Award-winning author Mark Steyn has been summoned to appear before two Canadian Human Rights Commissions on vague allegations of "subject[ing] Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt" and being "flagrantly Islamophobic" after Maclean's magazine published an excerpt from his book, America Alone.
The public inquisition of Steyn has triggered outrage among Canadians and Americans who value free speech, but it should not come as a surprise. Steyn's predicament is just the latest salvo in a campaign of legal actions designed to punish and silence the voices of anyone who speaks out against Islamism, Islamic terrorism, or its sources of financing.
The Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), which initiated the complaint against Steyn, has previously tried unsuccessfully to sue publications it disagrees with, including Canada's National Post. The not-for-profit organization's president, Mohamed Elmasry, once labeled every adult Jew in Israel a legitimate target for terrorists and is in the habit of accusing his opponents of anti-Islamism -- a charge that is now apparently an actionable claim in Canada. In 2006, after Elmasry publicly accused a spokesman for the Muslim Canadian Congress of being anti-Islamic, the spokesman reportedly resigned amidst fears for his personal safety.
The Islamist movement has two wings -- one violent and one lawful -- which operate apart but often reinforce each other. While the violent arm attempts to silence speech by burning cars when cartoons of Mohammed are published, the lawful arm is maneuvering within Western legal systems.
Islamists with financial means have launched a legal jihad, manipulating democratic court systems to suppress freedom of expression, abolish public discourse critical of Islam, and establish principles of Sharia law. The practice, called "lawfare," is often predatory, filed without a serious expectation of winning and undertaken as a means to intimidate and bankrupt defendants.
Forum shopping, whereby plaintiffs bring actions in jurisdictions most likely to rule in their favor, has enabled a wave of "libel tourism" that has resulted in foreign judgments against European and now American authors mandating the destruction of American-authored literary material.
At the time of her death in 2006, noted Italian author Orianna Fallaci was being sued in France, Italy, Switzerland, and other jurisdictions, by groups dedicated to preventing the dissemination of her work. With its "human rights" commissions, Canada joins the list of countries, including France and the United Kingdom, whose laws are being used to attack the free speech rights and due process protections afforded American citizens.
A MAJOR PLAYER on this front is Khalid bin Mahfouz, a wealthy Egyptian who resides in Saudi Arabia. Mahfouz has sued or threatened to sue more than 30 publishers and authors in British courts, including several Americans, whose written works have linked him to terrorist entities. A notable libel tourist, Mahfouz has taken advantage of the UK's plaintiff-friendly libel laws to restrict the dissemination of written material that draws attention to Saudi-funded terrorism.
Faced with the prospect of protracted and expensive litigation, and regardless of the merit of the works, most authors and publishers targeted have issued apologies and retractions, while some have paid fines and "contributions" to Mahfouz's charities. When Mahfouz threatened Cambridge Press with a lawsuit for publishing Alms for Jihad by American authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr, the publisher immediately capitulated, offered a public apology to Mahfouz, pulped the unsold copies of the book, and took it out of print.
Shortly after the publication of Funding Evil in the United States, Mahfouz sued its author, anti-terrorism analyst and director of the American Center for Democracy, Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, for alleging financial ties between wealthy Saudis, including Mahfouz, and terrorist entities such as al Qaeda. The allegations against Ehrenfeld were heard by the UK court despite the fact that neither Mahfouz nor Ehrenfeld resides in England and merely because approximately 23 copies of Funding Evil were sold online to UK buyers via Amazon.com.
Unwilling to travel to England or acknowledge the authority of English libel laws over herself and her work, Ehrenfeld lost on default and was ordered to pay heavy fines, apologize, and destroy her books -- all of which she has refused to do. Instead, Ehrenfeld counter-sued Mahfouz in a New York State court seeking to have the foreign judgment declared unenforceable in the United States.
Ironically, Ehrenfeld lost her case against Mahfouz, because the New York court ruled it lacked jurisdiction over the Saudi resident who, the court said, did not have sufficient connections to the state. Shortly afterwards the Association of American Publishers released a statement that criticized the ruling as a blow to intellectual freedom and "a deep disappointment for publishers and other First Amendment advocates."
The litany of American publishers, television stations, authors, journalists, experts, activists, political figures, and citizens targeted for censorship is long and merits brief mention. There is an obvious pattern to these suits that can only be ignored at great peril. And we must expect future litigation along these lines:
* Joe Kaufman, chairman of Americans Against Hate, was served with a temporary restraining order and sued for leading a peaceful and lawful ten person protest against the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) outside an event the group sponsored at a Six Flags theme park in Texas. According to ICNA's website, the group is dedicated to "working for the establishment of Islam in all spheres of life," and to "reforming society at large." The complaint included seven Dallas-area plaintiffs who had never been previously mentioned by Kaufman, nor been present at the theme park. Litigation is ongoing.
* The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) sued Andrew Whitehead, an American activist, for $1.3 million for founding and maintaining the website Anti-CAIR-net.org, on which he lists CAIR as an Islamist organization with ties to terrorist groups. After CAIR refused Whitehead's discovery requests, seemingly afraid of what internal documents the legal process it had initiated would reveal, the lawsuit was dismissed by the court with prejudice.
* CAIR also sued Cass Ballenger for $2 million after the then-U.S. Congressman said in a 2003 interview with the Charlotte Observer that the group was a "fundraising arm for Hezbollah" that he had reported as such to the FBI and CIA. Fortunately, the judge ruled that Ballenger's statements were made in the scope of his public duties and were protected speech.
* A Muslim police officer is suing former CIA official and counterterrorism consultant Bruce Tefft and the New York Police Department for workplace harassment merely because Tefft sent emails with relevant news stories about Islamic terrorism to a voluntary list of recipients that included police officers.
THESE SUITS REPRESENT a direct and real threat to our constitutional rights and national security. Even if the lawsuits don't succeed, the continued use of lawfare tactics by Islamist organizations has the potential to create a detrimental chilling effect on public discourse and information concerning the war on terror.
Already, publishers have canceled books on the subject of counterterrorism and no doubt other journalists and authors have self-censored due to the looming threat of suit. For its part, CAIR announced an ambitious fundraising goal of $1 million, partly to "defend against defamatory attacks on Muslims and Islam." One of CAIR's staffers, Rabiah Ahmed, bragged that lawsuits are increasingly an "instrument" for it to use.
U.S. courts have not yet grasped the importance of rebuffing international attempts to restrain the free speech rights of American citizens.
This is troubling. The United States was founded on the premise of freedom of worship, but also on the principle of the freedom to criticize religion. Islamists should not be allowed to stifle constitutionally protected speech, nor should they be allowed to subject innocent citizens who talk to other citizens about issues of national security to frivolous and costly lawsuits.
Brooke M. Goldstein is a practicing attorney, the director of the Legal Project at the Middle East Forum and the director of the Children's Rights Institute. She is also an award-winning film producer of The Making of a Martyr, an adjuct fellow at the Hudson Institute, and the 2007 recipient of the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for Outstanding Public Advocacy.