If the Inquisition had had at its disposal not merely the rack but the English libel law, the fate of Europe might have been very different. Last week, Cambridge University press made a grovelling apology to a Saudi billionaire, agreeing to pay damages and to destroy all unsold copies of a 2006 book by two American authors, as well as asking libraries to remove the book from their shelves. In an apology published on its website, the academic publisher wrote:
‘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.'
Researchers are appalled that the book has now disappeared from the shelves. That is not uncommon; it often happens after a successful libel suit that the publishers pull the book in question and may not think it worth their while to re-issue it in an amended form. The English libel law is indeed draconian because, in contrast to other areas of law, it gives priority to the accuser rather than the defendant, so seriously does it take the potential injustice of a person unjustifiably losing his reputation. As a result, many an investigative journalist has found it impossible to publish material that is in the public interest; and publishers, knowing how the libel law is loaded, usually take the path of least resistance, especially when the accuser has unlimited funds. There have been similar complaints that in this case CUP caved in too precipitately. According to WorldNetDaily, although Mahfouz says he condemns terrorism and never has assisted Osama bin Laden or others,
the authors dispute the Cambridge claim of sloppy editing and Mahfouz's charge of libel, saying they mentioned the Saudi sheikh only 13 times in their book and they in no way labeled him a terrorist.
In this respect, the CUP affair is par for the course. However, the wider context means that the implications of this case are particularly disturbing, as the New York Sun reported:
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. A professor at Emory University, who won a libel suit in Britain brought against her and Penguin, Deborah Lipstadt, likewise told The New York Sun that this action by Cambridge University Press was a ‘frightening development.' She said that it seemed to her that the Saudis were ‘systematically, case by case, book by book' challenging anything critical of them or anything that linked them to terrorism. She said that she could not think of any publisher that would now accept a manuscript critical of the Saudis. ‘This affects not only authors but readers,' she said, adding that ‘ideas are being chased out of the marketplace.'
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.' Sheikh Mahfouz sued her for her 2003 book ‘Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed Â– and How to Stop It.' Rather than contesting the case in Britain, Ms. Ehrenfeld has taken to the American courts. In June, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in her favor, finding that if an American writer is sued for libel in a foreign court, that person can appeal to an American court to request that a British decision not be enforceable here.
If you add to this the threat of litigation hurled a few days ago by the Council on American-Islamic Relations at Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch in an attempt to shut him down; and also the killing of Chauncey Bailey, editor of the weekly Oakland Post, who as the New York Times has reported seems to have been murdered because he was working on an article for the newspaper about possible links between the ‘Your Black Muslim Bakery' (what is it about bakeries? Remember the Medina bakery-cum-mosque in Royal Windsor?) and violence in the area, including several killings and an attack on another Muslim-owned grocery store because it had
sold goods forbidden by Islamic law
you get a terrifying sense that, when it comes to identifying and discussing Islamist extremism, fingers are closing on the western windpipe.