March 31, 2010 | 18 comments
My legal battle with a suicidal maniac provides a case study for Islamist attempts at speech suppression.
ON APRIL 14, 2008, Riad Elsolh Hamad, 55, left his family’s apartment in Austin, Texas, to get some prescription drugs. The immigrant from Lebanon and middle school computer teacher never returned home. Three days later, the police found his body, bound with tape, floating in nearby Lady Bird Lake, and concluded that “all signs indicate this may have been a suicide.”
His family expressed that he had been under stress lately and even suicidal. And with good reason: The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service had searched his house on February 27, 2008, when the FBI declared him a “person of interest” in a criminal investigation.
Despite this cloud around the dead man, local news outlets reported nothing but kind words and high praise for him. After Hamad’s family issued a statement describing Riad as a “peace activist who worked tirelessly on behalf of those less fortunate than him and was loved and admired by many members of the local, as well as international…community.” The press duly picked up on this moniker and regularly called him a “peace activist.”
Television station KVUE quoted Joshua Howell, assistant manager at the office where Hamad had a postal box, recalling him as “always in a good mood. Never upset. Never even heard him say a harsh word about anybody.” The principal at the school where he taught sent a letter to students’ parents calling Hamad “a longtime and valued” member of the faculty whose “love and passion for education touched us all.” At Hamad’s memorial service, retired Episcopal priest Edward M. Hartwell praised “his humanitarian work to help the children of Palestine [as] some of the most creative and effective work that I know of.”
Hamad himself had boasted of his peaceable approach to politics: “All of our work is very transparent. We don’t work with any militant group or violent group, or anybody with a militant affiliation.”
That was the Riad Hamad praised by family, friends, admirers, and even himself. But Hamad had another side, the one that brought the FBI to his house, that got him fired from Austin Community College for “making racist slurs and sexist jokes in the classroom,” and that made him a foul and unwelcome presence in my life. Thanks to the recent testimony by a former ally of Hamad who has turned against him, several years later, we now know something approaching his full story.
HAMAD BROUGHT HIMSELF to my attention in early June 2006 by sending me, via certified mail, a summons to appear in court in Austin. The document bore scrawled, unkempt handwriting on a form issued by the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, informing me that Hamad was suing me and Campus Watch (a project of the Middle East Forum, which I founded) for libel.
This turned out to be the second amended complaint; I found myself in good company, as the summons also listed the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (now known as the David Horowitz Freedom Center), David Horowitz personally, the Center for Jewish Community Studies, the State of Texas, Joe Kaufman, Americans Against Hate, MilitantIslamMonitor.org, and an internet provider called CB Accounts. Hamad proceeded to file another three amended complaints, and in them he tacked on yet more defendants.
His was a pro se summons, meaning that Hamad, a non-lawyer, had filled it out by himself and was representing himself and that it had cost him next to nothing to sue one and all.
Hamad charged each of us with 21 offenses, including libel and slander, defamation of character, interference with a business contract, invasion of privacy, fraud, and negligence.
In compensation for this long list of alleged abuses, Hamad demanded from his many defendants $5 million in compensatory damages, $10 million for his loss of income, and $50 million in exemplary and punitive damages. Nor was that all: He sought a permanent injunction against our calling his business an “Islamic charity” or him personally a “Muslim fundamentalist.” He wanted a Department of Justice investigation into us for “criminal and racketeering work as lobbyists for a foreign country [i.e., Israel] without the proper permits and licenses.” He also insisted on public apologies by us in 10 media outlets chosen by him.
Hamad gave insight into his mentality and motives in the course of his lawsuit. His discovery requests of David Horowitz are particularly colorful, including:
This summons came as a total surprise, as I had previously never heard of Riad Hamad. Sleuthing revealed only the slightest and most indirect connection between us: Hamad had created and headed an organization called the Palestine Children’s Welfare Fund (PCWF), and in a 2004 weblog entry, “Lamyaa Hashim, Supporting Burqas and Suicide Bombers,” I had quoted Joe Kaufman who alluded to PCWF as follows: “The site belongs to the medical director for the Palestine Children’s Welfare Fund, Rosemary Davis (Shadya Hantouli), and features a picture gallery of past suicide bombers.” That’s it. I quoted a few dozen words from someone who mentioned someone who worked for Hamad’s organization. For this glancing reference, my pro-rated share of payments to Hamad would come to about a million dollars per word.
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