Terrified of Libel Litigation
Torrance, Kelly Jane, Reason
A copy of Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, recently sold on eBay for more than $500. This is no decades-old, out-of-print title; it was published last year by Cambridge University Press. Last summer the publisher pulped the book, which details how money is funneled to Islamic terrorists through charitable foundations, after receiving a letter threatening legal action. The letter was from the Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, who helped found the Muwafaq Foundation, which the Treasury Department has named an Al Qaeda front organization.
reason contributor Kelly Jane Torrance spoke with Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in September.
Q: Were you surprised by your publisher's response?
A: When I submitted the manuscript, which they liked, I said it would be contentious. We named names, places, money; it's very specific. In March 2005, their lawyers spent a month vetting the book. I wasn't surprised when we got the letter from Mahfouz. That's why the book has 100 footnotes--in other words, we substantiated everything. But the British courts will not recognize evidence that the American courts will.
When I heard Cambridge was settling, I was upset. I was angry. But if l were in Cambridge's shoes, I would probably do the same thing. Mahfouz had already won three cases in Judge Eady's London High Court. It's called the Club Med court for libel tourists.
Q: Cambridge sent a letter to about 280 libraries asking them to withdraw the book from circulation. How have librarians responded?
A: It's been met with a great deal of resistance. The American Library Association said, "No way, we're not going to do that." I had a marvelous letter from a librarian at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She was outraged, telling me, "There's no way I'm going to withdraw this. …