It’s Been a Horrible Month for Libraries, Thanks Mostly to Widespread Book Burnings by the Islamic State February 1, 2015

It’s Been a Horrible Month for Libraries, Thanks Mostly to Widespread Book Burnings by the Islamic State

Self-styled Islamist censors are on a tear again, destroying entire library collections by setting them ablaze or carting them off — except for certain Islamic texts they approve of.

The Associated Press shines a light on Iraq’s version of Fahrenheit 451:

When Islamic State group militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people’s ideas. Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books — including children’s stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science — into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts.

These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah, so they will be burned,” a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press.

Other cultural artifacts are endangered, too, to the surprise of no one who remembers the Taliban’s destruction (with dynamite) of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, majestic statues hewn from the sandstone cliffs of Afganistan’s Bamiyan Valley 13 or 14 centuries ago.

Since the Islamic State group seized a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria, they have sought to purge society of everything that doesn’t conform to their violent interpretation of Islam. They already have destroyed many archaeological relics, deeming them pagan, and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous.

Recently, books, with their power to spread ideas and even crtical thinking itself, have become a favorite fundie target. Even tomes that had previously been rescued are now probably lost forever:

In the chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, residents near the [Mosul] Central Library hid some of its centuries-old manuscripts in their own homes to prevent their theft or destruction by looters. But this time, the Islamic State group has made the penalty for such actions death. Presumed destroyed are the Central Library’s collection of Iraqi newspapers dating to the early 20th century, maps and books from the Ottoman Empire, and book collections contributed by around 100 of Mosul’s establishment families.

Days after the Central Library’s ransacking, militants broke into University of Mosul’s library. They made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.

Some of the texts went back millennia, not just centuries, and their destruction portends a kind of cultural-literary genocide:

A University of Mosul history professor … reported particularly heavy damage to the archives of a Sunni Muslim library, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers, and the Mosul Museum Library with works dating back to 5000 BC. … The professor said Islamic State group militants appeared determined to “change the face of this city … by erasing its iconic buildings and history.” …

An Iraqi lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, said the Islamic State group “considers culture, civilization and science as their fierce enemies.” Al-Zamili, who leads the parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, compared the Islamic State group to raiding medieval Mongols, who in 1258 ransacked Baghdad. Libraries’ ancient collections of works on history, medicine and astronomy were dumped into the Tigris River, purportedly turning the waters black from running ink.

Those times are back, it seems.

As if the news from Iraq isn’t agonizing enough, Russia had its own library-related heartache to report on Friday (but religion wasn’t implicated in this case).

A Moscow academic library … has partially burnt to the ground in an intense blaze. Russian media [are] reporting the Academic Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION) in Moscow contains “millions of unique historical documents.” The 2,000-square-meter facility is the largest social sciences research facility in Russia. It is said to contain 14.2 million rare and ancient texts.

The cause of the Moscow blaze is thought to be an electrical mishap, although arson hasn’t been ruled out.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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