Free Speech Under Foreign Assault
Robert Spencer - Oct 09, 2009 Front Page Magazine
Does the United States Constitution protect the freedom of speech of American citizens, or does it not? In this era of globalization, the answer is becoming increasingly muddled. Thursday, an American citizen, Paul Williams, went on trial in Canada. He is charged with violating Canadian libel laws in charges he made in his book The Dunces of Doomsday about a jihad terror cell at McMaster University in Ontario.
Likewise in Brazil, an American business writer, Joseph Sharkey, is on trial for what he wrote about Brazilian air-traffic controllers after he survived an airplane crash in Brazil.Williams and Sharkey both live in the United States, which guarantees that its citizens’ freedom of speech not be infringed. Should Canadian and Brazilian libel laws apply to them? Williams has already had to pay enormous amounts of money for his defense, and Sharkey is likely to be found guilty and given a $500,000 fine. McMaster University wants a cool two million dollars from Williams.
Shouldn’t the United States government protect American citizens from such bullying by foreign powers?
If nothing is done, the problem is certain to get worse - for Williams and Sharkey are not the first American victims of the tactic that has come to be known as "libel tourism."
The late Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz sued Rachel Ehrenfeld, founder and director of the American Center for Democracy, several years ago. Bin Mahfouz was upset about Ehrenfeld’s book, Funding Evil, in which she wrote that he was involved in funding Hamas and al Qaeda – a charge for which there was abundant evidence from Western intelligence agencies.
Nevertheless, taking advantage of British libel laws that place the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the plaintiff, bin Mahfouz sued not in the United States, where Ehrenfeld lives and published her book, but in Britain, where neither he nor Ehrenfeld lived and where his entire case depended upon a handful of copies sold in that country mostly through special orders from Amazon.com, and the appearance of one chapter of the book on the Internet, where could have been read by British readers. A British court awarded bin Mahfouz $250,000, and Ehrenfeld had to devote the bulk of her time for years to fighting this judgment.
Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, is available now from Regnery Publishing.