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In a career devoted to the study of Africa's Upper Nile Valley, particularly Sudan, historian Robert O. Collins wrote books and articles that were considered required reading for scholars and students of Africa.

The U.S. government sought his insight on the conflict in Darfur and on Osama bin Laden. Hollywood filmmakers asked his advice in depicting the region on screen. A former president of Sudan presented Collins with a distinguished award for scholarship.

But when Collins and a colleague wrote the 2006 book "Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World," the two historians found themselves in the middle of what the New York Times called an international cause celebre.

To avoid a defamation lawsuit in British courts -- where the burden of proof is on the defendant -- the publisher of "Alms" apologized to a wealthy Saudi mentioned in the book, Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, and paid a settlement. The publisher, Cambridge University Press, also destroyed all unsold copies of "Alms," an act of pure heresy to Collins and other scholars.

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