Because English libel law overwhelmingly favors the plaintiff. And like many other bigshot Saudis, Sheik Mahfouz has become very adept at using foreign courts to silence American authors — in effect, using distant jurisdictions to nullify the First Amendment. He may be a wronged man, but his use of what the British call “libel chill” is designed not to vindicate his good name but to shut down the discussion, which is why Cambridge University Press made no serious attempt to mount a defense. He’s one of the richest men on the planet, and they’re an academic publisher with very small profit margins. But, even if you’ve got a best-seller, your pockets are unlikely to be deep enough: “House of Saud, House of Bush” did boffo biz with the anti-Bush crowd in America, but there’s no British edition — because Sheik Mahfouz had indicated he was prepared to spend what it takes to challenge it in court and Random House decided it wasn’t worth it.
We’ve become accustomed to one-way multiculturalism: The world accepts 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. 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.
Suppose you’ve got a manuscript about the Saudis. Where are you going to shop it? Think Cambridge University Press will be publishing anything anytime soon?
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.