ISIS Ransacking Libraries in Iraq, Destroying Priceless Literary Treasures

Posted on February 5, 2015

Bookseller Market in Iraq

The terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State or ISIS continues its reign of violence in Iraq and surrounding areas. In addition to the human suffering, the group is also determined to wipe out all cultures and religions that it deems unacceptable. Towards that end it has launched a huge assault libraries, museums and universities. Entire collections of books are being destroyed and no one seems to be able to stop it.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova issued a statement today about the mass destruction of literary treasures. Director Bokova said, "This destruction marks a new phase in the cultural cleansing perpetrated in regions controlled by armed extremists in Iraq, "It adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities that seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people."

Director Bokova's statement refers to the numerous news reports of ISIS members burning thousands of books on all subjects. Poetry, philosophy, law and science are just some of the genres that are deemed incompatible with the strict Sharia law practiced by the ISIS members.

Director Bokova referred to such acts as "one of the one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history." She said, "Burning books is an attack on the culture, knowledge and memory, as we witnessed in Timbuktu recently, with the burning of the manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Centre. Such violence is evidence of a fanatical project, targeting both human lives and intellectual creation."

As Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Bokova leads efforts to promote gender equality, cultural dialogue and scientific cooperation between nations. She leads UNESCO's efforts to promote global freedom of expression and safety for journalists. UNESCO was formed specifically to help end this kind of violence which targets cultural treasures.

Ms. Bokara said that UNESCO has been becoming increasingly alarmed at the increase in cultural cleansing in Iraq by armed extremists. She said, the group is targeting the documents, books and written records of one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. She said, "Such destruction is a cruel reminder that the nations of the world must remain united to combat such fanaticism today."

Last month ISIS invaded the Central Library of Mosul, which is the largest repository of books of all kinds in the city. An armed group removed all books that were not Islamic texts and loaded them into trucks to be burned. The books were on all subjects, from children's fiction to poetry. Armed gunmen told residents everything would be burned. The library's collection of books and maps from the Ottoman Empire was taken and presumed destroyed.

Residents were helpless to stop the ransacking. The group then moved on to the library of the University of Mosul's. They made a huge bonfire of books on science and culture and made students watch them burn. Residents have been told that reading non-Islamic texts is punishable by death.

A professor who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the terrorists inflicted severe damage to a Sunni Muslim library as well as the libraries of the Latin Church, the Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and the Mosul Museum Library. Works dating back to 5000 B.C. have been destroyed. The damage is incalculable and shows no sign of stopping.

The image above shows customers browsing titles at a bookseller market in Iraq.

Photo: Larisa Epatko/UNESCO