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. The latter read in part:
In 2006 Cambridge University Press published Alms for Jihad written by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins which made certain defamatory allegations about Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz and his family in connection with the funding of terrorism. Whilst the allegations were originally published in good faith, Cambridge University Press now recognizes that the information upon which they were based was wrong. Cambridge University Press accepts that there is no truth whatsoever in these serious allegations.
Therefore, "To emphasize their regret, Cambridge University Press has agreed to pay Sheikh Khalid substantial damages and to make a contribution to his legal costs, both of which Sheikh Khalid is donating to the charity UNICEF."
A little book burning is good for the soul I guess (burning, pulping, withdrawing, whatever).
Why is this a problem? Because of British libel laws. They're markedly different than US laws:
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.
Why is that a problem?
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.
IOW, it ends up being cheaper to withdraw the book and pay off the plaintiff than it is to pursue the suit. And that's especially true if the plaintiff is a Saudi billionaire.
Asks Duncan Currie, the author of the article:
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," [Rachel] 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."
Rachel Ehrenfeld has had her own dust up with Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz and has managed a sort of victory, or at least, a precedent which may end this sort of attack:
In a case more relevant to the Alms for Jihad spat, bin Mahfouz sued Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, over her 2003 book Funding Evil, which painted a detailed picture of how money travels into the coffers of terrorist groups. Funding Evil, for which ex-CIA director James Woolsey penned the foreword, was billed on its cover as "The book the Saudis don't want you to read." Ehrenfeld fingered bin Mahfouz as a financier—whether deliberate or not—of al Qaeda, Hamas, and others.
He quickly sued her for libel in England, and Ehrenfeld chose not to contest it. A British judge then ordered Ehrenfeld to repudiate her statements, apologize to the Saudi magnate, pay him over $225,000 in damages—and destroy copies of her book. Instead, she chose to fight this ruling in the U.S. court system.
Ehrenfeld argues that the verdict cannot be enforced here because she is a U.S. citizen who published her book in America, where bin Mahfouz would not have won his libel case. (Bin Mahfouz's lawyers originally secured British jurisdiction by showing that Funding Evil could be purchased—and read—in Britain via the Internet.) In June, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Ehrenfeld could challenge the British libel decision in a U.S. court, thus setting an important precedent.
Note the emboldened parenthetical line. If it can be purchased in Britain or read over the internet, it is fair game in British libel court. And while it is nice to be able to challenge the decision in a US court, it doubtless will have no effect on the British ruling. But it sure could cut down the amount of reading material with even a smidge of controversy in the good old UK. Why sell there if publishing or selling your book there risks an expensive court battle you're most likely to lose from forum shopping libel claimants who use the fact you're guilty until you prove yourself innocent under the British system?
I looked for Ehrenfeld's book on line to see if it was available to read. It wasn't a long or extensive search but I couldn't find it. I assume if it is an ebook, you can purchase it as such and of course, it's available world wide from Amazon. Two simple solutions I see for the "internet" angle are to refuse to sell a book to any mailing address (or domain) in the UK.
But that still doesn't change the fact that this is all just basically wrong. Libel should be something to be proven, not assumed. And forum shopping to force such action as that taken by Cambridge (Yale, as I understand it, has refused all such demands from Mahfouz, but then it is an American school working in a different legal atmosphere) just rubs me the wrong way anyway.
The book is here on Amazon. From the Publisher’s Weekly review:
Without money, especially laundered U.S. dollars, there would be no terror, and this lively, well-documented primer reveals the sources, the amounts and the armed terror organizations they support. Not surprisingly, the author of Narco-Terrorism is at her best on the ironies of the West’s appetite for drugs, which terror groups exploit for funding, arms and recruiting those who would undermine a degenerate Western society.
Lending credence to Mr. Brown’s concern, an El Paso, Texas, law-enforcement report documents the influx of "approximately 20 Arab persons a week utilizing the Travis County Court in Austin to change their names and driver’s licenses from Arabic to Hispanic surnames."
It is time to be vigilant and rebuff efforts to intimidate book publishers and authors and to support those like Yale Press.