February 18, 2018

Alms for Jihad in U.S. Libraries

By Andrew Albanese & Jennifer Pinkowski

Controversial book was pulped in the UK after threat of lawsuit

At the urging of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), a scholarly book pulped by its British publisher has a safe haven in U.S. libraries. Alms for Jihad, by Robert O. Collins and J. Millard Burr, was the target of a potential libel suit in England by Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, whose charitable activities have reportedly been linked to terrorist activities, as the book conveys. In response, publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP) pulped its unsold copies, declared it out of print, asked libraries to pull it, and agreed to pay damages.

CUP also issued a stunning public apology on its web site in which it characterized the “serious and defamatory allegations” against Mahfouz in Alms for Jihad as “manifestly false.”

The OIF recommended libraries resist Cambridge’s request. Libraries “are under no legal obligation to return or destroy the book,” said OIF deputy director Deborah Caldwell-Stone. “Given the intense interest in the book, and the desire of readers to learn about the controversy firsthand, we recommend that U.S. libraries keep the book…for their users.”

Stays in libraries

As of last month, the book was not available via online booksellers, though about 1500 copies were sold worldwide. Libraries suddenly had an incredibly rare item in their stacks; a WorldCat search shows the title at nearly 300 libraries. Rather than discard the book, many librarians are safeguarding it, keeping it on hold at the reserves desk.

“I have recalled the copy of this title…in order to place it in our Rare Books collection, where it may be read…but not borrowed,” said Dona Straley, Middle East studies librarian at Ohio State University’s Ackerman Library. “Several of my colleagues at other institutions have reported their copies as missing.”

These measures may eventually be unnecessary, because the authors hope to republish the book in the United States. Collins, a professor at University of California–Santa Barbara, told LJ that he and Burr, a former state department employee, are currently negotiating with CUP for a rights reversion.

“We stand by what we wrote and refused to be a party to the settlement,” Collins said, noting that CUP “did not want to embark on a long and expensive suit which they could not win under English libel law,” which favors plaintiffs. “In reality, the few passages referring to Mahfouz are trivial when compared with the enormous amount of information in the book that is in demand,” Collins noted.