Not Much Ado Over 'Alms' Libel Outcome

August 2nd, 2007 3:57 PM

The mainstream press has been shying away from a case that should worry everyone who is concerned about freedom of speech and how terrorism is funded. Faced with a civil suit, the Cambridge University Press has agreed to destroy any unsold copies of the book "Alms for Jihad" (2006). The publisher has also said it will contact some 200 libraries to ask that copies in their possession be returned.

Written by American authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr, the book became the subject of a libel suit in Britain when one Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz claimed it defamed him as a terrorist. Rather than fight the allegations in court, the publisher apologized, said it would destroy the remaining copies, and will pay damages and court costs. (Interestingly enough, Sheikh Mahfouz is worth $3.1 billion. He plans to donate the money to UNICEF.)

The authors claim that while they mention the sheikh 13 times in the book, they in no way labeled him a terrorist. But the main problem lies in the precedent being set:

The director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, noting that Sheikh Mahfouz has been successful in as many as four prior lawsuits against authors, said that Cambridge University Press's apology had "ominous implications" into researching the financing of terrorism.

Four other books? Talk about a chilling effect.

Why a publisher would simply roll over in the face of litigation from a wealthy Saudi banker is a mystery indeed. And why the media, whom you would think would consider itself vested in this case, is giving this incident a pass is even more puzzling. PC at work? Perhaps.

The director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, Rachel Ehrenfeld, said that Cambridge University Press "capitulated" and "didn't even try to fight."

You can hear more of Ehrenfeld's commentary about this over at Hot Air, where Bryan Preston has audio from his recent interview with her.

The blogosphere can certainly play a part in getting this story the attention it deserves, according to Stanley Kurtz from NRO:

I continue to be struck by the potential significance of this story, and also by the extent to which a resolution now depends upon the blogosphere. Ultimately, I think the resources of the mainstream press will have to be mobilized in order to resolve the questions at issue here. But there is much the blogosphere can do–above all, generate the sort of publicity that will protect Ehrenfeld and others, and that will force the mainstream press to investigate. And the sort of legal expertise the blogosphere can provide clearly needs to be brought to bear here. There are important and fascinating issues of free speech and national sovereignty at stake, and resolving the legal complexities is well above my pay grade. But that this is a story worth pursuing seems certain.