Friday, July 20, 2007

One of the most potent weapons that global jihadists have to advance their cause is one of the least-remarked: censorship. And Rachel Ehrenfeld, founder and director of the American Center for Democracy, stands today as one of the primary targets of this tactic — and, by her ongoing resistance, one of the foremost defenders of the freedom of speech against encroaching attempts at legal intimidation that, if successful, will effectively silence the anti-jihad resistance.

Billionaire Saudi financier Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz sued Miss Ehrenfeld in the U.K. for libel: in her book, “Funding Evil,” she wrote that he was involved in funding Hamas and al Qaeda. Mr. bin Mahfouz denied that he had knowingly given any money to either. Taking advantage of British libel laws that place the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the plaintiff, Mr. bin Mahfouz sued not in the United States, where Miss Ehrenfeld lives and published her book, but in Britain, where neither he nor Miss Ehrenfeld live and where his entire case depended upon a handful of copies sold in that country mostly through special orders from, and the appearance of one chapter of the book on the Internet, where it may have been read by British readers.

Britain’s libel laws have given rise to the phenomenon of wealthy “libel tourists,” who sue there on the slimmest British connection in order to ensure a favorable ruling. Mr. bin Mahfouz had the good fortune of having the case heard by Judge David Eady, who has a long history of strange rulings in libel cases — rulings that generally ran in favor of censorship and against free speech. In connection with another of these rulings in May 2007, British journalist Stephen Glover wrote: “Mr Justice Eady is beginning to worry me. Is he a friend of a free Press? There are good reasons to believe that he isn’t.”

In May 2005 Justice Eady ruled that Miss Ehrenfeld must apologize to Mr. bin Mahfouz and pay over $225,000. This fine remains uncollected, and Miss Ehrenfeld sees no reason to apologize. Now she cannot travel to Britain, and her writing and research work has of course been banned there — thus preventing important information from reaching the public.

Miss Ehrenfeld countersued in New York, asking the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals for a declaration that the British judgment was contrary to the First Amendment and hence unenforceable on an American citizen. And on June 8, the appellate court handed down a landmark decision, ruling that Miss Ehrenfeld’s case was valid, and that she could appeal for relief from American courts in order to keep the British court order from being carried out in this country. Said Circuit Court Judge Wilfred Feinberg: “The issue may implicate the First Amendment rights of many New Yorkers, and thus concerns important public policy of the state.” He also declared that the case had implications for all writers — since they, like Miss Ehrenfeld, could be subjected to harassment. This decision could also have great impact on the September 11 victims lawsuits, in which Mr. bin Mahfouz is also a defendant.

Lost, meanwhile, amid the legal wrangling surrounding Miss Ehrenfeld’s case has been the release of a September 13, 2001, note from France’s foreign intelligence agency, the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE). The French news site obtained the note in late June 2007, and has revealed that already in 1996 Mr. bin Mahfouz was known as one of the architects of a banking scheme constructed for the benefit of Osama bin Laden. Moreover, the report claims that both U.S. and British intelligence services knew this. This is just the latest addition to the mountain of evidence from which Miss Ehrenfeld constructed her case in “Funding Evil.” Even if this evidence is all mistaken, the British libel judgment against Miss Ehrenfeld appears all the more fantastic and unjustifiable in light of the fact that French intelligence agents had documents allowing them to came to the same conclusion she did.

This calls for open and thorough investigation, unhindered by legal intimidation. If Saudis or others who have indeed supported the global jihad are able cover their tracks using British libel laws to silence investigators, the only winners are the jihadists. “The British legal and political leadership’s constant appeasement of the jihadists,” says Miss Ehrenfeld, “facilitated the rise of terrorism.” She sees consequences for both the United States and Britain in her legal struggle: “My fight against bin Mahfouz is not only to prevent the extension of that influence here — to defend our First Amendment from British laws. My success here would deter other jihadists from using the British courts to silence U.S. writers and publishers especially since it would — in similar situations — render U.K. court decisions useless.”

For that reason, all who wish to remain free and resist the encroachments of global jihadism and Islamic supremacism should hope and pray that she prevails.

Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology and law, is director of Jihad Watch.

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