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A censorship sheikdown?

- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2007

How will we lose the war against "radical Islam"? Well, it won't be in a tank battle. Or in the Sunni Triangle or the caves of Bora Bora. It won't be because terrorists fly three jets into the Oval Office, Buckingham Palace and the Basilica of St. Peter's on the same Tuesday morning.

The war will be lost incrementally because we are unable to reverse the ongoing radicalization of Muslim populations in South Asia, Indonesia, the Balkans, Western Europe and, yes, North America. And who is behind that radicalization? Who funds the mosques and Islamic centers that in the last 30 years have set up shop on just about every Main Street around the planet?

For the answer, let us turn to a fascinating book called "Alms For Jihad: Charity And Terrorism In The Islamic World" by J. Millard Burr, a former relief coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the scholar Robert O. Collins. Can't find it in your local Barnes & Noble? Never mind, let's go to Amazon. Everything's available there. And sure enough, you'll come through to the "Alms For Jihad" page and find a smattering of approving reviews from respectably torpid publications: "The most comprehensive look at the web of Islamic charities that have financed conflicts all around the world," according to Canada's Globe And Mail, which is like the New York Times but without the jokes.

Unfortunately, if you then try to buy "Alms For Jihad," you discover that the book is "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock." Hang on, it was only published last year. At Amazon, items are either shipped within 24 hours or, if a little more specialized, within four-to-six weeks, but not many books from 2006 are entirely unavailable with no restock in sight.

Well, let us cross the ocean thousands of miles from the Amazon warehouse to the high court in London. Last week, the Cambridge University Press agreed to recall all unsold copies of "Alms For Jihad" and pulp them. In addition, it has asked hundreds of libraries around the world to remove the volume from their shelves. This very unusual action was accompanied by a letter to Sheik Khalid bin Mahfouz, in care of his English lawyers, explaining the reasons:

"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."

Who is Sheik Khalid bin Mahfouz? Well, he's a very wealthy and influential Saudi. Big deal, you say. Is there any other kind? Yes, but even by the standards of very wealthy and influential Saudis, this guy is plugged in: He was the personal banker to the Saudi royal family and head of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, until he sold it to the Saudi government. He has a swanky pad in London and an Irish passport and multiple U.S. business connections, including to Thomas Kean, chairman of the September 11 Commission.

I'm not saying the September 11 Commission is a Saudi shell operation, merely observing that whenever you come across a bigshot Saudi there's considerably less than six degrees of separation between him and the most respectable pillars of the American establishment.

As to whether allegations about support for terrorism by the sheik and his "family, businesses and charities" are "entirely and manifestly false," the Cambridge University Press is going way further than the U.S. or most foreign governments would.

Of his bank's funding of terrorism, Sheik Mahfouz's lawyer has said: "Like upper management at any other major banking institution, Khalid Bin Mahfouz was not, of course, aware of every wire transfer moving through the bank. Had he known of any transfers that were going to fund al Qaeda or terrorism, he would not have permitted them." Sounds reasonable enough. Except that in this case the Mahfouz bank was wiring money to the principal Mahfouz charity, the Muwafaq (or "Blessed Relief") Foundation, which in turn transferred them to Osama bin Laden.

In October 2001, the Treasury Department named Muwafaq as "an al Qaeda front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen" and its chairman as a "specially designated global terrorist." Treasury concluded, "Saudi businessmen have been transferring millions of dollars to bin Laden through Blessed Relief."

Indeed, this "charity" seems to have no other purpose than to fund jihad. It seeds Islamism wherever it operates. In Chechnya, it helped transform a reasonably conventional nationalist struggle into an outpost of the jihad. In the Balkans, it played a key role in replacing a traditionally moderate Islam with a form Middle European Wahhabism.

Pick a Muwafaq branch office almost anywhere on the planet and you get an interesting glimpse of the typical Saudi charity worker. The former head of its mission in Zagreb, Croatia, for example, is a guy called Ayadi Chafiq bin Muhammad. Well, he's called that most of the time. But he has at least four aliases and residences in at least three nations (Germany, Austria and Belgium). He was named as a bin Laden financier by the U.S. government, and disappeared from the United Kingdom shortly after September 11, 2001.

So why would the Cambridge University Press, one of the most respected publishers on the planet, absolve Khalid bin Mahfouz, his family, his businesses and his charities to a degree that neither (to pluck at random) the U.S., French, Albanian, Swiss and Pakistani governments would be prepared to do?

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.