Remember when we heard that if only our leaders had known how to "connect the dots," the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented? After nearly six years without a similar attack, the government has learned much about detecting the outlines of jihadist terror plots before they take shape. As a result -- and after all the aggravations and humiliations of what I still hope are temporary safety procedures -- our security has remained essentially intact. But can we say the same thing about our freedoms?
At this point, I interrupt this column to apologize to all leftists settling in for a juicy tirade against the Patriot Act, wiretaps for terrorists or the sufferings of sensitive poets in residence at Guantanamo Bay. It is not the Bush administration's efforts to protect us from "terror" (more maturely known as jihad) that compromise our freedoms, but jihad itself. And the basic freedom to discuss, analyze, debate, imagine and resist jihad is now under unprecedented assault.
Consider the following events.
On or about July 30, Cambridge University Press surrendered to a libel suit brought in British court by Khalid bin Mahfouz over the 2006 book, "Alms for Jihad," which identifies the Saudi billionaire as a supporter of Al Qaeda. The publisher apologized for allegations documented by the authors, paid damages and promised to destroy all unsold copies of the book, and to request libraries and universities, even in the United States, to destroy their copies.
On Aug. 2, Chauncey Bailey, editor of the Oakland Press, was murdered. Bailey had been investigating what sounds like a Black Muslim crime family operating out of Your Black Muslim Bakery, and its connections to crime in the Oakland area -- where, not incidentally, Muslims associated with the bakery have used violence against liquor stores to enforce aspects of Islamic law. A 19-year-old Muslim bakery employee has confessed to the crime.
On Aug. 1, Radar Magazine recounted a familiar tale of Hollywood woe on its Web site -- a screenplay project terminated by a producer before completion. But this one had a post-9/11 twist. The screenwriter, Jason Ressler, maintains that his screenplay, "Dove Hunting," a thriller with a Saudi prince for a villain, was terminated after the producer he was working with, Mark "March of the Penguins" Gill, received a massive infusion of cash from backers including, well, a Saudi prince: Sheikh Walid al-Ibrahim, an owner of al-Arabiya network and a brother-in-law of the late King Fahd. Gill denies politics affected his decision.
On Aug. 2, the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was threatened with legal action by lawyers for the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) if the conservative student group didn't cancel a scheduled talk on CAIR by best-selling author and Islamic expert Robert Spencer.
To be sure, neither the redoubtable Spencer nor YAF buckled under CAIR's bullying, and, to date, CAIR's threats have not materialized. Indeed, both Spencer's resolve and YAF's response -- "CAIR can go to hell and they can take their 72 virgins with them" -- are an inspiration.
There's even a bright spot in the Cambridge disgrace. The two American authors of "Alms for Jihad," J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, were not sued; just the British publisher. For this protection, we can probably thank Rachel Ehrenfeld, terror-expert and author of the 2003 book, "Funding Evil." When the courageous Ehrenfeld was sued in 2004 by the same litigious Saudi billionaire in British court (he has brought or threatened suit several times on similar grounds), she refused to accept the premise that a British court should have jurisdiction over an American writer's American-published book. She took legal action in U.S. courts, where, to date, her case is finding protection for American writers from British law.
We can take heart from such victories. But these individual acts of courage will only amount to gallant sacrifices if they aren't upheld as victories over a jihadist effort to shut the rest of us up -- to curb everybody's freedom to name the Muslim billionaires behind global jihad, to investigate the thuggery of an Islamic city gang, to create thrillers about Saudi terror-princes, to speak out about CAIR's jihadist links and more.
In other words, these are the new dots that urgently need connecting. And what connects them all, from street violence to legal intimidation, is the chilling effect they each bring to bear on the free and unfettered investigation, analysis and assessment of Islam and jihad.