Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Burning Books Column

The 'earth quake' link in the burning books post didn't always work. So please read the column below:

To keep warm, library books sacrificed

By Munir Ahmad
Associated Press

December 12, 2005

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan -- When night fell after the Oct. 8 quake, many survivors burned broken furniture to stay warm. Some, however, stormed the shattered state-run Khursheed National Library, pulling out books and newspapers to make bonfires.

An estimated 10,000 books went up in smoke that night. Three days later, half the library's books--including Korans--had been turned into ashes. The army then stepped in and stopped the burning.

Mohammed Hanif, a clerk at the library for 14 years, "did not believe it" when his brother came rushing to Hanif's home and told him what was happening at the library.

"But when I rushed there, I saw several people taking books to a nearby park where they were staying with their families after their homes were destroyed," Hanif said. "The books are like my children. I wept when they were throwing the books into the fire.

"I tried to stop them, but they started beating me."

After the army halted the looting, Hanif came back and retrieved what was intact, salvaging copies of an American encyclopedia, a Koran, novels and non-fiction works.

The 25,000 books that survived are in two garages guarded by Hanif. They will be sent to a library in Mirpur, another city in the Pakistani part of Kashmir, and returned when the Muzaffarabad library is rebuilt over the next two years.

The 7.6 magnitude quake killed at least 87,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless, mostly in northwest Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir. Aid workers have been racing against time to get aid and suitable shelter to the needy with the arrival of the brutal Himalayan winter and plunging temperatures.

The library housed rare books on Kashmir, handwritten manuscripts hundreds of years old, government records and the works of local poets.

Some of the library's 1,500 members who borrowed books before the earthquake are returning them, Hanif said.

Nazir Durrani, a government official who frequented the library, said he did not believe people realized that copies of the Koran were going into the fire.

"The burning of these books was a tragedy. When I think of those who did it, they would never be forgiven by God," he said.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

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