When it first appeared in 2006, “Alms for Jihad,” an academic book on Islamic charitable networks by two American scholars, drew scant attention. It sold a modest 1,500 copies and received few reviews. But in recent weeks the book has become an international cause célèbre, after Cambridge University Press agreed to pulp all unsold copies in a defamation settlement.
Last spring, Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a powerful Saudi businessman and banker to the Saudi royal family who is based in Jeddah, sued the publisher over the book’s depiction of his family as financiers of terrorism. In English libel law, the burden of proof falls on the defendant, and bin Mahfouz had won judgments in several other cases. Rather than challenging the accusations, the press agreed in August to destroy the remaining 2,300 warehoused copies of the book. It also paid bin Mahfouz an undisclosed sum for damages and legal fees, issued a written apology and, to the anger of librarians, asked libraries that refused to insert an errata slip to remove the book from their shelves.