August 5, 2007

Revelation of the Day: Mark Steyn on Saudi Book Suppression

Once again, something important breaks into Old Media, in this case the Orange County Register, only because a “mere” columnist decides it is:

Who funds the mosques and Islamic centers that in the past 30 years have set up shop on just about every Main Street around the planet?

For the answer, let us turn to a fascinating book called “Alms for Jihad: Charity And Terrorism in the Islamic World,” by J. Millard Burr, a former USAID relief coordinator, and the scholar Robert O Collins.

….. Unfortunately, (at Amazon) if you then try to buy “Alms for Jihad,” you discover that the book is “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” Hang on, it was only published last year. At Amazon, items are either shipped within 24 hours or, if a little more specialized, within four to six weeks, but not many books from 2006 are entirely unavailable with no restock in sight.

As of the time of this post, the hardback version of the book is not even listed at Amazon. While the eBook can be “purchased,” there is nothing available to download after purchase (Grrr).

Put on a sweater, because you’ll feel a chill as Steyn explains why (bold is mine):

Well, let us cross the ocean, thousands of miles from the Amazon warehouse, to the High Court in London. Last week, the Cambridge University Press agreed to recall all unsold copies of “Alms for Jihad” and pulp them. In addition, it has asked hundreds of libraries around the world to remove the volume from their shelves.

So why would the Cambridge University Press, one of the most respected publishers on the planet, absolve Khalid bin Mahfouz, his family, his businesses and his charities to a degree that neither (to pluck at random) the U.S., French, Albanian, Swiss and Pakistani governments would be prepared to do?

Because English libel law overwhelmingly favors the plaintiff. And like many other big-shot Saudis, Sheikh Mahfouz has become very adept at using foreign courts to silence American authors – in effect, using distant jurisdictions to nullify the First Amendment. He may be a wronged man, but his use of what the British call “libel chill” is designed not to vindicate his good name but to shut down the discussion, which is why Cambridge University Press made no serious attempt to mount a defense.

To paraphrase Instapundit Glenn Reynolds: “Well, they said in 2004 that if George Bush was re-elected, books would be banned. And they were right” (previous analogous Reynolds examples are cited here).

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the coverage? Well, there is some good work being done at publications like The New York Sun and WorldNetDaily, as well as blogs like Michelle Malkin, Hot Air (here and here), and the Counterterrorism Blog.

But it’s Day 5 (the Sun report is dated August 1), and Old Media beat reporting is nowhere to be found, as shown in this Google News search on “alms for Jihad” (not in quotes), and this separate New York Times search on the same words. Most people believe that book suppression like this is impossible in the US. They need to know that it is happening.

Along those lines, you would hope that “Alms for Jihad” makes the American Library Association’s next (mostly mischaracterized) “banned books” list. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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