When Not to Sue the Bastards?

Why Do Bigots Defame Arabs and Muslims and Get Away with It?

It is often said that the US is a highly litigious society. Individuals are suing and being sued at a rate that surprises many people- the US has way more lawsuits than China, for example.

Sue the bastards. It's a classic response that a person that is wronged hears. However, many times suing is not the best way of dealing with a problem. One of the areas where suing might not be the best way to go is in cases of defamation of a "public figure"- a celebrity, a politician or even anyone who injects themselves in the "public eye."

Take the case of a number of Arab and Muslim leaders that are being targeted by American bigots. Arab and Muslim personalities involved in public affairs find that the American bigots are targeting them with a campaign of organized libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation). The labels are terrorist, terrorist sympathizer, former terrorist, terrorist apologist, Hizbullah agent, defender of Hamas, etc. The goal of the zealots is to cause the libeled individuals to be either intimidated and thus become silent on issues important to Arabs and Muslims-- or to cause non- Arab and non- Muslim Americans to avoid dealing with them either due to the sensational and serious accusations or to avoid the attacks that might extend to them by having associated with the victim.

One is tempted to think that these bigots targeting the Arabs and Muslims are nothing more than ignorant and marginal bigots who seem to suffer of one form of mental illness or another.
This is a big mistake. These bigots are highly driven, well organized and focused individuals who are driven by a clear agenda. This agenda is the marginalization of American Arabs and Muslims. The emergence of the web and the blogs has made their job much easier. Pick a high profile Arab American or Muslim American and Google their name. The odds are you would find some bigot attacking them with wild accusations that are laughable. But to non- Arab and non- Muslim Americans who have not dealt with the victim before these wild accusations raise a red flag. The result is the innocent victim loses an important contact or even money because of the defamation that is spread by one web site connecting to another and since there is no other information online dealing with the accusations head on- these allegations end up painting the reality of the victim.

The question is: why not sue? Cost is one reason. Litigation is very costly. Second, litigation takes time- the wheels of justice are slow and this can be very frustrating. Third, the person perpetrating the lies might have nothing to their name which means an expensive legal victory that amounts to little gained. Fourth, litigation opens the gates of discovery. And this discovery can be very wide in scope- depending on the judge. This discovery is susceptible to become a tool for further harassment of the victim. Also, a lawsuit might be welcome by the attention craving bigots and might even rally the zealots together. The defamer is also likely to grab the opportunity to get free media exposure while playing the victim of "an attack on the first amendment." Also, media coverage is a sure way that the lies would be repeated over again in the mainstream media.

The biggest hurdle though is that under American law it is very difficult for a "public figure" to win a defamation suit. The victim has to show that the defamer acted with "malice" - that they made untrue statements knowing that they are untrue or with reckless disregard of the truth.

This malice element keeps many - even libeled attorneys from suing their defamers. It is an awful situation that can be remedied by generating good speech. If those who libel Arabs are using blogs to spread lies, then the Arab and Muslim activists and their friends should also create web sites and blogs. This can achieve two goals: exposing the defamer and telling the truth about the defamed people.

(originally appeared in the Forum and Link Volume 5, issue 2 July 10, 2008)

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