On Thursday April 10th 2008, the Foundation for The Defense of Democracies and The New Criterion jointly presented a conference entitled "Free Speech in an Age of Jihad: Libel Tourism, "Hate Speech," and Political Freedom." The program consisted of three panels, on libel tourism itself, the suppression of discussion on Islam, and the potential for legislative action and the dangers that may accompany such legislation. As well, the day-long conference began and concluded with remarks by Roger Kimball, Editor of The New Criterion, and a stirring, provocative and thoroughly engaging luncheon address by Mark Steyn.
The first panel consisted of a presentation on the phenomenon of libel tourism by Stanley Kurtz of The Ethics and Public Policy Center followed by commentary and additional information by the panelists Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy and noted target of libel terrorism, Ezra Levant, founder of EzraLevant.com and public target of the infamous Canadian ‘Human Rights' Commissions, and Brooke Goldstein, Director of the Middle East Forum's Legal Project. Ms. Goldstein presented a concise yet comprehensive synopsis of the breadth of libel tourism as part of Islamist Lawfare, and the fact that such cases in fact date back to 1937. Also of particular note were the case of the suppressed book Alms for Jihad and Dr. Ehrenfeld's own famously targeted work, Funding Evil.
The panel on the suppression of open discussion on Islam began with an introduction by the panel's moderator, Clifford D. May, President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, followed by a presentation by Robert Spencer, Director of Jihad Watch, who discussed the firestorm around the Dutch film Fitna and stated that what is often claimed as "Islamophobia is really Islamarealism." He was followed by Ibn Warraq, who wryly observed that a fatwa "is sort of a Nobel Prize" for Muslims who criticize radical Islam. Steve Emerson, Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, warned of the disproportionate influence and motives of the Council on American-Islamic Affairs, while Frank J. Gaffney Jr., President of The Center for Security Policy warned against so-called Shar'ia Compliance officers at major US banking corporations. Claudia Rosett, Journalist in Residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, underscored the United Nations' complicity in terrorism and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's reaction to Fitna.
As noted above, Mark Steyn presented the luncheon keynote address, which soon had every chair turned so that the audience could devote its full attention. Mr. Steyn spoke passionately of the need for actual freedom of speech, and indeed the essential need to protect it – especially when that speech is objectionable. He emphasized its crucial importance as contrasted by the Canadian Human Rights Commissions, who have broad powers unthinkable to United States agencies and courts and have been a favored recourse by Islamists seeking to quell any criticism of their radical ideology.
Moderated by Jay Nordlinger, Senior Editor of the National Review, the third panel, on legislative options proved to be the most contentious of the day. Andrew C. McCarthy, Director for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' Center for Law & Counterterrorism gave a presentation of the various legal aspects of Jihadism, and stressed the importance of the Marketplace of Ideas in the war against terrorism. While the Honorable Robert H. Bork didn't particularly care for the term ‘marketplace of ideas,' he placed emphasis on the need for a multi-front approach in fighting Islamofascism, but warned that civilizations are fragile if hit in the right place and that "our defenses so far have been feeble."
Daniel Kornstein, sought-after attorney in the area of defending against libel tourism, and counsel to Dr. Ehrenfeld in her action against Khalid bin Mahfouz, explained that the problem of libel tourism is "old/new," being at its core the "abuse of litigation." He was followed by trial lawyer John J. Walsh, who had published an article in the New York Law Journal entitled "The Myth of Libel Tourism," and who attempted to justify his contention by several contradictory assertions, including what he believed were factual and evidentiary questions about the numerous actions filed by Khalid bin Mahfouz in Britain, and opined that "English law is not as monstrous as you've been led to believe."
Each panelist presented considerable arguments against Mr. Walsh, with Mr. McCarthy cautioning that we can't afford to have the legislative restrictions of other countries imposed upon us, Mr. Kornstein asking rhetorically how a law against libel tourism could possibly be more harmful than libel tourism's chilling effect on speech, and a notable question from the audience asking how an American could possibly justify Britain's ‘gossamer-thin jurisdiction' in light of our own due process considerations.
In total, the conference presented an excellent overview of the overall breadth of Islamist Lawfare, the soft power adjunct to terrorism, and stressed the importance of maintaining America's crucial – and unparalleled – protection of freedom of speech in the face of those who seek to supplant it with suppression and totalitarian ideology. As the Legal Project of the Middle East Forum continues in its leading role in the battle against Islamist Lawfare, the fruits of this conference will continue to be applied in concrete form on the front lines of courtrooms and the Court of Public Opinion.
Aaron Eitan Meyer is a Legal Intern at The Legal Project of the Middle East Forum and a contributor to The Terror Finance Blog.