“Can They Do That?”

Intellectual Freedom Issues

OIF is hearing from librarians who are wondering if they must comply with a request from British publisher Cambridge University Press to remove the book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World from the shelves of their libraries.

Alms for Jihad is the subject of a British libel lawsuit brought by Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz, who has filed several similar lawsuits to contest claims that the Saudi government has used Islamic charities to fund terrorism. Cambridge University Press chose to settle the suit rather than risk a large damage award at trial. Under the settlement, Cambridge University Press has agreed to pulp unsold copies and to ask libraries to return the book to the publisher or destroy the book. (See “Cambridge U. Press Agrees to Destroy Book on Terrorism in Response to Libel Claim” from the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

Critics claim that Mahfouz is attempting to silence critics by using British libel law. Unlike U.S. libel law, which recognizes First Amendment freedoms, and requires plaintiffs to prove statements about them are false, British law places the burden of proof on defendants, who must demonstrate the truth of their claims. (See “Saudi terror, British Censorship” at the Crossed Pond blog.)

Unless there is an order from a U.S. court, the British settlement is unenforceable in the United States, and libraries are under no legal obligation to return or destroy the book. Libraries are considered to hold title to the individual copy or copies, and it is the library’s property to do with as it pleases. Given the intense interest in the book, and the desire of readers to learn about the controversy first hand, we recommend that U.S. libraries keep the book available for their users.

UPDATE: Inside Higher Ed provides an account about the decision of Yale University Press to stand behind an author and his book when a charitable organization filed a libel lawsuit over statements made in Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad. The group withdrew its lawsuit after Yale filed motions seeking to quash the libel suit and to receive legal fees.

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