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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Geert Wilders Lauds Legal Project
Latest Blog Posts
Latest LP in the Media