When news of the deal first broke in the American publishing press last week, the company said that it had not decided how to use the expected profits from the book. After angry protests that it stood to cash in on the 9/11 attacks, however, Doubleday announced that all the proceeds from the book, which has the working title Al Qaeda Reader, would be given to charity.
Suzanne Herz, a spokesman for Doubleday, said there was no question of making payments to anyone connected with al-Qa’eda. Instead the company is paying just over $100,000 (£53,000) for the rights to a Washington librarian, who is translating and anthologising the two men’s virulently anti-Western tracts and tirades.
The decision to publish the book has provoked mixed reactions from those who lost family members in the 2001 attacks carried out by bin Laden’s followers. “This can only give publicity to their terrible views and glorify what they did,” said Tracy Larkey, a British mother-of-three whose husband, Robin, died in the attack on the Twin Towers. “At least they have decided to give the money to charity. It would have been unacceptable if they hadn’t.”
Jack Lynch, who lost his son Michael, a firefighter, said: “People who promote terrorism are an evil and a cancer in our society. Anything that promotes their agenda shouldn’t be distributed in this country.”
Yet Lee Ielpi, whose son Jonathan, also a firefighter, died in the attack, welcomed the book. “Anything the general public can read to emphasise how severe these terrorists are in their threats to destroy us would be beneficial,” he said. “We are becoming complacent as it is.”
For the publishers, Ms Herz said that the book would be an “important insight into the mind of America’s greatest enemy” and a “compelling historic document that deserves publication”.
The debate over the Al Qaeda Reader has drawn comparisons with that over Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The book is published in America by Houghton Mifflin and profits are given to a fund which backs groups that combat Hitler’s views. It was published in translation and read by many in Britain during the Second World War.
Stephen Rubin, the president and publisher of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, which is owned by the German company, Bertelsmann, told The Wall Street Journal: “We firmly believe we’re doing a great service to America by publishing the innermost thoughts of our greatest enemy.”
The al-Qa’eda volume will be based largely on two books published in Arabic during the 1990s. The Battle of the Lion’s Den is a collection of interviews with bin Laden about the terror network’s origins, while Bitter Harvest is al-Zawahiri’s justification of jihad (holy war).
The material was discovered in the Library of Congress in Washington by Raymond Ibrahim, who works in its Near East Studies section.
The publisher is confident that the terrorist leaders will be unable to claim remuneration for use of their material, since their writings are in the public domain and have been published in Arab countries which have not signed international copyright treaties. “You’re not going to see Osama bin Laden coming out of his cave for a cheque,” said Ms Herz.
Doubleday has bought only the American rights, but Lynn Chu, Mr Ibrahim’s agent, said she had received interest from publishers in several other countries, including Britain.
The book will contain no startling revelations for Western intelligence agencies, however: all the original source material was scrutinised by the CIA and their British counterparts after World Trade Centre attack.