An American scholar facing libel charges in Britain has turned to the American legal system and the New York State Legislature for help. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It (Bonus Books), was hit with a $225,000 judgment in a British libel suit brought against her in 2004 by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz.
In her book, Ms. Ehrenfeld asserts that Mr. Mahfouz has been involved in channeling money to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The financier denied the allegation and took her to court in Britain, where libel claims are far easier to press than they are in the United States. The practice is known as libel tourism.
"That's the Damocles-sword effect," Ms. Ehrenfeld told the Chicago Tribune, which ran an update on the protracted legal struggle yesterday. "He's holding it above my head to intimidate me and others."
The case has been through several rounds in Britain. After the latest, Ms. Ehrenfeld brought suit in U.S. federal court, hoping to prevent Mr. Mahfouz from enforcing the British judgment in this country, the Tribune reported.
When the federal court decided that it did not have enough jurisdiction to issue such an order, the New York State Legislature introduced a First Amendment-style bill — known as the Libel Terrorism Reform Act or, to some, "Rachel's Law" — that would protect New York writers such as Ms. Ehrenfeld from foreign libel judgments. The bill won unanimous support in the State Senate but has stalled in the Assembly over worries that it may be unconstitutional, according to the Tribune.
Mr. Mahfouz has been involved in a number of similar actions against authors and publishers. As the Tribune noted, he maintains a Web site on which he lists some of those actions. In August 2007, Cambridge University Press agreed to pulp all remaining copies of its book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World in response to a threatened lawsuit by the Saudi banker.