When unknown assailants torched his library on January 3, Father Ibrahim Sarrouj responded by forgiving them. The assailants, supposedly Muslim fundamentalists, accused Father Sarrouj of attacking Islam by publishing a pamphlet claiming that Abu Bakr, Islam’s first caliph, once beat Muhammad’s wife Aisha with a newspaper.
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The library in question is Tripoli’s famed Al-Saeh Library, Lebanon’s second largest and home to over 80,000 books of all kind. Despite security forces being notified that Father Ibrahim Sarrouj had been threatened by religious extremists, the library was still badly damaged. No one knows exactly how many books were destroyed, but it is estimated that the number may be as high as two thirds.
The irony is that not only did Father Sarrouj never write such a pamphlet – his library contained and still contains numerous priceless Islamic books – but the supposed event couldn’t have taken place as it predates the invention of the printing press by 800 years. The supposed ‘accusation’ could not have therefore been made by someone who knows anything about history. But then again, historical accuracy isn’t a usual feature of religious fundamentalism.
This crime didn’t seem to be about anything. Father Ibrahim Sarrouj is known for his humanist principles in calling for Tripoli’s unity. Muslims and Christians alike view him as one of them. He greeted everyone with As-salamu ‘aleikum (Peace be upon you). There was simply no ‘reason’ whatsoever, not even by fundamentalist standards, to attack the library.
How should we interpret this ridiculous and heinous crime? Should we read it as yet another victim of Lebanon’s sectarian reality? Or should we just dismiss it as the product of a few marginalized individuals who don’t have much to do other than attack knowledge?
The latter seems to be how the Lebanese decided to respond. Indeed, Lebanon as a whole condemned the burning. All major sectarian representatives issued condemnations and called for the criminals to face justice. Lebanon’s netizens, Muslims and Christians, Druze and Atheists, sent their support to Father Ibrahim Sarrouj by the thousands. Everyone said “No.” But “No” wasn’t enough. Something had to be done to restore the library. Enter “Kafana Samtan”.
Kafana Samtan, or “Enough Silence”, was launched on Zoomaal, an online Arab crowd-funding platform, just a few days after the attack. It was immediately backed with overwhelming support from both companies and average citizens. In just a month, it succeeded in getting US $35,000, thanks to 298 donors. How will the money be used? New bookshelves, a new front door, new wall painting, as well as buying back rare books and installing security equipment.
But that’s not the end of the story. The Al-Saeh library distinguished itself in succeeding in getting Lebanese of all stripes together. Irrespective of religion or sect, the campaign gathered everyone in coming together for an obviously non-sectarian cause. This wasn’t a Christian vs Muslim vs other Christian vs other Muslim scenario specifically because Father Sarrouj isn’t one.
Having given up on trying to change things politically due to excessive nation-wide sectarian corruption, Lebanon’s independent minds have taken to social media to gather funds, sign petitions, exchange ideas and influence their surroundings.
Will the “Kafana Samta” success story contribute to Lebanon’s growing activist scene? One thing’s certain, it has certainly allowed many to soften their negative perceptions and to essentially give hope in a country where hope isn’t easy to maintain.