Polemicscat's Weblog

Examining settled and unsettling questions.

Freedom of the Press and Jihad

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The burden of proof is on the accused when it comes to libel rulings in British courts.  So when Cambridge University Press was threatened with a suit over publishing Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, it capitulated before going to court.  In doing so the Cambridge UP agreed to shred all unsold copies of the book.

The book had been written by two Americans who continued to stand by its accuracy, but to no avail.  The book had shown how oil sheiks and the very rich in Saudi Arabia were financing terrorism around the world.  That prompted a billionaire Saudi banker, Khalid bin Mahfouz, to threaten the libel suit.

Cambridge UP also agreed to make a public apology, pay substantial damages, legal fees, and make a pledge to contact libraries worldwide with a request that they remove Alms for Jihad from their shelves.  Some people feared that American colleges and universities would comply with the request from Cambridge UP.  Consequently there was a rush to check out the book. Many libraries reported missing copies.  Soon the book was sold out at vendors like Amazon.com and was unavailable at even high prices.

Stanley Kurtz, in an article for The New Criterion‘s special publication, “Free speech in an age of jihad,” says it is not an isolated case.  “Not one book, but possibly as many as thirty-six books containing passing mentions of bin Mahfouz’s financial activities, have been suppressed by the threat or reality of British libel suits.”  And worse, the chilling effect of the threats of suits “has rendered publishers worldwide reluctant to accept material that touches upon terror-network financing.”

Closer to home, Canada’s Human Rights Commissions heard a complaint against Maclean’s, a leading magazine in Canada, for publishing an article by Mark Steyn, a best-selling Canadian author.   The  article, excerpted from Steyn’s book America Alone, expresses “concerns about the cultural impact of large and relatively unassimilated Muslim immigrant populations on the West.”  

The Human Rights Commissions were “founded in the 1970s to deal with cases of job and housing discrimination.”  But a provision in the establishment of that law “similar to Europe’s hate-speech laws soon permitted these commissions to hear cases involving speech ‘likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.’ ”

Kurtz says the “complaint filed against Mark Steyn is a totalitarian document.” It is “not really levied against any particular factual claim or rhetorical move.  It is instead a request that vast sections of heretofore legitimate reporting and opinion journalism be banned.”  Even if the complaint fails, says Kurtz, it still will have a “chilling effect on public discourse. . . .The mere threat of the spectacle and its cost suffices to shut down debate on controversial issues, especially for outlets and commentators less prominent than Steyn and Maclean’s.”

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Written by polemicscat

September 19, 2008 at 7:26 am

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