Deborah Lipstadt: Attention Authors: Be afraid, very afraid.... especially if you write about the Saudis and their support of terrorism

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Deborah E. Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving [Ecco 2005]. The book is Lipstadt's account of her successful defense against Holocaust denier, David Irving, who sued her for libel for calling him a denier.]

Whenever David Irving's libel case against me comes up someone inevitably asks: How could he sue you in the UK? I explain that my book was bought and published by Penguin UK and therefore he could drag me into a UK court.

Turns out that now the reach of UK libel laws has been greatly extended. It's a frightening development. In an earlier post I wrote about Rachel Ehrenfeld and how she was sued for libel by the Saudi Khalid bin Mafouz for writing that he had supported terrorism.

But here's what makes Ehrenfeld's story quite different from mine: her book was NOT published in the UK. Some people in the UK [I wonder if it was the Saudis or their lawyers???] bought a copy over the Internet.

Bin Mafouz pounced and Ehrenfeld was ordered to pay him damages. Now the American courts have come to her defense. [Scroll down at this link to find the New York Law Journal report on the Ehrenfeld case.]

Now the Saudis have silenced another book. This one is by J. Millard Burr, a former relief coordinator for Operation Lifeline Sudan, U.S. Agency for International Development, and Robert O. Collins, professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

They have written a number of books on Darfur and Sudan. Their most recent book, Alms for Jihad was published by Cambridge University Press. [Since their book was published in the UK, their case is closer to mine than Ehrenfeld's.]

The authors explore how, in the words of Michael Rubin, writing in the New York Sun:

The Saudi royal family played a pernicious role, founding and promoting charities to spread militant Sunni Islam, not only as an inoculation against resurgent Shi'ism from revolutionary Iran, but also to radicalize the Muslims in Europe and America.

The British lawyers for Khalid bin Mahfouz and his son Abdulrahman bin Mahfouz wrote Cambridge University Press saying they intended to sue the Press and the authors for defamation against their clients.

Cambridge University Press contacted the authors,and they provided detailed material in support of their claims made in Alms for Jihad.

Nonetheless, Cambridge University Press decided not to contest the argument and next week they will apologize in court.

As Rachel Ehrenfeld has just written to me in an email:"Get a copy of “Alms of Jihad” before it’s banned..."

[To satisfy the different leanings of readers of this blog I have provided links to Amazon, B&N, and Powells. I would have provided a link to Cambridge University Press but the book seems to have been buried deep within the Cambridge University Press website How's that for rewriting of history?]

Bin Mahfouz apparently has amassed a number of judgements by default, in other words the case was not tried on its merits. Everyone just caves, pays a fine, and gets out of Dodge as fast as they can.

Cambridge Press had pretty deep pockets but it too folded. If I were a reporter writing about this I would see what connections it has with the Saudis... That would be interesting to know.

And now I return to the main point: Why isn't this pattern of silencing by the Saudis of authors who are critical of them been the topic of an article in the mainstream press?

There are important legal precedences here, especially in the Ehrenfeld case, and a disturbing pattern of silencing of criticism by the Saudis.

Where are the free speech advocates now???

Read entire article at History on Trial (Blog)

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Bradley Smith - 3/5/2008

You write: "In short, those of us who are concerned about the Freedom of Speech must unconditionally defend the right anytime it is challenged."

I agree entirely. That is no longer, if it ever was, a sentiment taken seriously on the university campus in America. The most obvious example of how the ideal is betrayed can be seen in the reaction of the American professorial class (as a class) to the publication of revisionist arguments regarding the Holocaust question.

The professorial class has cooperated in making it the subject taboo, as if they were representing the intellectual standards of some hunter-gathering society on a South Seas island. And as a class they have kept quiet, as "bystanders" do, while the American Government has cooperated with the German State in extraditing German writers living legally in the U.S. to Germany where they are now imprisoned for "thought crimes."

The most recent example is that of Germar Rudolf.

The thought crimes of which these writers have been convicted is to argue that it cannot be demonstrated that during WWII the Germans used WMD ("gas chambers") to attempt to kill the Jews of Europe, and that in fact the number of Jews who were killed by any and all means is miniscule compared to the numbers claimed (some 6-million).

I have followed this story for a long time now. I addressed this issue in Tehran last December in a paper titled "The Irrational Vocabularly of the American Professorial Class With Regard to the Holocaust Question." ( www.codoh.com )

There is censorship via the State, there is institutional censorship, there is censorship via the creation of cultural taboo, and there is the greatest censorship of all--self censorship. On the Holocaust question, for one example, the American professorial class is committed to all of it.

Lorne Ipsum - 8/9/2007

FYI -- no copies of the book are available anywhere online, either used or new. Pity the authors don't just put it online at this point...

Richard Allen Ramos - 8/9/2007

Censorship is a touchy subject, for there are many things said, written, or published under the First Amendment's protection that are offensive and even repugnent to many of us. Yet, if we are to avoid a gradual erosion of free speech, those of us concerned about retaining this "inalienable right" must take action.

While much that is published, spoken, and written is offensive to many of us, we must put aside our sensitivities and support and defend the right of those who offend us to do so. We must shed the mantle of political correctness and hear, the physical of act that doesn't necessarily include listening, see, and read many things that offend us while supporting the right of those who utter, publish or print those things to do so. Women must stand up and support the right of those who do so to publish magazines and books that objectify women; Latinos, African-Americans, and other minorities must defend the right of those who publish racist material to do so; those with sexual orientations that differ from the norm must learn to defend the right of their detractors to do so.

In short, those of us who are concerned about the Freedom of Speech must unconditionally defend the right anytime it is challenged. It is not enough to defend the freedom of speech only when it is delivered by those with whom we agree, or in language that avoids offending our sensibilities. We must defend our freedom of speech at all times and in all venues.

The only consideration should be age appropriateness. Certainly, child pornography should be illegal. Similarly, books such as Catcher in the Rye, and other books, have no place in an elementary school library. But, certainly it should not be banned from a high school library, which incidentally has occurred in a country supposedly protected by the First Amendment.

No it is time for the civil libertarians to "put their money where their mouths" are and stand up for the right of those with whom they disagree to "say (publish or write) their pieces." We must stand up for their right to do so unconditionally, if we expect to retain the right to counter the arguments of those with whom we do not agree. This freedom of speech must apply to everyone whether they are a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, or merely those opposed to the War in Iraq, who find their being herded into a "Free Speech Zone" out of sight and hearing of the presidential podium lest the President be forced to hear their protests.

Nope, the President shouldn't get to decide what we can and cannot say, write or prin. But, by the same token neither should we just because we are saying the politcally correct thing.


George Robert Gaston - 8/6/2007

At some point the American academic community is going to face many of the same issues if their quest for politically correct speech continues. What is lost is the idea that when you diminish the right of someone else’s speech, you have in fact diminished your own.

The act of suppressing speech has already started at a number of our universities. I can almost see legal action to stop “undocumented workers” from being called “illegal”.

Irene Solnik - 8/3/2007

Amazon no longer carries the book.