06 August 2007

Censoring Sheikh?

Late last week I saw this piece about a British publisher agreeing to recall and destroy any unsold copies of "Alms for Jihad" after Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz brought a libel suit against the publisher.

Cambridge University Press has agreed to destroy all unsold copies of a 2006 book by two American authors, "Alms for Jihad," following a libel action brought against it in England, the latest development in what critics say is an effort by Saudis to quash discussion of their alleged role in aiding terrorism.

In a letter of apology to a wealthy Saudi businessman, Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, Cambridge University Press acknowledged that allegations made in the book about his family, businesses, and charities were "entirely and manifestly false." The publisher wrote, "Please accept our sincere apologies for the distress and embarrassment this has caused." [...]

Libel law in England is more advantageous to the litigant than is American law, which has stronger First Amendment protections.

One co-author of "Alms for Jihad," Robert Collins, who is a professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Sun that he could not comment until he heard from Cambridge University Press. The other co-author, a former a former State Department employee and intelligence analyst, J. Millard Burr, told the Sun that their book mentioned Sheikh Mahfouz 13 times, and in no place had they labeled him a terrorist. He said that within a week of Cambridge University receiving a letter charging defamation, he and his co-author prepared and sent supporting documents to Cambridge University Press. The authors were not themselves named parties in the suit.
It sounds like the Cambridge University Press folded because claims of libel are so hard to defend against in the U.K., even though the authors were prepared to provide supporting evidence for what they had written. I'll be curious to see if the authors can get a publisher from outside of the U.K. to print the book.

Another item noted in the article was that Cambridge University Press was contacting hundreds of libraries world-wide in an attempt to get the book pulled from library shelves. It will be interesting to see if any libraries refuse to remove "Alms for Jihad," and if the American Library Association ends up weighing in on the matter.

From what I've seen of this so far, I'd have to say that it appears to me that this is more of a case of a wealthy Saudi trying to censor information than it is a case of libel against Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz.


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