Monday, October 15, 2007

Attempted censorship increases interest in terrorism book

In late July, Cambridge University Press settled a U.K. libel suit brought against it by Saudi businessman, Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz. Bin Mahfouz had disputed statements in Cambridge's 2006 book, Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, that he had been involved in financing terrorist groups.[3] A press release by Bin Mahfouz's lawyers at Kendall Freeman[4] announced that, in addition to publishing a comprehensive apology, paying substantial damages, and pulping unsold copies of the book, "Cambridge University Press is taking the almost unprecedented step of . writing to over 200 libraries worldwide which carry the book telling them of the settlement and asking them to withdraw the book from their shelves."

Two weeks later, Cambridge Intellectual Property Director Kevin Taylor followed through with a letter to libraries known to hold the book, asking them to remove it.[5] Cambridge, apparently recognizing that librarians would almost certainly not comply, included an errata sheet with the letter. If libraries would not remove the book, Cambridge insisted that they insert the errata page. Alms for Jihad quickly disappeared from U.S. bookstores and online suppliers.[6] What about the shelves of U.S. libraries?

Cambridge guessed right-librarians did not remove the book. To the contrary, they seem to have gone out and bought up the last elusive copies. More copies of Alms for Jihad were on library shelves in mid-September than before Taylor sent his August 15 letter.[7] U.S. holding libraries range from Harvard and Yale to Dearborn's Henry Ford Community College.

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom issued a statement encouraging librarians to stand firm. "Libraries," ALA noted, "are considered to hold title to the individual copy or copies, and it is the library's property to do with it as it pleases. Given the intense interest in the book, and the desire of readers to learn about the controversy first hand, we recommend that U.S. libraries keep the book available for their users."[8]

A quick poll of library directors at Michigan academic libraries brought similar responses: We paid for the book, we own it, we're going to keep it. "The book itself," one director noted, "has now become part of the conversation." A commentary had become an artifact. These librarians were affirming the profession's commitment to preserving and disseminating the "Great Conversation" of recorded knowledge. Academic libraries don't adjudicate debates, but on their shelves preserve and foster them....

Librarians have been taking steps to protect this suddenly rare book. Charles Hamaker, Associate University Librarian at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, reports that "my library, like many academic libraries, has placed Alms for Jihad in a reserve collection to keep it available for current and future users." The University of Michigan recalled its two circulating copies and put both on reserve-housed, as an added precaution, in separate locations. A search of their online catalogs reveals that Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, as well as the University of California-San Diego, have also placed their copies on reserve. Ohio State and Cornell put Alms for Jihad in non-circulating rare book collections. Prudent moves: the $30 book now has a market value of more than $500.[11]

Jonathan Rodgers, head of the University Michigan's Near East collections, reports that the message traffic among Middle East Librarians Association members has been uniformly supportive of protecting copies and resisting any request to return the book. Riedlmayer of Harvard and others believe it would be reasonable to insert the errata page. But the consensus view among U.S. librarians is to resist any request to remove Alms for Jihad from library shelves.

No librarians interviewed objected to Cambridge University's settling the lawsuit. Some accepted the firm's explanation[12] that the book contained erroneous statements which defamed Bin Mahfouz. Most understood Cambridge's reluctance to spend money on a suit it was likely to lose. Cambridge, too, recently announced plans to expand sales in the Gulf region and perhaps feared that any defense of the book would alienate potential customers.[13]

But librarians do object to the terms of the settlement. Cambridge University Press is the self-described "oldest printer and publisher in the world."[14] Yet this distinguished firm agreed to a virtually unprecedented insult to free inquiry: a request to academic libraries to be complicit in the suppression of a published work. Some wondered if Cambridge's request might portend more aggressive attempts at redress in future cases. In previous suits no settlement had included an attempt to suppress library copies. Some also worried about the potential chilling effect of these cases on lesser publishers who may become reluctant to accept manuscripts on terrorism issues.[15]

While questions are regularly raised about books in school or public libraries, challenges to books in academic collections are rare. A request to remove a book initiated by its publisher is virtually unheard of.[16] ....

If the Cambridge edition of Alms for Jihad has now become rare, its contents will not be so for long. Authors Burr and Collins have re-secured their copyright to the manuscript,[24] and several U.S. publishers are interested. Soon an even wider circle of readers will have the opportunity to evaluate the authors' arguments for themselves-without having to travel to New Zealand.


