the book, asking them to remove it... Alms for Jihad quickly disappeared from U.S. bookstores and online suppliers....
Cambridge University Press is the self-described "oldest printer and publisher in the world." Yet this distinguished firm agreed to a virtually unprecedented insult to free inquiry: a request to academic libraries to be complicit in the suppression of a published work. Some wondered if Cambridge's request might portend more aggressive attempts at redress in future cases. In previous suits no settlement had included an attempt to suppress library copies. Some also worried about the potential chilling effect of these cases on lesser publishers who may become reluctant to accept manuscripts on terrorism issues. While questions are regularly raised about books in school or public libraries, challenges to books in academic collections are rare. A request to remove a book initiated by its publisher is virtually unheard of.
When Little, Brown withdrew Kaavya Viswanathan's novel... after the author confessed to plagiarizing portions, it did not ask libraries to suppress their copies... Knopf stopped printing Michael Bellesiles' discredited Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, but did not advise libraries to remove it... Libraries were not asked to remove Antoni Gronowicz's God's Broker, even though the publisher denounced its own book as "fraudulent"... The prestigious academic journal Science editorially retracted two fraudulent cloning articles by South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk, yet did not purge the pieces from its article database... Publishers, generally, and academic librarians, certainly, do not suppress the printed record, even when that record contains acknowledged fraud and error, never mind disputed claims.
The rest of the article goes on to point out that American Universities are having none of that. There's apparently near unanimity on saving the book, which is definitely heartening from an area that has not exactly been careful in choosing sides in the battle against political Islam. Apparently there are still some values and habits that thuggish intimidation and suppression of speech has trouble getting to.
The other piece of good news in the article is a link to a to a NYT report from earlier this month saying that Burr and Collins have reobtained the copyright to Alms. And though several American publishers have expressed interest in publishing it, they reserve the right to "just delete Mahfouz the 11 times he appears." Which is, of course, Mahfouz's broader goal. He's not really interested in apologies for past revelations of his terrorist financing - what he wants is to chill the potential for new ones. And as long as Britain has the libel laws that they do, he'll always be able to hold the threat of lawsuits over publishers' heads.
Ehrenfeld's direct pushback is one part of standing up to Mahfouz's intimidation. Another is the way that the Wall Street Journal pushed back against libel laws in their 2006 case against the Abdul Latif Jameel Group, an international trading conglomerate
based in Saudi Arabia that has interests in everything from cars to shipping to property to electronics. James Dorsey had written an article for the Journal in 2002 called "Saudi Officials Monitor Certain Bank Accounts" and had mentioned both the Jameel group and Bin Mahfouz as potential sponsors of terrorism. Bin Mahfouz did not sue but the Jameel group did, taking WSJ Europe to British court. The WSJ lost the case and their initial appeals. They kept appealing, and after 4.5 years and 4 million pounds they won their appeal and gained some small measure of protection for journalists and writers in the UK - although as Dorsey points out, certainly not enough. Still, between that and the republishing of Alms it's something. Although Rachel Ehrenfeld still can't travel to the UK and Bin Mahfouz can still hold the threat of British libel law over small publishers, so it's not like things are exactly copasetic. But it's nice to see a media outlet actually standing up for the values that journalists are supposed to stand up for, even if it means pointing out that either our friends the Saudis - and their friends the Wahhabists - don't exactly share those values.
- CJHSLA Conference Call: Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld And The Saudi Attack On American Free Speech [MR]
- Funding Evil, Updated: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It by Rachel Ehrenfeld [Amazon]
- The Libel Tourist Strikes Again [Weekly Standard]
- Alms for Jihad [FrontPage Mag]
- American Library Association: Zionism Is Racism [MR]
- Libel Without Borders [NYT]
- UK Law Lords in landmark ruling in Wall Street Journal Europe libel case [FinFacts]