August 21, 2007

Shutting Down Freedom of Speech

Donald B. Hawthorne

Duncan Currie writes in The Libel Tourist Strikes Again: How to Kill a Book You Don't Like:

In late July, Cambridge University Press announced it was destroying all its remaining copies of Alms for Jihad, a 2006 book exploring the nexus of Islamic charities and Islamic radicalism. At the same time, Cambridge asked libraries around the world to stop carrying the book on their shelves. The reason? Fear of being sued in a British court by Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi billionaire who ranks as one of the world's richest men--and whose suspected links to terrorist financing earned him a mention in Alms for Jihad.

Cambridge issued a formal apology to bin Mahfouz, and posted a separate public apology on its website...

Neither [authors] Burr nor Collins joined the apology. Both American writers and U.S. citizens, they stand by their scholarship. "We refused to be a party to the settlement," says Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "I'm not going to recant on something just from the threat of a billionaire Saudi sheikh." What's more, he adds, "I think I'm a damn good historian."...

According to Ehrenfeld, there are "at least 36 cases" since March 2002 where bin Mahfouz has either sued or threatened to sue (mostly the latter) in England over the documentation of his alleged terror connections. He is the most prominent Saudi "libel tourist," the moniker given to those who exploit British law to silence critics. "It's had a tremendous chilling effect," Ehrenfeld argues, on those seeking to investigate bin Mahfouz and other Saudi bigwigs...

Therein lies the deeper significance of this case. Bin Mahfouz has a habit of using the English tort regime to squelch any unwanted discussion of his record. In America, the burden of proof in a libel suit lies with the plaintiff. In Britain, it lies with the defendant, which can make it terribly difficult and expensive to ward off a defamation charge, even if the balance of evidence supports the defendant...

Many "charities," it seems, have fueled Islamic radicalization across the globe and given tangible assistance to terrorists. As Collins points out, the book is extensively referenced with hundreds of footnotes.

More than two years ago, the London Times warned that "U.S. publishers might have to stop contentious books being sold on the Internet in case they reach the 'claimant-friendly' English courts." So why hasn't this become a cause célèbre for American publishing firms and journalists?

"There's been very little mainstream media coverage" of the Alms for Jihad story, observes Jeffrey Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Bonus Books (which published Funding Evil). This lack of outrage is "absolutely appalling," Ehrenfeld says. "They are burning books now in England, and we are sitting here doing nothing." As for her own legal struggle, she says, "It's been a very lonely fight. It still is."

A tremendous chilling effect, indeed. And where is the outrage?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Donald, how far did Cambridge Univ Press go with the book? Was it distributed? I couldn't tell from the article and I wanted to buy a copy. It looks like the only thing pertaining to it on Amazon, for example, is a book review.

Posted by: SusanD at August 21, 2007 11:13 AM

For the record, I wanted to purchase this book on principle (the principles of we don't burn books, let's stand up to bullies and the truth shall set you free). It appears others want to purchase this book for more ... commercial reasons: it is presently for sale on e-bay and the current bid is $182.51.

Wikipedia advises:

"Cambridge University Press sent a letter to libraries asking them to remove copies from circulation. CUP subsequently sent out copies of an "errata" sheet. The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom responded for the organization, urging libraries to continue to make this text available."

So not everyone is knuckling under.

Posted by: SusanD at August 21, 2007 11:42 AM

Never been a Sal Rushdie fan, but I ought to buy one of his books just to spite this bastard. I just hope this sheik and some Christian book banner get to share quarters in Hades.

Posted by: rhody at August 21, 2007 3:47 PM

I just placed a hold on Alms for Jihad through the CLAN system. Easy to do online.

Posted by: chuckR at August 21, 2007 7:48 PM

WorldCat shows around 300 libraries in the U.S. that own the book. I'm placing a hold on mine today...

I wonder if they'll let me keep it ;)

Posted by: Marty at August 21, 2007 9:12 PM
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