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The library is open

Posted by David Mehegan  November 8, 2007 12:35 PM

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Saad Eskander (Globe photo by Justine Hunt)

As I mentioned in my story this morning, Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archive in Baghdad, will speak at 6 p.m. today at the Boston Public Library, in the Rabb Lecture Hall. Since the war began, Eskander has fought his own battle to restore the library, which was badly damaged soon after the invasion, and to keep it open for all Iraqis. Here are a few of his comments that did not make it into the story.

Q. What do you hope for, from the West?
A. People or governments?

Q. Both.
A. For people, my message is that cultural heritage is not just Iraqi; it is the world's cultural heritage. What has happened in Iraq does not only represent a disaster to Iraq; it was a disaster for everybody in the West, because we are a part of something called humankind. We all go back to the same civilizations, so what happens to Iraq affects you directly. The destruction of our culture is the destruction of your cultural heritage as well.

For governments, that you cannot use guns to defeat terrorism, and the forces of extremism. You need to invest in culture, and in helping cultural institutions in the Third World, I mean secular educational institutions, to fight terror. So you need to fight it first with ideas, with culture, with books, before you fight it with arms.

Q. Do you receive thanks for your work?
A. No, just the opposite. Because I fight corruption. Corruption is the biggest threat, bigger than security, in Iraq. If you work very hard, and you are clean, you create a lot of enemies. They will seize any opportunity to move you [out of your position].

Q. But what about the library users?
A. They are very grateful. They always come to me to thank me for this transition because they used the library during Saddam's time, when there were security agents inside the library, there was censorship, they couldn't read certain books and publications. Now everything is available.

Q Are you hopeful? How do you keep your spirits up?
A. You have to work and work. Neither to be very optimistic or to be pessimistic. You just think that your work is good, and that you have to continue.

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About off the shelf News about books, authors, and publishers from The Boston Globe.
Nicole Lamy is editor of the Globe's Books section.
Jan Gardner writes the "Shelf Life" column for the Globe's Books section.

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