The Litigious Sheikh Strikes Again
It's a good thing my inner intel nerd compels me to buy almost every interesting book about radical Islamism that I come across, because the Chronicle reports (reproduced by Campus Watch) that my copy of Alms for Jihad has just become a collector's item:
Cambridge University Press announced this week that it would pulp all unsold copies of the 2006 book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, in response to a libel claim filed in England by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker. The book suggests that businesses and charities associated with Mr. Mahfouz financed terrorism in Sudan and elsewhere during the 1990s.
"Cambridge University Press now accepts that the entire bin Mahfouz family categorically and unreservedly condemns terrorism in all its manifestations," a lawyer for Mr. Mahfouz declared on Monday in a London courtroom.
During the court hearing, the publisher also promised to contact university libraries worldwide and ask them to remove the book from their shelves. It also agreed to pay "substantial damages" to Mr. Mahfouz. Representatives of both parties declined to tell The Chronicle how much money was involved in the settlement.
It's hard to overstate just how craven a decision by CUP this is. As the article notes, the authors of Alms for Jihad refused to endorse the agreement. Also, it's one thing for CUP to agree to remove the book from circulation, but asking libraries to pull the book is outrageous.
Unfortunately, this is just par for the course for bin Mahfouz, who is an old hand at using British libel actions to silence any questions about his possible role in jihadist fund raising:
This is at least the fourth book against which Mr. Mahfouz has successfully pursued a libel action. His Web site also lists settlements involving Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (Pluto Press, 2001), by Michael Griffin, a freelance writer; Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002), by the French writers Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié; and Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed -- and How to Stop It (Bonus Books, 2003), by Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, a nonprofit organization in New York.
In an interview on Monday, Ms. Ehrenfeld characterized as "despicable" Cambridge's decision to settle this week, a move the press has defended as necessary and just. Ms. Ehrenfeld, who is a friend of Mr. Burr's, said that, as she understands it, press officials "caved immediately."
"They didn't even consider the evidence that the authors had given them," she said. "They received a threatening letter, and they immediately caved in and said, Do whatever it takes. Pay them whatever they want. Ban the book, destroy the book, we don't want this lawsuit."
Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of religion at Emory University who has her own experience with libel lawsuits (The Chronicle, April 12, 2000), sounded a similar note on her blog last week. Decrying Cambridge's decision to settle the Alms for Jihad case, she warned of a "pattern of silencing by the Saudis of authors who are critical of them."
The case involving Ms. Ehrenfeld is particularly outrageous, because her book wasn't even published in the UK. Instead, Mahfouz's lawyers argued that because British residents could purchase the book online, this alone was enough to invoke the UK's much stricter libel laws. Unfortunately, Ms. Ehrenfeld has so far been unsuccessful at getting American courts to provide legal redress for this attempt to use British law as a means of transnational censorship. If the courts won't step in to put a stop to this travesty, hopefully Congress will.