Special Report

Islamist Lawfare

It continues to thrive long after the death of libel tourism.

By 9.15.09

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On Tuesday, August 18, the Saudi Arabia-based Arab News reported that Khalid bin Mahfouz, the Saudi billionaire perhaps best known in the West as the "Libel Tourist" for his penchant for using U.K. connections to bring libel lawsuits against his critics had passed away.

However, the much-publicized phenomenon of 'libel tourism' -- that is, the practice of non-United Kingdom residents suing American researchers and authors for libel in the plaintiff-friendly U.K. -- had already effectively met its own demise over a year ago, date needed after Rachel Ehrenfeld's refusal to comply with a British court's default judgment in favor of bin Mahfouz against her led to the enactment of protective legislation in several U.S. states, and consideration of similar bills in Congress.

In fact, bin Mahfouz's only newsworthy success came when he sued for libel over the book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, whose publisher, Cambridge University Press, capitulated  to him, abjectly apologizing publicly and even requesting that libraries pull copies off of shelves -- a request that American libraries categorically refused. However, unlike the Ehrenfeld case, bin Mahfouz's suit over Alms for Jihad, reprehensible and predatory though it was, was not a case of libel tourism, since Alms for Jihad was "Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge."

Yet, despite its brief and extremely limited existence, libel tourism has been allowed for too long to overshadow the real extent of the threat to free and open discourse on radical Islam, terrorism, and its sources of funding -- Islamist legal warfare, or "lawfare."

Unlike libel tourism, Islamist lawfare is not a mere tactic, but part of a grand strategy, and one that uses every legal opportunity possible to achieve its goals: including rewriting international human rights norms to comport with  Shari'a-based interpretation, attempts to globally criminalize manufactured and unsubstantiated assertions of "Islamophobia" or "defamation" of religion, claims of "hate speech" or "harassment," and promoting self-censorship by American publishers and media. Even as far as predatory libel lawsuits go, there have been many cases brought within the U.S. without the need to resort to British libel law, leaving bin Mahfouz's "libel tourism" as generally unnecessary.

Even within the United States, fixating on the predatory domestic libel suits that are a mainstay of Islamist lawfare is dangerously myopic. Counterterrorism consultant Bruce Tefft is being sued by a John Doe Muslim police officer not for libel, but for "workplace harassment." Random House's cowardly decision not to publish the novel The Jewel of Medina, like Palgrave McMillan's earlier decision to renege on publishing QURAN: A Reformist Translation, had nothing to do with threats of libel lawsuits, but everything to do with Islamist pressure.

Despite these and countless other examples, few are even aware of the term Islamist lawfare, much less the extent of its reach. Conducting an online search for the term "Islamist lawfare" on a major search engine will likely result in somewhere between 14,000 and 18,400 hits, while a search for "libel tourism" will net between 189,000 and 213,000 hits. In part, the number of hits for libel tourism is the positive result of excellent analyses of the phenomenon, such as Andrew C. McCarthy's highly informative article, which appeared in the September, 2008 issue of Commentary magazine, where he clearly laid out the crucial public interest at stake, as "the need to understand and address financial support systems that invigorate the terror networks targeting Americans for mass murder."

The danger does not stem from the fact that a search for libel tourism nets many results, which demonstrates how effective the response to libel tourism has been, but from the fact that the vastly more complex and dangerous issue of Islamist lawfare has yet to be fully addressed in the public arena.

Perhaps bin Mahfouz's demise will provide an end to the dangerous overemphasis that has been placed on libel tourism. Islamist lawfare is a far larger threat that needs to be understood as such. Otherwise, we in the West will find ourselves further outflanked by Islamist entities with immense political and financial resources -- and by a certain point, that could prove sufficient for radical Islam's victory.

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