Middle East studies in the News
Cambridge U. Press Seeks to Destroy All Copies of Book on Terrorism to Settle Libel Lawsuit by Saudi Businessman [on Robert O. Collins, et al.]
by David Glenn
Cambridge University Press announced this week that it would pulp all unsold copies of the 2006 book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World, in response to a libel claim filed in England by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker. The book suggests that businesses and charities associated with Mr. Mahfouz financed terrorism in Sudan and elsewhere during the 1990s.
"Cambridge University Press now accepts that the entire bin Mahfouz family categorically and unreservedly condemns terrorism in all its manifestations," a lawyer for Mr. Mahfouz declared on Monday in a London courtroom.
During the court hearing, the publisher also promised to contact university libraries worldwide and ask them to remove the book from their shelves. It also agreed to pay "substantial damages" to Mr. Mahfouz. Representatives of both parties declined to tell The Chronicle how much money was involved in the settlement.
The book's authors -- Robert O. Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and J. Millard Burr, a retired employee of the U.S. State Department -- were not personally named in the libel action, and they have refused to endorse the settlement. They declined to speak to The Chronicle on Tuesday, saying they were still talking to the university press about their legal obligations.
This is at least the fourth book against which Mr. Mahfouz has successfully pursued a libel action. His Web site also lists settlements involving Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (Pluto Press, 2001), by Michael Griffin, a freelance writer; Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002), by the French writers Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié; and Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed -- and How to Stop It (Bonus Books, 2003), by Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy, a nonprofit organization in New York.
In an interview on Monday, Ms. Ehrenfeld characterized as "despicable" Cambridge's decision to settle this week, a move the press has defended as necessary and just. Ms. Ehrenfeld, who is a friend of Mr. Burr's, said that, as she understands it, press officials "caved immediately."
"They didn't even consider the evidence that the authors had given them," she said. "They received a threatening letter, and they immediately caved in and said, Do whatever it takes. Pay them whatever they want. Ban the book, destroy the book, we don't want this lawsuit."
Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of religion at Emory University who has her own experience with libel lawsuits (The Chronicle, April 12, 2000), sounded a similar note on her blog last week. Decrying Cambridge's decision to settle the Alms for Jihad case, she warned of a "pattern of silencing by the Saudis of authors who are critical of them."
But a representative of Cambridge insisted that the press had acted properly. "These were very serious charges, and any responsible publisher would have stopped selling the book immediately, as we did," Kevin Taylor, the press's intellectual-property director, said in an interview on Tuesday.
"There had already been at least two High Court rulings upholding Mr. Mahfouz's position in these matters," Mr. Taylor said. "When we looked hard into it, and we studied the tangled history of these claims, we quickly realized that our position was completely indefensible."
Mr. Taylor estimated that 1,500 copies of Alms for Jihad had been sold worldwide. He said he could recall, in his 23 years at the press, only one previous incident in which the press had asked libraries to remove a book from their shelves.
Mr. Mahfouz is a son of Salem bin Mahfouz, a Yemeni-born businessman who built an extremely prosperous banking business in Saudi Arabia in the mid-20th century.
In the passages of Alms for Jihad that deal with Mr. Mahfouz's alleged ties to terrorist financing, Mr. Burr and Mr. Collins generally cite news-media reports from the BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Herald, and an African publication known as Africa Confidential. The authors do not directly cite any government documents or reports, or any firsthand knowledge of Mr. Mahfouz's activities. Mr. Mahfouz's Web site broadly asserts that no U.S. government agency has ever designated his businesses or foundations as conduits for terrorist financing.
Mr. Burr and Mr. Collins might someday have a new legal weapon to use in their defense. Ms. Ehrenfeld has sued Mr. Mahfouz in the United States, seeking to establish that the libel judgment he won against her in England has no force of law in other countries. (Her book was never published in England, but Mr. Mahfouz successfully brought suit there on the premise that residents of England could order the book from online booksellers in the United States. Libel law is much more favorable to plaintiffs in Britain than in the United States.)
Ms. Ehrenfeld would also like to try to establish on the record that her allegations about Mr. Mahfouz's conduct are true.
A New York court dismissed Ms. Ehrenfeld's suit last year, but in June a federal appeals court issued a ruling that asked the New York court to reconsider its dismissal.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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