A very noisy "silence" among Australia's "censored" Leftist intellectuals

Unless you listen to them worshipfully, they claim that they are being "censored". They are like spoiled children. They should encounter REAL censorship -- like the difficulty a conservative has in getting a job teaching a Humanities subject in a university

Seldom in the history of public debate have the allegedly silenced been so vocal. Last Friday the ABC Radio National Australia Talks program ran a session from the recent Brisbane Writers Festival. It was one of those familiar taxpayer-subsidised events where members of the left intelligentsia gather to have their prejudices confirmed.

On this occasion the Australia Institute executive director, Clive Hamilton, essentially agreed with the social researcher Hugh Mackay who essentially agreed with the journalist David Marr about contemporary Australia. Needless to say, the audience had a ball. Especially when Hamilton argued that pokie taxes at the Rooty Hill RSL should be increased to fund 1000 public intellectuals. In certain circles, there is a lot to be said for redistribution of income which takes money from lower-income earners in the suburbs and uses it to fund inner-city types who like to describe themselves as public intellectuals.

Hamilton and Sarah Maddison are the editors of Silencing Dissent (Allen & Unwin, 2007), which argues that the Howard Government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate. In keeping with the forum's format, Marr agreed with Hamilton that John Howard was intent on silencing his critics. No one in the audience appeared to query how this could be the case when both men had a gig at the Brisbane Writers' Festival and their thoughts would be preserved for posterity, courtesy of the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster.

It was much the same message on Sunday night when SBS ran an episode of Pria Viswalingam's documentary series titled Decadence. Early in the program, footage was shown of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz with the now familiar link to modern Australia. Also, the presenter primarily interviewed members of the left intelligentsia who agree with him that Australia has become a decadent democracy. Then the academic Robert Manne joined Hamilton in alleging that dissent was not allowed under the Howard Government.

The very existence of Viswalingam's taxpayer-subsidised documentary indicates that, whatever its intentions, the Howard Government has not prevailed in the culture wars. However, the likes of Hamilton and Manne used their interviews on prime time television to argue that people like them are not heard.

The opinion polls provide the only scientific evidence about the likely outcome of the forthcoming election. They indicate that the Howard Government is heading for a devastating loss. Moreover, Kevin Rudd and many Labor candidates - especially Maxine McKew, who is hoping to defeat the Prime Minister in Bennelong - have experienced a most friendly media throughout the year. This would not have been possible if Howard either controlled public opinion or stifled debate.

The argument that the Howard Government is silencing dissent has now gone so far that ministers are criticised for taking on their critics. No such standard was ever required of the former governments headed by Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam.

Last Tuesday the Herald and The Age gave page one coverage to a report called Australia@Work, which was funded by Unions NSW and the Australian Research Council. The study, which is critical of the Howard Government's industrial relations reforms, was soon attacked by the Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, and the Treasurer, Peter Costello. They drew attention to the fact that the project was partly funded by the trade union movement and that two of its authors, Brigid van Wanrooy and John Buchanan, have worked for trade unions in the past.

Hockey and Costello were soon hit with the allegation that they were attempting to silence dissent - in spite of the fact that their comments were accurate. Writing in The Age last Thursday, journalist Michael Bachelard went so far as to suggest that the Howard Government had somehow sanctified the report because it was partly funded by the Research Council and because van Wanrooy had once worked in the Commonwealth Public Service "under Peter Reith", the former Howard Government minister for industrial relations. The previous morning Buchanan had run a similar line when interviewed by Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast.

The fact is that funding by the council does not imply Government support for the findings of publicly financed research. What's more, the fact that someone once worked in the public service has no connection whatsoever with the views of any minister - Coalition or Labor. It is disingenuous to imply otherwise.

The Australia@Work report was severely criticised in The Australian last Friday by academics Sinclair Davidson and Alex Robson. The important point about Buchanan and his team at Sydney University is not that the report was partly funded by Unions NSW or that he is on record as being a Howard-hating socialist (witness his Politics in the Pub speech of February 18, 2005). Rather, what matters about Buchanan is that he is a long-term opponent of industrial relations reform, under both the Howard and Keating governments (see his article in the June 1999 issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy).

In other words, Buchanan's dissent has not been stifled under either the Keating or Howard governments. Nor was Manne ever silenced - not even when he wrote in 1992 that the Hawke Labor government had "put Australia in a situation from which it is genuinely difficult to foresee a non-disastrous exit". Nor was Hamilton quietened when, in 1991, he called for a "healthy" inflation rate of 7 to 8 per cent.

The fact is that many one-time opponents of the economic reform process remain credible today because neither Labor nor the Coalition ever implemented such advice. This applies to Hamilton, Manne, Buchanan and more besides. But the refusal of a government to follow (flawed) advice does not amount to censorship. Just good sense.


