Last year, a Georgia mother of four tried to have the Harry Potter books banned from schools in her area because she believed they promote Wicca, a pagan religion whose followers dabble in a kind of witchcraft. And so J.K. Rowling's wildly popular series joined the ranks of such classics as Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye: books that have either been banned outright or challenged because they are considered by some to be unwholesome and morally questionable.
Here in the United States, book banning is highly unpopular. We take our First Amendment rights seriously. When one decides a particular book shouldn't be seen by the masses, then one had better have a darned good reason for it. Such censorship techniques often bring to mind the next step: burning books in the town square, such as the Nazis did in the 1930s in order to cleanse the country of "un-German" and "degenerate" thoughts. An idea embraced by Joseph Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda, it had that unmistakable fascist flavor to it…something to which Americans are naturally averse.
A recent decision by Cambridge University Press to destroy any unsold copies (as well as try to retrieve library copies) of Alms for Jihad, a book that details the role of Islamic charities in funding Islamist terrorism, is a move that would have been applauded by Goebbels. Only this time, the censorship was self-inflicted in favor of a group that has become quite sensitive in recent years – Muslims. It turns out that one Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi billionaire and one of the world's richest men, had threatened to sue the publisher for libel. Bin Mahfouz and his suspected ties to terrorism earned him the honor of being mentioned in the book, which was penned by American authors J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins.
British libel laws differ greatly from those in America in that the burden of proof lies with the defendant – which can be a costly and difficult effort. Britain is also unique in that it allows non-residents to file libel suits about books that may have been published elsewhere but are sold internationally. Cambridge took the easy way out, posting an apology on its website and its plans to destroy as many books as it could. It also made public its intention to pay damages to bin Mahfouz, which he in turn says he will donate to UNICEF. (That gives you a nice, cozy feeling, doesn't it?)
The authors of the book, however, would not join in the pity party. Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California-Santa Barbara, said, "We refused to be a party to the settlement…I'm not going to recant on something just from the threat of a billionaire Saudi sheikh." He added, "I think I'm a damn good historian." Collins and Burr had provided Cambridge with extensive research to back their claims, and the publisher had no problem with their work – that is, until bin Mahfouz decided he didn't like the contents of the book. Think about it: would a highly esteemed, scholarly publisher accept research on par with what's printed in celebrity rag magazines?
It's not the first time bin Mahfouz, as the Weekly Standard puts it, has "us[ed] the English torte regime to squelch any unwanted discussion of his record." In fact, Rachel Ehrenfeld informs us that he's either sued or threatened suit in Britain at least 36 times in the past five years. He's one of a growing group called "libel tourists," a dubious distinction to be sure. One of bin Mahfouz's suits was aimed at Ehrenfeld for the publication of her book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Fiananced – And How to Stop It. But rather than roll like Cambridge, Ehrenfeld fought a ruling against her in Britain by appealing to U.S. courts, and in June, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that her case deserved a hearing:
That ruling thus established that all U.S. writers and publishers sued in the United Kingdom for libel can ask U.S. courts to rule the foreign decisions unenforceable here - provided they have jurisdiction over the person who sued for libel overseas. (The New York Court of Appeals will hear arguments on that issue in my case this fall.)
These important legal rulings have weakened bin Mahfouz's ability to threaten or sue U.S. authors and publishers; they're likely why bin Mahfouz failed to sue Burr and Collins in London.
Ehrenfeld, by the way, is the only one of bin Mahfouz's targets who would not settle. Score one for freedom of speech.
The Cambridge case and Ehrenfeld's fight have received quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere and elsewhere on the Internet. Curiously – or perhaps not so curiously – it has failed to gain much traction anywhere else. Go ahead and ask your friends if they've heard about them. In all likelihood, they haven't. But this is just as, if not more than, important as the attempted banning of books like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The Georgia mother who tried to keep that book out of libraries did so out of concern for the moral fabric of the community. You may or may not agree with her assessment of the contents of the book, but in a sense, her heart was in the right place.
Please don't misunderstand me: I do not approve of book bans. I'm simply trying to put certain actions into perspective.
Yet Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz (and anyone else who follows his example) isn't trying to protect society's morals. He's trying to keep society – specifically Western society – from finding out exactly how Islamist terrorism is funded. Because by understanding how Islamic charities funnel money toward terrorist causes, we can then go about finding ways to shut them down, thus cutting off a significant source of money on which that Islamic terrorists have come to depend. Bad for them, good for us.
And you would think too that libraries in particular would be concerned with any kind of attempt at censorship. Remember how librarians got their knickers in a twist over some of the provisions of the Patriot Act a few years back? Bryan Preston, writing for Hot Air, expounds on that theme:
Since my last update, several of you have reported that your local libraries have copies of Alms for Jihad. It might be a good idea to inform libraries that have the book that Cambridge Press might request that their copies be returned. If librarians are aware of the reasons, they might decide to keep the books pending a ruling in Dr. Ehrenfeld's case against Khalid bin Mafouz. And perhaps one or two of them will read Alms for Jihad and understand that the Patriot Act isn't their most dangerous enemy: Libel tourists are.
As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Islamist supporters are no longer relying on just physical intimidation (riots, etc.). They're now using Western law and Western political correctness as a way of suppressing Western thought.
Oh, in case you're wondering, that smell is the unpleasant scent of irony.
FamilySecurityMatters.org contributing editor Pamela Meister is a former radio broadcaster, a recovering liberal, a contributor to AmericanThinker.com and a formidable blogger at blogmeisterusa.mu.nu.
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