By: Bradley Vasoli, The Bulletin
New York - Security and legal experts admonished the Western world that Islamist terrorists take a heavy toll not only in lives but also in speech rights. on Thursday at Free Speech In The Age of Jihad conference held at the Princeton Club in New York City.
Six and a half years after Sept. 11, 2001, a phenomenon has taken hold in Europe, Canada and, to a lesser but potent extent, the United States that experts call "libel tourism." It refers to reputed supporters of terrorist networks like al-Qaida or Hezbollah filing civil complaints against their journalistic critics in a nation that defines "libel" very broadly. Because many books and periodicals are sold internationally, this presents a legal snag that is difficult for many authors to avoid.
One such apparent target of libel tourism is Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy and author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It (Bonus Books, 320 pages). Saudi native Khalid bin Mahfouz successfully sued her for libel in England when her book, which alleges he has helped to fund al-Qaida, sold a few copies in Great Britain through Internet vendors. The litigation came as a surprise to Ms. Ehrenfeld, who had only made an effort to market the book in the United States.
To Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, Mr. bin Mahfouz's decision to target the author in Britain owed to a simple realization: He didn't stand a chance in a United States court. But publishing houses now resist picking up Ms. Ehrenfeld's projects for fear that their doing so will entice lawsuits from her writings' subjects.
"Bin Mafouz has effectively paralyzed an entire subfield of American authors," Mr. Kurtz said.
Ms. Ehrenfeld has been ordered to pay a judgment of roughly $20,000 and over $200,000 in legal bills incurred by the litigant. She continues to seek avenues to fight the judgment of British Judge David Eady. Barring her success, she runs the risk of being arrested should she travel to Great Britain.
"[Supporters of terror networks] know how to silence us," she said. "And we need to do something in order to counter it."
On March 31, the New York state legislature took action of its own to provide partial protection to those like Ms. Ehrenfeld whose works have been subject to the litigiousness of their opponents. It unanimously passed the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, which specifies that New York does not have the onus of enforcing a defamation judgment issued in a foreign country unless the law provides for free-speech protections equivalent to those afforded by U.S. law.
The conference in New York City was sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the New Criterion magazine.
Bradley Vasoli can be reached at email@example.com.
©The Evening Bulletin 2008