Last spring, legislators in New York State joined with the governor, David Paterson, in passing a law entitled the Libel Tourism Protection Act. The act has a narrow focus. It empowers the state's courts to invalidate a judgment of libel or defamation against a writer or publisher who resides or does business in New York, so long as that judgment was obtained in a country that affords writers and publishers a lesser degree of free-speech protection than does the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Though the law does not say so explicitly, it was passed without much controversy because a writer in New York State was in danger of being driven into penury by one of the world's richest men—a Saudi banker with Irish citizenship who has undertaken to intimidate and silence writers, editors, and publishers daring to examine his role in the murky world of Islamic charitable giving. Over the past decades, Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz has become the world's foremost "libel tourist," journeying beyond his own country to find a hospitable judge's ear in Great Britain. According to the late Robert O. Collins—whose 2006 book Alms for Jihad, co-authored with J. Millard Burr, was one of bin Mahfouz's targets—the tactic has been brilliantly successful. In three dozen cases in which legal action has been either threatened or carried through to trial, bin Mahfouz has succeeded in securing apologies and cash damages. Cambridge University Press, the publisher of Collins and Burr's study, had every copy of their book put through a shredder and pulped.
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