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Bad Book News: Libraries Burned in Lebanon, Dismantled in Canada

by Jillian Steinhauer on January 8, 2014

A photo of the Al-Saeh library on fire (image via @Lara_alassaad on Twitter, who says it comes unattributed via Facebook)

A photo of the Al-Saeh library on fire (image via @Lara_alassaad on Twitter, who says it comes unattributed via Facebook)

Arsonists torched a historic and beloved Lebanese library over the weekend, burning two-thirds of a collection of 80,000 books and manuscripts. Opened in 1972, the Al-Saeh library is owned by Greek Orthodox Priest Father Ebrahim Surouj and located in the northern city of Tripoli.

The motivation for the attack is unclear. Reports speculate that it may have been caused by the discovery of a pamphlet insulting Islam inside one of the library’s volumes, or by rumors that Surouj had written and published an article online that insulted Islam. But the truth of both claims remains in doubt. Surouj told the Daily Star that they “were all ‘lies,’ and that their instigators were just keen to ‘inciting strife’ in Tripoli”; the Lebanese newspaper also spoke with a number of politicians who agreed, saying that the arson was meant to incite sectarian tensions between the Muslims and Christians in the city, which has faced runoff conflicts from the ongoing Syrian War.

Volunteers working to restore the Al-Saeh library (photo © Natheer Halawani, via dustywyndow.blogspot.com) (click to enlarge)

Volunteers working to restore the Al-Saeh library (photo © Natheer Halawani, via dustywyndow.blogspot.com) (click to enlarge)

In the wake of the fire, activists marched in support of Father Surouj and gathered to help restore the library, which moved to its current location 10 years ago. The priest announced publicly that he forgives the attackers, and that he’s focused on rebuilding rather than retribution. Meanwhile, the Lebanese police have launched an investigation, although Tripoli Member of Parliament Robert Fadel said at a press conference that “The security agencies know the perpetrator and should arrest him … there will be no political cover for anyone.”

At least in Lebanon the authorities are condemning the destruction of cultural heritage; in Canada, they’re perpetrating it. The Tyee has an extensive and extremely troubling report on the closure of a number of the country’s science libraries. The governmental Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) decided to consolidate its nine research libraries down to two, but did so in a process that was hasty and chaotic, scientists say. Books and research were thrown into dumpsters and landfills, scavenged, and burned; some have gone so far as to call it a “libricide.”

“Not only has the Canadian public lost critical environmental and cultural baseline data more than 100 years old, but scientists have lost the symbolic heart of their research operations,” writes Andrew Nikiforuk in The Tyee.

Contents of the DFO Maurice Lamontagne Institute library in Mont Joli, Québec in a dumpster (via tinypic.com)

Contents of the DFO Maurice Lamontagne Institute library in Mont Joli, Québec in a dumpster (image via tinypic.com, location verified with findexif.com)

Almost everyone the magazine spoke with sees the decision as political, the attempt of Stephen Harper’s conservative government to both shrink its size and reduce the role of environmental science in policy and decision making. (Harper’s natural resources and environment ministers have called reports on global warming “exaggerated” and “debatable,” respectively.)

The DFO contends that the library consolidation will somehow make research easier for patrons, and that most of the material has been or will be digitized. Scientists refute both claims.

“It is always unnerving from a research and scientist perspective to watch a government undermine basic research,” Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings told The Tyee.  ”Losing libraries is not a neutral act.”

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  • Jeffrey

    Shame on you Canada.

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