Books just won’t be beaten

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A recent BBC news item showed just how important books are to people’s lives and how determined Iraqi students are to not lose their library.

When Islamic State (IS) militants occupied Mosul University in 2014, they set about destroying its priceless collection of manuscripts determined to stamp out culture and education.

Now though, in an attempt to rebuild Mosul’s cultural heritage, a campaign is under way to restore not just the university library but others in the city.

The project is being led by an anonymous blogger, who found fame writing about life under IS on the site Mosul Eye. The university, lauded as one of the Middle East’s pillars of higher learning, housed one of the most extensive collections of literature in the region.

The library was once home to some of the “most precious and valuable manuscripts and rare prints in the region”, according to the man behind the Mosul Eye website.

It is believed the militants destroyed or looted well over 100,000 manuscripts during the occupation. The destruction of ancient sites has been characteristic of IS activity when it has taken control of areas of Syria and Iraq, a practice described by the UN cultural agency Unesco as “cultural cleansing”.

The blogger, who describes himself as an independent historian, is calling for donations of books and other printed material in all languages and from all disciplines under the slogan: “Let it be a book, rising from the ashes.”

Some 400 books have been received since the campaign was launched in February, with thousands more waiting in collections centres in the US and Europe. A French institute in Marseille has pledged to donate about 20 tonnes of books to the campaign.

“We hope the campaign will serve as a link between Mosul University and the rest of the world on academic, cultural, and social levels,” the blogger says.

The aim is to collect at least 200,000 books.

One of the main obstacles to the campaign is logistics – specifically the shipment of books into Iraq and the war torn city itself.

Earlier this month, Mosul Eye issued a plea via social media to Basra port authorities to facilitate the transfer of a 200-tonne shipment of books from a collection centre in Irbil. New collection centres are now being established in the US and Europe.

Campaigners will then work on collecting and categorising the books to prepare them for the shelves of Mosul’s libraries once the city is fully recaptured from IS.