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Defamation in the United States

A major driver in chilling discussion of radical Islam and related issues has been an emerging pattern of Islamists filing predatory libel suits against their critics.

These legal actions are designed less to win than to wear down opposition researchers and analysts who, even when they prevail, pay heavily in time and money. Intimidation through legal process thus functions as a lawful complement to the violent tactics Islamists already use to impose their extreme brand of Islamic law on the broader society.

Using libel law to silence legitimate criticism is not new. During the civil rights era, opponents of desegregation sued papers reporting on Southern officials' refusal to enforce federal anti-discrimination law. The seminal free press case, New York Times v. Sullivan arose out of just such a circumstance. Indeed the concurrence noted that at the time of the case there were $7.3 million in libel suits pending against CBS and the New York Times cases it described as a "technique for harassing and punishing a free press." To protect free speech rights regarding matters of public concern, the Supreme Court then ruled that plaintiffs must show that the journalist knew the material at issue was false or acted with reckless disregard for whether it was true.

Still, the high costs of defending libel suits, even ones that are ultimately dismissed, mean they remain a viable strategy for chilling dissent. Thus, in the 1980's, developers and utility companies used these suits to silence determined but ill funded opposition from environmentalists and community groups. Since then, legal costs have skyrocketed. It is estimated that exclusive of damages, the average costs of defending a libel suit today exceeds $500,000.

Now, Islamists are adopting the same tactics, misusing the legal system by filing predatory lawsuits against individuals, organizations, and companies who dare report on them. For example:

  • Internet journalist Joe Kaufman was targeted with a libel suit after publishing an article protesting an Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) event citing among other things, ICNA's alleged "physical ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and financial ties to Hamas." 15th, 2010, Texas's highest court upheld a precedent setting lower court decision dismissing the suit.
  • The Islamic Society of Boston brought a lawsuit against 17 defendants after news outlets and Jewish groups alleged that the ISB had connections to terrorist organizations and had purchased land from the City of Boston for below-market value. Following the suit, Fox 25 and the [Boston] Herald "essentially ended their investigative reporting into the Islamic Society's radical connections."
  • The Global Relief Foundation sued the New York Times, ABC News, the Associated Press, the Boston Globe, the Daily News, Hearst Communications, and seven journalists for reports in 2001 that it was funneling money to terrorists.

The Legal Project is working at both the case and policy level to combat this trend. It provides vital legal and financial aid to authors and activists targeted with predatory suits by Islamists bent on silencing them. Its client list includes journalists, bloggers, authors and politicians, and continues to grow. It also produces research and analysis arguing in favor of Anti-SLAPP statutes and other legislation designed to prevent the abuse of US libel law to squelch open debate on radical Islam and related issues.


Further Reading

Daniel Pipes – "Waging Jihad Through the American Courts" A look at how Islamists have abused the American legal system to intimidate activists and researchers into silence by filing predatory lawsuits.

Daniel Huff – "Islamist Lawfare Defeated in Texas" Internet journalist Joe Kaufman prevails against such a suit.


Reports

Why Anti-SLAPP Legislation is Good for Bloggers, Nathaniel Sugarman, The Legal Project.

Anti-SLAPP Statutes in the US by State, Jacquelyn Kline, The Legal Project.

Read More..


Links

The Public Participation Project – A project that promotes legislation to combat predatory defamation suits.

Citizen Media Law Project: Defamation – A more comprehensive look at US defamation law.

Read More...

Geert Wilders Lauds Legal Project

"Last June, I was acquitted of all charges by an Amsterdam court. The Middle East Forum's Legal Project ... was always there to help, advise and assist ... The importance of the MEF's Legal Project in reclaiming free expression and political discourse ... cannot be overestimated."

Geert Wilders, September 29, 2011

Read the full text of Wilders' statement

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