Law and Lawsuits
Each story involves people who do not like how information flows these days. Each chose litigation as the means to try to get their way.
Should we be surprised? Hardly. History is replete with examples of sensitive people trying to stop communication that is inconvenient to them. When I was a Utah prosecutor in the 1990s, I recall a Mormon DA who drove around Salt Lake City one night stealing all of the copies of the free underground newspaper, which had him in bed (figuratively) with the controversial town mayor. History is also full of cases by Islamic organizations and individual Muslims who try to use Western litigation to stop the fountain of knowledge. When it comes to the legal merits, they almost never win. When the dismissal happens, they try to claim it was all a silly misunderstanding.
The remarkable thing is that my brethren in the civilized legal profession remain willing to lend credence to these controversies by offering their services, given what is in the law books. The only thing more important to lawyers than billable hours is collecting on those bills, and these cases are consistent losers. Rather than explaining why, I will let the law books do the talking.
DATELINE - BOSTON 2003
The Boston Herald reported on community concerns with the generous land deal between the city and the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), based on suspicions that ISB had connections to terrorists in the Middle East. ISB sues the Herald and various people who provided it information for libel. Islamic Soc. of Boston v. Boston Herald, Inc.,21 Mass.L.Rptr. 441, Not Reported in N.E.2d, 2006 WL 2423287, Mass.Super. 2006.
DATELINE - WASHINGTON DC 2003
A sitting U.S. Congressman finds himself having to explain why he has chosen not to run for re-election, after public reports that he and his wife are having marital problems. To redress public concerns, he speaks by phone to a reporter from the Charlotte Observer, and describes how living in Washington no longer appeals to him, especially across the street from the headquarters of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) after the events of 9/11 and the rumor he heard that CAIR is a fundraising front for Hizballah. CAIR sues the congressman for libel. CAIR v. Ballenger, 444 F.3d 659 (D.C. Cir. 2006)
DATELINE - SAN FRANCISCO 2002
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) posts a letter on its website calling for an investigation of Khadja Ghafur, the former superintendent of public charter schools, based on indications that public schools under his supervision are teaching religion and are associated with a controversial Pakistani organization. Ghafur sues the ADL for libel. Ghafur v. Bernstein, 131 Cal.App.4th 1230, 32 Cal.Rptr.3d 626, Cal.App. 1 Dist.,2005.
DATELINE - CHICAGO 2001
The New York Times and other news organizations report that Global Relief Foundation (GRF) is the target of an investigation based on suspicions of its terrorist fundraising. GRF sues the news organizations for libel. GRF v. NY Times, 390 F.3d 973 (7th Cir. 2003)
DATELINE - OMAHA 2001
Radio personality Rick Dees makes some on-air statements that are offensive to Muslims. Durkhan Iqraa Jihad Mumin and two other people sue Dees and his station for libel. Mumin v. Dees, 266 Neb. 201, 663 N.W.2d 125 Neb. 2003.
DATELINE - VIRGINIA 1998
America Online (AOL) permits chat rooms dealing with the the Qu’ran and the beliefs of Islam, and this generates posts that Muslims consider harassing and blasphemous. One Muslim visitor to the chat room user sues AOL for libel. Noah v. AOL, 261 F.Supp.2d 532 (E.D. Va. 2003)
DATELINE - NEW YORK 1994
The New York Post publishes an interview of Dr. Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, suggesting complicity of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in the assassination of her husband. Farrakhan sues the Post for libel. Farrakhan v. N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc.,168 Misc.2d 536, 638 N.Y.S.2d 1002, N.Y.Sup.,1995.
DATELINE - BOSTON - 1993
The Wellesley College journal Counterpoint publishes an article about professor Tony Martin, who is believed to be associated with the Nation of Islam, suggesting that the decision to grant him tenure was based on threats of litigation. Martin sues Counterpoint for libel. Martin v. Roy, 54 Mass.App.Ct. 642, 767 N.E.2d 603, Mass.App.Ct., 2002.
