It takes a lot to get the whole country to gather behind a national tragedy lately. They tend to be more in the political eye of the beholder as we feel compassion with the people we can relate with more. It’s sad that we’ve become a nation where we can somehow, in some twisted logic, fathom the death of people as political collateral damage in a game that’s ripping our country apart.
The books that resided in that forgotten library, nestled in Tripoli’s Al Nouri area, ran by Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, managed to shake the country and some aspects of the international community. Terrorism wasn’t just targeted at innocent people. It was also targeted at books whose only fault was to exist on shelves, gathering dust in an age where less and less people liked to read, burned by people who didn’t know how to do so.
The burning of “Al Sa’eh” library was heavily discussed. Some people ran with the theory of it being the work of Islamists. Others ran with the theory of it being the work of the contractors who wanted to evict Father Sarrouj and his books from the historic building in which they resided in order to dismantle it and ruin the city with another high rise. Information that I have gathered, however, from sources close to the priest and the group that is renovating the library indicated that certain mosques, known for their extremist sermons in Tripoli, preached against Father Sarrouj that Friday. Many of the perpetrators have also been identified and they fit with the former theory, not the latter. Although there’s probably nothing that money cannot bring together in Lebanon.
The initiative aimed to better “Al Sa’eh” started before the library’s burning on Friday, when Father Sarrouj started receiving threats, but it caught up like wildfire immediately afterwards. The activists who were working for the library’s sake wanted to organize a protest in support of Father Sarrouj when he started receiving the threats in question but Tripoli’s officials reassured them that the situation had settled.
They were mistaken.
At around 10 pm that night, those in charge received a phone call to notify them that the place they had been working diligently to protect was up in flames. It was a work of terrorism. The situation had not settled as they were promised and their knee jerk reaction was to get to work.
Their first plan was to set up a large protest for the library and Father Sarrouj. While working out the details of the protest, the organizers decided to become even more proactive and take it upon themselves to see what they can do with “Al Sa’eh.” So they started working in order to save the books that hadn’t been burnt yet, move them to a safe location where they’d be catalogued and preserved, while working to save what could be saved from the partially burned books.
They stayed there till 4AM that day working against the flames, working with local officials and sheikhs to secure the area in question for them to get safe access. The following morning, after forensics had taken the evidence they needed, work started.
In total, the library contained north of 85,000 books. Two thirds of those books were saved by the people of Tripoli. The remaining third contained many rare books, many of which had been first edition pieces. That third, unfortunately, was not as lucky.
The protest they organized was among the biggest in Tripoli. More than 500 people showed up. None of those people came in with political motives. Politician who had showed up were asked to leave. Those people continued cleaning after the protest, saving the books that were intact or partially burned. Those people were from different ages and sects. Some were veiled, others weren’t. Some were bearded, others were clean shaven. It was a mini representation of the community of Tripoli under the vaults of that ancient library, working to save a relic that had become synonymous with the city they held dear.
The organizers have met up with people from USEK and USJ regarding the books in question. Those experts are being enlisted to help the library save the books. The books that can be restored will be restored. The books that should be digitized will be digitized and the books that are available and could be ordered will be ordered. Moreover, the entire library’s location will be renovated, as well as clean and paint the small street at which the library could be found.
The funds for such an endeavor were via donations from sympathizers who wanted to save the library and its books. The organizers have also contacted well-known crowd-funding website Zoomal. Any help from politicians was refused and will be refused.
The plan for now is to move all the books to a safer location where they can be preserved and catalogued while the library gets renovated and its burns washed away. This is where we come in to help. If you can donate money or books, contact the people running the following Facebook event (link). Other concerned people are also running book drives to gather as much donations for the city as possible (link). Others are organizing their own book donation campaigns for the library’s sake.
So if you’ve got any books to donate or any means with which you can help, drop those people a line either on Facebook or with any other contact methods they have provided. We can all help rebuild and reshelf “Al Sa’eh.”
Update: Zoomal has set up a crowd funding to rebuild “Al Sa’eh.” (Link)
The following are images taken by Natheer Halawani (his blog) and other people of them saving the library and its books:
Cheers to those people living in a forcibly forgotten city, in a place where their dreams are forcibly killed and who can still find the will to fight for what they believe in and work to save their community. I salute you all, however simple and useless of me that might be.