The Magazine

The Islamists Are Coming!

And they've got their lawyers with them.

Jun 11, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 37 • By DEAN BARNETT
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Equally unconcerned were the city of Boston and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). The BRA was the city authority that had made the land deal with the ISB, yet refused to answer direct questions about it. The David Project has sued the BRA to get a gander at the public documents related to that conveyance.

In late 2005, the ISB sued Sapers, Jacobs, the Herald, Emerson, Fox 25, and all the reporters who had covered the story for tortious defamation. The inclusion of Jacobs, Emerson, and Sapers was especially curious, since all these men had done was talk to reporters. The free speech issues at stake were sufficiently grave that renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams agreed to represent Emerson. Attorney Jeff Robbins of the prominent Boston law firm Mintz Levin represented Jacobs and the David Project on a pro-bono basis.

Jacobs points out that the purpose of lawsuits like this (and the one brought on behalf of the Minneapolis airport's "flying imams") is to chill criticism of Islamic groups, even the airing of accurate information. Certainly, any media outlet that reports on the Islamic Society of Boston has to know that a lawsuit may well be its reward for reporting that displeases the ISB. Perhaps that explains why the Boston Globe showed little interest in the story, and, when it did cover it, seemed to bend over backwards to avoid offending the ISB or its attorneys.

As for the defendants in the case, they refused to be intimidated. The suit's transparently frivolous nature emboldened them.

The linchpin of the ISB's complaint was that all of the defendants had been negligent in relying on Steve Emerson as a terror expert. To support this notion, the suit quoted a 1991 New York Times article that disparaged Emerson. Lest this 16-year-old newspaper piece not be deemed dispositive, the complaint also cited a 1998 article from something called the Weekly Planet that said, "Emerson has no credibility left. He can't get on TV and most publications won't pick him up." In the 12 months preceding the ISB's lawsuit, Emerson had appeared on MSNBC 65 times, Fox News 78 times, and NBC 16 times including multiple appearances on the Today Show and the Nightly News.

But even if you're bound to win, being sued is taxing. Boston city councilor Jerry McDermott, who aggressively pursued the unusual land conveyance to the ISB, was threatened with a lawsuit and received menacing phone calls at home, where he lives with his wife and two young daughters.

As for near-octogenarian Bill Sapers, he declared himself "too dumb to be scared." Apparently recognizing the hopelessness of intimidating Sapers, Emerson, Jacobs, and the media outlets who were fighting its lawsuit, the ISB finally backed down, though not before securing a face-saving concession: A second lawsuit was also dropped last week, the appeal of a previously dismissed case in which a citizen had disputed the BRA's conveyance to the ISB. This allowed the ISB, however implausibly, to declare victory, even as it swallowed its supposed outrage over being defamed.

But Sapers is declaring victory, too, saying, "This case was about our attempt to bring the truth to the table and their attempt to silence us." The latter attempt failed. Still, thanks to the media's and government's indifference, the defendants' vindication rings a bit hollow. The Boston Globe's coverage of last week's developments failed to mention the ISB's ties to extremists like Qaradawi. And the City of Boston, through the BRA, continues to stonewall efforts to determine exactly how the land transfer to the ISB came about. The David Project's lawsuit against the BRA seeking access to records that should be public labors on; the BRA remains less than forthcoming. Meanwhile, construction on the new mosque is far advanced.

You have to wonder: If people like Sapers, Jacobs, and Emerson are our modern Paul Reveres sounding an alarm that needs to be heard, can they be successful if our most prominent media outlets and even our government ignore them?

Dean Barnett writes at