Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Good Librarians

This wonderful story came to my attention earlier this year. I found it very affecting. You might as well. 

At the start of his country's civil war, Dr. Mustafa Jahic, the director of the Gazi Husrav Beg Library in Sarajevo, decided to do what he could to preserve that very large part of Muslim Bosnia's cultural patrimony which had been placed in his charge; so he and his staff, including the cleaning lady and the night watchman, carried thousands of books from hiding place to hiding place, across and around the city, braving sniper fire for years in order to save books. Just books. Again and again and again they carried a library of priceless books around a city at war with itself because they thought it was a good thing, the right thing, to do; and it was good, and they were right, and anyone and everyone who presumes to describe themself as being civilised should know Mustafa Jahic's name.

Ever the dutiful scholar and diligent administrator, even when having to find out the hard way that Jewish and Christian gravestones provided better cover against sniper fire than those of Muslim design, while he was organising those hellish strolls in the cause of saving his (and therefore our) culture Dr. Jahic decided that it would be a good idea for the Gazi Husrav Beg's collection to be microfilmed, in case the worst came to the worst and the books were lost: so he found a man named Mustafa Music, who had a microfilming machine, and they set about microfilming the lot. Given the circumstances under which he was working, Dr. Jahic's dedication to his duties was extraordinary.

Dr. Jahic has said of his efforts that '(b)ooks are our past, our roots. Without the past, we don't have a present or a future', and he's dead right, of course. He and his staff, including his incorrigibly courageous night watchman Lotumba Hussein, a Congolese immigrant who was willing to brave the sniper fire of modern Europe's most vicious racists in order to save the culture of those who were firing at him, took the idea of civilised behaviour and elevated it to a level to which, given the circumstances under which they did so, none of us should ever aspire to reach. To even know that men such as Dr. Jahic and Mr. Hussein have been so brave, have been called to be great in their own way and not been found wanting, in the cause of saving items so many other people so casually disregard as books really does make one very appreciative of the peace in which one has been able to live one's own life. 

If the rest of us were just one tenth as civilised as they are, our world would be an infinitely better place.



Blogger Ralph Musgrave said...

I’m moved to tears. Trouble is that Muslims aren’t quite so keen on books that don’t fit in with their ideology. To be more exact they have a habit of killing the relevant authors.
And then there is the fact that Spain translates more books every year than the Arab world has translated in the last thousand years.
Re us lot being a tenth as civilised as Jahic and Hussein, that’s a great piece of anti-white racism. I’m sure the Guardian would find a job for you.

18 December, 2012 15:34  
Blogger Martin said...


18 December, 2012 22:20  

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