Last summer, Cambridge University Press pulped its remaining copies of Alms for Jihad, J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins’ treatise on the charity-fronted funding of terrorist organizations. Cambridge’s liquidation was a direct reaction to a libel claim filed in British courts by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi businessman who objected to the book’s claim that his family had donated money to al-Qaida. In addition to destroying more than 2,000 copies, Cambridge also issued a public apology and stated that the book contained “errors” regarding its information about bin Mahfouz.
The U.S. media have been all over the story, in large part because the complaint was brought by a Saudi citizen in British court against American scholarship. But I hadn’t heard much from the authors until I read this Q&A with Collins in the December issue of Reason magazine. Other outlets, including the New York Times Book Review and the Weekly Standard, have emphasized the legal circumstances, rather than the authority of the research, involved in the case.
While it is important to grasp the international implications of British libel law, Collins’ Q&A with Reason stresses the integrity of his research and the meticulous fact-checking that characterized the production of the book. In other words, Cambridge’s claim of error appears disingenuous (though, to be fair, one ought to peruse the disavowals on Khalid bin Mahfouz’s website). Collins also notes that libraries have resisted Cambridge’s request to remove the book from their shelves or include an errata slip with each copy. (Read more about libraries that have taken steps to retain existing copies of the book here.)
Hopefully, Collins and Burr will obtain another publishing contract, and their book will have its due audience. That way, we won’t have to assume that their information and arguments are murky and contentious—we can become confused and anxious about it all on our own.