Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sheikh it about

Lori at Bonusbooks has been keeping an eye on the cowardy-custard behaviour of Cambridge University Press, mentioned here recently.

CUP, you will recall, pulped a book, apologised, and paid over some money. Why? Because a Saudi billionaire threatened to sue the arse off them via England's libel laws.

Not surprisingly, this has attracted some attention worldwide. Latest comment appears in the Weekly Standard. This retells the story, and quotes the two authors of Alms for Jihad, the book which has generated the row.

The book's authors are Americans, and one of them points out that 'the British and American libel laws are as different as night and day.'

The Weekly Standard's article also looks back at similar cases involving this same Sheikh of Araby. There are, apparently, at least 36 of them. Either this man is much maligned, and the innocent victim of a hate campaign, or else he's got something to hide. Um... Scratches head and thinks hard. Which could it be?

There is further discussion of this worrying situation on Hot Air. And there is also a really intriguing right-wing view of the affair on Human Events, which describes itself as 'Leading the [US] Conservative Movement since 1944'. The author of the article is a Mr McCarthy. No, you mustn't laugh.

Well, all I can say is that things have come to a pretty pass if the Conservative right-wing finds itself obliged to defend the liberal press establishment. In this case, the argument seems to be that the bastards don't deserve to be defended, really, but a chap with principles has to make certain things clear. And the conclusion?

It is crucially important to our development of a sound national counterterrorism policy that good-faith journalists are not silenced by Saudi intimidation. American courts ought to crack down on Mahfouz’s pettifoggery and make him feel the consequences of his litigiousness.... Moreover, the current administration or the next one, regardless of party, should be diplomatically pressing the Saudis to desist from, and the Brits to bar libel tourism directed at, American journalists.

Whether or not the American media deserve such protections, the American people surely do.

As a final comment, perhaps it's worth mentioning that those who (ab)use the UK libel laws on a regular and persistent basis, mainly to cover up things they don't want anyone to know, eventually discover that the effect is quite the reverse. Example: Robert Maxwell, a heavyweight bully who distributed writs at the least provocation. A few years of that, and people twig what is going on. What is more, they begin to poke around in your affairs even more intrusively. The outcome? Wasn't there something about a yacht?

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The Creative Commons blog alerts me to a new site where you can find short stories, and more, published under a Creative Commons licence. Titled Ten Car Train, the web site's mission statement tells readers that 'You should read these pieces in their entirety while at work or when someone is paying you to do something else.'

So far so good. However.... It seems that the web site's offerings are provided by a group of former MFA students, which may be a slight drawback, and I can see no immediate way for anyone else to post stuff there.

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Edmond Clay, author of the Eros and Psyche dialogue, points out to me a poem about the English language. Several sources on the web; here's one from Humble Apostrophe, a site which also has all sorts of other stuff about the language.

The poem is modestly amusing, but would be best employed, I think, as an aid to those who teach English as a foreign language.

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By the way, Keith Chapman aka Chap O'Keefe, the author of Misfit Lil, reviewed here Wednesday, points me to a few interesting bits and pieces.

Coincidentally to my piece about The New Intimacy, writer Candice Proctor/C. S. Harris has run a couple of posts on her blog: 'Are Book Trailers the New Blog?' (1 August) and 'Book Videos, Part Two' (2 August).

Keith also liked the Newsweek piece about Elmore Leonard, and his forthcoming Ten Rules of Writing, which should indeed be a fun read. Newsweek's favourite among the rules was: 'If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.'

Newsweek also went on to give Leonard's selection for 'My five most important books'. Among them was For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Keith Chapman adds that aspects of his latest Misfit Lil story, Misfit Lil Fights Back, were also inspired by Hemingway, in his case the famous short story The Killers; this was filmed in 1965 starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes and Ronald Reagan.

Hemingway (wherever he is) and movie buffs won't recognize the characters or the setting in Keith's western, but some points of the plot situation confronting the unorthodox Miss Lilian Goodnight may be familiar.

For those who want to learn more about the Robert Hale western series, including info on the cover designs, there's an online bi-monthly magazine, Black Horse Extra. Try the Hoofprints section.

9 comments:

Edmond Clay said...

You're on a roll today GOB! First, your investigative arm is as good as the arm on our Governator over here in California, Secondly your sense of humour is a delight, Thirdly you really shouldn't have..., Fourthly I caught the Ken Gelder advice and have ordered the book, and Fifthly I had sent the Misfit Lil Fights Back data to an AU friend whose dear old mum loves westerns and was quite a dear misfit in her day. The synchonicity bogles.

Edmond Clay said...

And sixthly, I read The Killers just last week in my research efforts...there's a spare room here I suppose....

Kim said...

Interesting post

Tom Cunliffe said...

I am slightly more worried about the hidden censorship that we never get to hear about. Decisions not to publish at all, deletion of key content etc at the behest of proprietors, publishers and editors. How much of what we read is unaffected?

Gordon said...

Bit late for Alms for Jihad...the company I work for has already shipped 128 copies of it to libraries around the world. I don't think they'll be sending them back.

Gav's Studio said...

@ tom

Hidden Censorship? Everything is filtered for consumption, which is either good or bad when you think about it. It might not even be a conscious decision.

It's all 'lies in ther service of the truth' it just depends on whose truth.

David Isaak said...

Tom Cunliffe makes a good point. At the risk of unashamedly plugging my forthcoming novel "Shock and Awe" (which Macmillan New Writing is publishing in September), I note that my book was turned down for what I view as largely political reasons by all of the big New York houses. One editor came right out and said it: "The fact that Americans are the bad guys makes this a hard sell for us." Other rejections contained the words "...in the present climate..." I'm still waiting for climate change.

On the other hand, Chris Cleaves's excellent "Incendiary" was jerked from distribution to UK stores after the London subway bombings; but it's easy to find in the USA.

All I can say is that it's good we have two separate countries so content can sometimes leak though by accident.

Martin said...

Since being made aware of the scary English libel law by the GOB, I've come across several instances where Americans offhandedly say things along the lines of "...blah the UK blah scandal book blah, but of course in the UK they don't have Free Speech blah blah blah...".

I'm not sure how libel law is applied in my native Sweden. You can sue for defamation even for statements about you that were true, and celebs sometimes sue the tabloids, but I've never heard of books being yanked from distribution here. The law is ambiguously phrased, including the words "If it was his duty to make the statements or if it was for other reasons defensible to make them, and if he can show that they were true or that he had reasonable grounds for them, then he shall not be held accountable."

Non-celebs who sue for libel in Sweden are widely seen as paranoid crackpots.

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