At the urging of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), a scholarly book pulped by its British publisher is maintaining a safe haven in U.S. libraries. Alms for Jihad 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 conveyed in the book. In response, publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP) pulped its unsold copies of the book, put 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."
In a statement released last week, 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. "Libraries are considered to hold title to the individual copy or copies. 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 available for their users."
As of mid-August, Alms for Jihad was not available through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Alibris. (About 1500 copies of the book were sold worldwide.) Libraries suddenly have an incredibly rare book in their stacks; a WorldCat search finds the book at nearly 300 libraries. Rather than discard the book, many libraries 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 by anyone 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."
That may be the case at University of North Carolina's Davis Library, whose catalog reveals that Alms for Jihad is "in search," meaning "someone has gone to the shelf to look for the book and not found it," said reference librarian Carol Tobin.
These sorts of measures may eventually be less necessary, because the authors hope to republish Alms for Jihad in the U.S. Co-author Robert O. Collins, a professor at University of California Santa Barbara, told LJ that he and co-author J. Millard Burr, a former state department employee, are currently negotiating with CUP for a rights reversion. The authors have had several offers from U.S. publishers.
"We stand by what we wrote and refused to be a party to the settlement," Collins said. "As soon as CUP received notice, they decided to settle as rapidly as possible despite our vigorous defense. CUP did not want to embark on a long and expensive suit which they could not win under English libel law." Indeed, libel laws in England are far more favorable to plaintiffs than those in the U.S.
Collins said he is confident Alms for Jihad will be republished in the U.S., where Mahfouz's charges would have little chance of succeeding in court. "In reality, the few passages referring to Mahfouz are trivial when compared to the enormous amount of information in the book that is in demand," Collins noted, adding that he has received calls from booksellers offering as much as $500 for copies.