Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

How Not to Fight This War

September 24, 2007       


If this agenda [silencing critics by lawsuits and other threats] is not explicitly and actively resisted we will see not only further censorship and self-censorship in the West, but increased repression in the Muslim world.
(Paul Marshall, nationalreviewonline, August 31, 2007)

Always on the lookout for informative books about Islam, I noticed this intriguing title Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins. This book was published by the Cambridge University Press in 2006, but when I tried to buy it, I discovered that it was no longer available.  

A little digging revealed a remarkable series of events behind the sudden disappearance of this book. Although the mainline press has ignored this story, it calls for the full attention of all who believe that freedom of the press is an essential component of a free society. This remarkable story has its origin in the British High Court in London, or better, in the vast storehouse of petrodollars now available to the Saudi government. 

Freedom of the Press Under Siege.

Billionaire Saudi Sheik Khalid bin Mahfouz, with ties to the Saudi royal family and the Western business world, and former head of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, sued the publisher – not the authors. He charged that the book contained certain   defamatory allegations about him and his family in connection with the funding of terrorism  

His lawsuit demanded that CUP issue a public apology, pay the plaintiff’s court fees and damages, destroy all unsold copies, and ask all libraries to remove the book from their shelves. Mr. Justice David Eady wasted no time to rule in favour of the plaintiff.  

Cambridge University Press put up no fight in defending the integrity of the two authors, who happen to be U.S. citizens. Nor did it give them an opportunity to back up their allegations. Instead, it issued a fulsome apology posted on its website. In a letter directly addressed to bin Mahfouz, CUP wrote:  

Throughout the book there are serious and defamatory allegations about yourself and your family, alleging support for terrorism through your businesses, family and charities, and directly. 

As a result of what we now know, we accept and acknowledge that all of those allegations about you and your family, businesses and charities are entirely and manifestly false. 

Bin Mahfouz’ lawyer stated that his client would not permit any funds to be transferred to al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. But the fact is that the Mahfouz bank has regularly transferred money to its principal charity, the Muwafaq or “Blessed Relief” Foundation. 

Facts Tell a Different Story

Mark Steyn writes that in 2001 the U.S. Treasury Department named Blessed Relief as “an Al-Qaida front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen” and its chairman as a “specially designated global terrorist.” The Treasury concluded: “Saudi businessmen have been transferring millions of dollar to bin Laden through Blessed Relief.” (Mark Steyn, “The Vanishing Jihad Exposes,” OCRegister.com, August 5, 2007)  

Steyn further claims that this particular “charity” “seems to have as its chief purpose to fund Jihad and to seed Islamism, as it has done in Chechnya and in the Balkans, where “it played a key role in replacing a traditionally moderate Islam with a form of Mitteleuropean Wahhabism.” For example, Ayadi Chafiq bin Muhammad, the former head of the Blessed Relief branch in Croatia, was “named as a bin Laden financier by the U.S. government and disappeared from the United Kingdom shortly after 9/11.” 

Alyssa A. Lappen, posted on the website of American Congress for Truth, reports that the information in Alms for Jihad is well documented in official U.S. Government sources. In addition, she reports that these statements about bin Mafouz’ support of terrorism “were further corroborated by French intelligence officials at the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE) and published in the French daily, Le Monde. The DGSE reported that in 1998, they knew bin Mahfouz to be an architect of the banking scheme built to benefit Osama bin Laden; both U.S. and British intelligence services knew it too.” 

Bin Mafouz has made generous use of the U.K. libel laws, casting a libel chill that few dare to risk. He has successfully sued or threatened to sue a number of U.S. and U.K. publishers. (U.K. libel law favours the plaintiff who simply has to file a case, and then the defendant has to establish his innocence by proving that what he has written is true and was not done with malice.) 

In contrast, the U.S. libel law is different, and freedom of the press is famously protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This is the reason that bin Mahfouz’ attempt to silence another U.S. citizen led to a different outcome than his earlier success in the Cambridge University Press case. 

Stopped by the First Amendment?

In 2003, Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American investigative reporter and director of the American Center for Democracy, published her Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop it. Her book also traced the tangled web of support for terrorism, including those managed by bin Mahfouz. She provided ample proof for her claims by citing official documents and other sources available to the public. 

Bin Mahfouz also succeeded in suing Ehrenfeld for libel in the British High Court presided by the same judge who ruled in the CUP case. Mr. Justice David Eady ordered Ehrenfeld to apologize, retract, pay bin Mahfouz $225,913.37 in damages and destroy copies of her book. But Ehrenfeld and her publisher, Bonus Books, did not meekly submit. On the contrary, Jeffrey Stern, president and publisher of Bonus Books, had this to say about the action of the Cambridge University Press:   

I find it utterly appalling that any publisher - let alone one with the history and perceived credibility of Cambridge University Press - would allow themselves to be bullied into making such a decision …What happened to freedom of the press? We’re talking about two very credible American writers here. The very idea that these authors could be silenced in the U.S. by a British Court is not only outrageous and fraught with frightening journalistic implications, it’s simply un-American. 

Rather than responding to the false claims against her, Ehrenfeld applied to the Southern District Court of New York for a ruling that the U.K. court judgment is unenforceable in the U.S. On June 8, 2007, a court unanimously found that Ehrenfeld’s case merits referral to a federal court.   

Furthermore, the justices took the unusual step of referring the matter of jurisdiction over bin Mahfouz to the New York Court of Appeals. On June 27, 2007, they unanimously denied bin Mouhfaz’ request to reconsider that decision. Subsequently, the New York Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the arguments on jurisdiction this fall. 

Much hinges on the outcome of this case since at stake is the bedrock of a free society. Veteran American Civil Liberties Union board member, Harvey Silverglade, told Ehrenfeld that this case is one of “the most important First Amendment cases in the past 25 years” and its potential for damaging the freedom of the press in the U.S is “not yet readily recognized.” 

Nagging Questions

The nagging questions will not go away: Why would the publishing arm of the second oldest English University, whose very purpose is to advance and defend the free flow of ideas, so quickly surrender? And why would the nation with the longest tradition of hard-won parliamentary democracy lend its institutions to treat in a cavalier manner the rights and freedoms of citizens?  

Above all, why would a British court accord all the privileges and rights of the West to a citizen of a country that does not accord even the most basic freedoms, notably the freedom of religion to its citizens? And what is worse, this same country is spending billions of dollars to spread its radical version of Islam across the world. Mark Steyn puts this issue in perspective: 

We’ve gotten used to one way multiculturalism: The world accepts that you can’t open an Episcopal or Congregational church in Jeddah or Riyadh, but every week the Saudis can open radical mosques and madrassahs and pro-Saudi think-tanks in London and Toronto and Dearborn, Mich., and Falls Church, Va. And their global reach extends a little further day by day, inch by inch, in the lengthening shadows, as the lights go out one by one around the world. 

Osama bin Laden and a raft of other proponents of radical Islam have declared war on the West. Whether we like it or not, we cannot avoid this confrontation. This war takes place with weapons that kill, but also on the battlefield of ideas and beliefs. It is here that the enemy is cunning, determined and wickedly clever in subverting the very freedoms and institutions of the democracies to use against us.  

It will require a massive injection of courage and truth telling to win this war of ideas.

To that end we had better pray that the likes of Burr, Collins, and Ehrenfeld, and all other truth tellers, will win the day. But we should take nothing for granted and also be prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. 

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