Sunday, August 05, 2007
Last Wednesday and Thursday, I wrote about the use of libel lawsuits to prevent criticism of the funding of terrorism. The latest incident involves a capitulation by Cambridge University Press, without even trying to mount a defense, in which it agreed to shred the unsold copies of Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, by Burr and Collins, and to recall copies from Amazon.com, other bookstores, and even libraries that bought it.
Also on Thursday, Jeffrey Breinholt posted a great piece of research at the Counterterrorism Blog:
History is also full of cases by Islamic organizations and individual Muslims who try to use Western litigation to stop the fountain of knowledge. When it comes to the legal merits, they almost never win. When the dismissal happens, they try to claim it was all a silly misunderstanding.Breinholt gives citations and sources for more than 20 libel lawsuits by Muslim individuals and organizations, observing that:
These cases may be the tip of the iceberg. Although truth is a defense to libel lawsuits, it generally takes thousands of dollars to establish the truth sufficiently to achieve a dismissal. Settlement is sometimes the best option, no matter how unmeritorious the allegations. When that happens, there will be no court opinion. Thus, we do not know how many more cases are out there in which someone facing steep legal bills chose to quietly settle. For those defendants, they will probably never mention the word Islam again in public. Who loses then? In the long run, fear of discussion has costs to society�s search for the truth. Some of us like the fact that information flows so efficiently, and we want to keep it that way.The MSM(mainstream media, ABC, NBC, etc.), of course, remains largely silent on this book burning (well, shredding) free speech issue, but the rest of the blogosphere is starting to catch up. Glenn Reynolds posted at Instapundit late Thursday afternoon. PowerLine noted the issue on Saturday, and there are links here and here to Mark Steyn's op-ed in today's Orange County Register.
Moreover, the truth is not always obvious when the lawsuit is being pursued. It often takes many years and much more lively American dialogue to get there. That means the use of litigation to control the flow of information should matter to those all who appreciate the gradual pace at which knowledge develops. There is now no question that [Global Relief Foundation] was under investigation - it has since been designated as a terrorist financier by President Bush. Cat Stevens� conversion to Islam and his relocation to Iran is now common knowledge... Historically, with some libel actions, we sometimes look back years later and wonder how anyone could have questioned the information then at issue, either because it is so obviously true or because our mores have changed. Then we feel dirty.
In additon to the sources linked in my previous posts, Stanley Kurtz has a thoughtful roundup, including links to other earlier material.
The foundation of western civilization requires an open and frank discussion of ideas. When one aggressively "aggrieved" group succeeds in limiting almost all commentary they perceive to be against "them," everyone loses. We must be able to ask the fundamental questions of "Why? Why not? How? What?" These basic, basic words have driven the success the world experiences today. Sympathy (or feelings of guilt) should not lead us to allow any "minority" to undercut the free market of ideas with baseless litigation.