Harry’s Place threatened with legal action

There are certain things that are guaranteed to bring political bloggers together regardless of any differences of opinion and outlook that may ordinarily hold sway.

One, as the legal firm Schillings, learned the hard way, is the use of threats of litigation in an effort to suppress legitimate free expression and fair comment.

Another is the dishonest use of stealth editing in an effort to reverse-engineer your way out of a problem.

In a medium where reputation matters, to practice either can be the kiss of death to any hope of retaining credibility – to combine both in a single assault on free expression is just plain stupid and guaranteed to provoke a reaction.

I’ve had my differences with Harry’s Place, nowhere more so than in the poisonous atmosphere of the Iraq debate which raged across the left-wing blogosphere around the time I first started blogging.

I’ve also, much more recently, had the pleasure of collaborating with David T in moving a couple of important stories; in challenging the promotion of an event organised by Hizb-ut-Tahrir by an Student Union Officer-elect at Birmingham University and in raising the issue of the Iranian-owned Press TV’s open promotion of the ‘work’ of a Holocaust Denier, and found that something of a cathartic experience after the Iraq debates. Whatever our differences on the bread and butter stuff of combating anti-Semitism it felt good to be working with David to a positive end.

And by the same token, when I find David being threatened with legal action by the British Muslim Initiative merely for quoting, seemingly accurately, a report published originally in Arabic by Al Jazeera but which the site later altered, one would guess following some sort of complaint or communication from BMI:

Yesterday evening, we received a letter from Anas Altikriti of the British Muslim Initiative, threatening legal action against us…

The reason that the British Muslim Initiate is upset with us is this. This weekend, Mr Sawalha attended a demonstration against a festival celebrating the re-founding of the State of Israel. He gave a speech, in Arabic, to Al Jazeera. In that speech, he stated that the purpose of his demonstration was to:

“express our resentment at the celebrations by the Jewish community”

He also made another statement, which has been the subject of some dispute. Al Jazeera initially reported the phrase in question as containing the word “وبيل”. That word translates as “evil” or “baneful”, or some variant thereon. The next word was “يهودي “, which means “Jew” or “Jewish”. We translated the phrase, as it appeared, as “evil Jew” or “Jewish evil”.

Some time later, the word “وبيل” was removed from the Al Jazeera report. It was replaced with the word “اللوبي ”, “lobby”.

Please do read the full article, and the article about which the British Muslim Initiative are complaining, which David wisely took a screen shot of.

Now, as I see it and on the basis of the material in these articles, especially the screenshot in the original post, then as long as the allegation is not that Harry’s Place mistranslated the contention passage then the BMI has no cause for genuine complaint against anyone but Al Jazeera. Not only that, but any dispute over exactly what was said could be readily cleared up if Al Jazeera were simply to give an explanation for why the article was retrospectively altered. Either it made a mistake, that David responded to in good faith, in which case is should say so, allowing him to amend his remarks accordingly, or it got the original report right only then to cave in and make changes under some sort of pressure.

In neither scenario is litigation justified or warranted against HP as any issue that BMI might have over the text published by Al Jazeera is with Al Jazeera itself – or it should be and would be were it not for our berzerker libel laws.

In short, if Al Jazeera’s first report was correct then its subsequent climb down in no way alters the truth of David’s first article and if it wasn’t, the additional information given in both articles, clarifying the change Al Jazeera made is more than adequate, to my mind, to make both articles fair comment.

In short, what we have is another bout of unwarranted quasi-legalistic bullying and cause, therefore, to respond in the usual manner, with what has come to be called a ‘Spartacus Action’.

So, I’m quite happy to reproduce, here on MoT, the material about which BMI have expressed an objection:

Here’s Mohammad Sawalha, President of the British Muslim Initiative, speaking to Al Jazeera in Arabic about his demonstration against last Sunday’s celebration of the foundation of the State of Israel:

The President of the British Muslim Initiative – Mohammad Sawalha – said in a speech to Al Jazeera:

“We, the Arab and Islamic community, gather here today to express our resentment at the celebrations by the Jewish community and the [evil Jew/Jewish evil] in Britain”

[والوبيل اليهودي في بريطانيا]

Translation by DaveM

And if they don’t like it, then – as always – they can kiss my arse.