DATELINE - BOSTON - 1984
The Boston Globe publishes an article about Yusuf Islam, the popular musician formerly known as Cat Stevens, describing how he had embraced Islam and moved to Iran. Islam sues the Globe for libel. Globe Communications Corp. v. R.C.S. Rizzoli Periodici, S.p.A., 729 F.Supp. 973 (S.D.N.Y.1990).
DATELINE - NEW YORK - 1983
Newsweek publishes an article suggesting that Pakistani businessman Mahmoud Khan is associated with the CIA. Khan sues Newsweek for libel. Khan v. Newsweek, Inc, 160 A.D.2d 425, 554 N.Y.S.2d 119, N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept.,1990.
DATELINE - ARIZONA - 1981
A student religious journal Al-Ittihad publishes an unfavorable review of a translation of the Qu’ran by Rashad Khalifa, using the words “charlatan” and “mental imbalance.” Khalifa sues the journal for libel. Khalifa v. Muslim Students' Ass'n of U. S. and Canada, Inc., 131 Ariz. 328, 641 P.2d 242, Ariz.App., 1981
DATELINE - SAN FRANCISCO - 1980
A California television station broadcasts “Death of a Princess,” a film depicting the public execution of a Saudi Arabian princess for adultery. Prince Khalid Abdullah Tariq Mansour Faissal Fahd Al Talal, on behalf of 600 million Muslims throughout the world, sues the television station for libel. Khalid Abdullah Tariq Mansour Faissal Fahd Al Talal v. Fanning, 560 F. Supp. 186 (N.D. Cal. 1980)
DATELINE - WASHINGTON D.C. 1964
The Evening Star newspaper publishes an article describing political activist Dolphin Thomas as a chief spokesman for Malcolm X and his Black Muslim Mosque. Thomas sues the Star for libel. Thompson v. Evening Star Newspaper Co., 394 F.2d 774 (D.C. Cir. 1968).
DATELINE – BIRMINGHAM 1935
The Birmingham Post reports that an Arab sheik is interested in acquiring an American bride for his harem, and describes what he is looking for and some of his good attributes. The newspaper is sued for libel. White v. Birmingham Post Co., 233 Ala. 547, 172 So. 649, Ala. 1937.
Legal efforts to control how Muslim organizations and individuals are portrayed is not limited to public statements. They extend to non-public statements about Muslim employees’ job performance. This list above does not contain other lawsuits that are more akin to the recent US Airway litigation: Muslim employees who sued for their employers for libel, alleging that their employers spoke about their job performance to state licensing boards created to assure quality health care, or government agents or persons employed by the university or company responsible for investigating the employment discrimination allegations that arose from the libel actions themselves. Mawaldi v. St. Elizabeth Health Center, 381 F.Supp.2d 675 (N.D. Ohio 2005); Shabazz v. PYA Monarch, LLC, 271 F.Supp.2d 797 (E.D.Va. 2003); Obu v. Ohio Dept. of Aging,119 Ohio Misc.2d 131, 774 N.E.2d 812, Ohio Ct.Cl.,2002; Ahmed v. Gelfand,160 F.Supp.2d 408 (E.D.N.Y. 2001); Naeemullah v. Citicorp Services, Inc., 78 F.Supp.2d 783 (N.D.Ill. 1999); El-Ghori v. Grimes, 23 F.Supp.2d 1259 (D.Kan.1998); Al-Khazraji v. Saint Francis College, 523 F.Supp. 386 (W.D. Pa. 1981). In all of these lawsuits, the libel complaints were dismissed by the court, which ruled that the employee had no action. There must have been some very disappointed lawyers.
These cases may be the tip of the iceberg. Although truth is a defense to libel lawsuits, it generally takes thousands of dollars to establish the truth sufficiently to achieve a dismissal. Settlement is sometimes the best option, no matter how unmeritorious the allegations. When that happens, there will be no court opinion. Thus, we do not know how many more cases are out there in which someone facing steep legal bills chose to quietly settle. For those defendants, they will probably never mention the word Islam again in public. Who loses then? In the long run, fear of discussion has costs to society’s search for the truth. Some of us like the fact that information flows so efficiently, and we want to keep it that way.