Elie Fares writes on his blog, A Separate State of Mind:
2014 is off to a horrible start in Lebanon. The explosion that took place in Beirut [last Friday], in the year’s first few days, has been paralleled by another act of terrorism in Lebanon’s northern capital, where extremist gunmen torched the city’s biggest library, Lebanon’s second, burning it to the ground.
They accused the priest running the library, a man who has been fighting to keep that place alive against contractors who worked to dismantle the building in which it resided, of publishing an article that offends Islam. I guess offenses are in the eye of the beholder. In this case, the eyes are for illiterate people who can’t read and who don’t know the value of a book.
The country is burning, let’s not worry about a library. A lot of people might say that. But the library in question was a true national treasure, containing 78,000 books, many of which exist in very few copies and many of which are, ironically, books about Islam. I’m also sure the library contained Qurans. Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, the library’s curator, has lived in Tripoli all his life and is known to being an encompassing person of the city’s diversity.
Tripoli cannot sit out the ongoing tragedies blowing through Lebanon lately. We just lost 78,000 books. We have lost many innocent lives as well over the past few days. And for the sake of what? Wars that we have nothing to do with, being fought over our territory, by people who have gone through a few cycles of brain washing in order to get them to believe that killing innocent people whose lives are well ahead of them or burning down a library will bring them favors with their own version of god and prophet.
Then you have those who believe that the actions of those gunmen reflect what the people of Tripoli believe in and who proclaim things as such to the ears that would listen. The fact of the matter is, however, is that the people of Tripoli are more afraid of those gunmen than we are. They are more afraid of the havoc they are bringing to their city than we are. They are more worried about the repercussions of their actions on the fabrics of their society than we give them credit for. They are wary of how their city has changed in such few days. They are terrified of the cultural demise that their home city is witnessing. They care about these books, the library and the priest who ran it. They are people who are worthy of having such a library to their name. They are the people whose city just lost its biggest library and who are gathering around its remnants crying their eyes out at how things turned out for the place they call home: a pile of rubble of a place that was once great.
I’m not Muslim but I’m more Muslim than the lunatics who torched that library and so are most of the people of Tripoli that many Lebanese love to dismiss so easily.
Tonight, I have been robbed of being able to visit such a place again and again by men who know no religion, no god and no alphabet. Tonight, the entire country was robbed of a wealth of knowledge that we had probably taken for granted. Who ever thought a library would be targeted in a terrorist attack?
Tonight, I’m livid and you should be. It’s not just about books. It’s about living in a place where two explosions taking place within a week, followed by such an act, are now considered normal. It’s about living in a place where you’re expected to move on from everything like it was nothing because that’s the only way forward. It’s about living in a place where you’re forced to forget about the lives lost, the books burned and the cities ruined just because it’s what we do.
Tonight, my thoughts go to Tripoli, the city that I miss and to its people that I hold dear. May they rebuild the library, restock its shelves with what they can and get rid of their streets of the infestation springing out and about. I try to be optimistic because that’s the only thing I can try to do. Tonight has been a sad night indeed.