Homosexual Australian judge wants more judicial law-making

THE High Court's most vocal dissenter, Michael Kirby, has lashed out at the backwardness of his fellow judges, identifying freedoms that he says would never have been won under the chief judge, Murray Gleeson. In a bold speech, even by Justice Kirby's standards, he spoke out yesterday on behalf of "stirrers and troublemakers" and criticised a tendency by the Australian public to only recognise heroes after they died. "I often ask myself whether the Mabo decision in 1992 or the Wik decision in 1996 . would be decided by the High Court the same way today," he said.

After listing a series of developments that emerged from dissenting judgments, including expanded freedoms of the press, free speech and rights to a lawyer, Justice Kirby said: "The answer to all of these questions of whether such cases would be answered the same way today seems to be: probably not. "The surprising feature of the decisions of the present High Court is . that there are not more differing voices than mine amongst the other justices given the major questions and inherent disputability of the issues commonly presented for the court's decision."

At an annual speech in Adelaide to honour Bob Hawke, Justice Kirby called for a charter of rights and praised the freedoms developed under the stewardship of Sir Anthony Mason, chief judge from 1987 to 1995. "Australian citizens and Australian lawyers who know of these decisions of the Mason court know that law does not inevitably have to be unjust, out of date and unequal," he said. "It does not have to sustain unquestioningly the power of the past. Law can be modern, human rights-respecting, equal in its treatment of minorities and attentive to the rights to equality of all individuals."

Justice Kirby, who is the court's most frequent dissenter, said dissenting judges frequently offered a beacon whose views were ultimately accepted as correct by subsequent courts. "Occasionally progress is only attained by candid disclosure of differences; by planting the seed of new ideas; and waiting patiently to see if these eventually take root."

Justice Kirby said judges were independent and free of political influence and expediency and were therefore in a position to break with consensus opinions. This had encouraged courts to expand freedoms for women, Asians and non-white immigrants, gays and sexual minorities, and prisoners. "Other changes only gathered pace when the independent courts broke the spell of the existing consensus and injected a new dynamic," he said.


Wishy washy Australian Methodist church fading away

AUSTRALIA'S third-largest Christian denomination wants senior church leaders to make way for a more youthful flock to arrest a numbers crisis and reverse the effect of a congregation ageing so rapidly that half the membership could be dead within 15 years. Thirty years after the church deliberately pushed women to the fore of its leadership councils [Thus denying the Gospel], the Uniting [Methodist] Church in NSW has approved a proposal to discriminate in favour of leaders aged 50 and younger in order to encourage youth into the greying church.

The church wants to bring to its next synod in 2008 plans to allocate half of its key representative positions to those aged under 50 - or at least 60 years - during the next seven years. A draft blueprint for greater youth involvement includes the possibility that all future ministers would require experience working with young churchgoers and that the next moderator be "gifted and aged under 40".

The NSW church has been urged to reallocate the assets of disbanded inner-city parishes to new congregations in boom suburbs in Sydney's south and north-west that have no church legacy. It is also being encouraged to explore a "gradually introduced tithe" on congregational income for new mission initiatives.

The Uniting Church was one-third of the size it was 15 years ago, had experienced a 17 per cent decline in attendance since 2001, and based on present trends would probably see half its membership dead by 2002, its leaders were warned this week. Ruth Powell, director of National Church Life Survey Research, delivered a bleak prognosis to the church's NSW synod this week. "If nothing changes, the Uniting Church in NSW will halve its current size in the next 25 years," she said. "This is no time for fiddling. We have to take courageous steps now to face this future." Calling for fresh ways of expressing faith, Dr Powell said the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the United Reform Churches in Britain had all had some success in turning membership around.

Almost double the number of Uniting Church attenders were involved in practical community care and welfare as other churchgoers in other denomination and at least one-third of the synod's churches were growing. [The evangelical ones]

"The Uniting Church still has the potential to be the most relevant, connected church for Australians to explore a faith journey," Dr Powell told the Herald. "It has to celebrate and end well the institutional infrastructure suitable for a previous era and burst new structures, new leaders and hand over assets and responsibilities to a new generation to be part of a church relevant for the current context."

The incoming NSW moderator, the Reverend Niall Reid, said the church needed to stop worrying about dying, and express faith in new ways. "If we follow our calling, like Jesus we may die. But be assured, it will change the world," he said. "Our commitment has to be, whatever the outcome, to be people of grace, who do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God and if that means we die so be it." The outgoing moderator, Jim Mein, said the church's future lay in connecting with the wider community. Lay leaders needed to be part of the "tsunami of change".


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