Dear Terrorist: Letters from a Scorched Past

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April 11th 2014, Iraq, 11:35 a.m.

The bomb in my briefcase feels heavier as I climb up the steps to the university library. Students mill around, talking, laughing, reading. They probably come here every day. If I were one of them, I would probably be sitting under that tree’s shade, cracking open a book.

But I am not. I am here to fight for freedom, to deliver the right world order. The others do not believe that I deserve to fight alongside them, but when they see Sollum Library ablaze with red, I will prove my loyalty.

Stepping into the building, I am greeted by a calm quietness, framed by mahogany shelves filled with leather-bound books.

The county house library

I hurry towards the rare manuscripts, my shoulder knocking into a book that was not properly shelved.

It crashes to the floor, its unusual white cover calling out to me to pick it up. It is just like me, an outsider wanting to be heard.

I do, and a sheath of letters fall to the ground. 

(Click on the pictures for a larger view).

renamed

Alexandria Scroll

Nazi v final

April 11th 2014, Iraq, 12:00 a.m

The school bell chimes, indicating the next hour. I am out of time.

Когда часы 12 бьют

My hands are strangely cold as I stuff the letters back in between the pages of the book, noticing its cover for the first time -- Fahrenheit 451, the newly translated Arabic edition.

A chill runs up my spine.

I quickly remove the explosive and slide it right into the nook where the book had fallen out. It is a perfect fit.

I know the drill. I have practiced for this.

But I am thinking of the scholars who were buried alive, of the mass destruction of knowledge, of the little boys who were puppets for propaganda. It only takes one move from me to right the wrongs of my world, or to destroy a whole world of culture and meaning that I do not understand.

Is this the beginning, or the end?

I know the next steps by heart.

--End--


Glossary

Alexandria: A major Mediterranean port of Egypt, founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. Under the wealthy Ptolemy dynasty, the city soon surpassed Athens as the cultural center of the Hellenic world.

"Ancient Alexandria", line drawing of a scene from Alexandria in ancient times @ Adolf Gnauth, 1878

Confucianism: The lifestyle propagated by Confucius in 6th–5th century BCE and followed by the Chinese people for more than two millennia. Although transformed over time, it is still their source of values and social code.

Einstein: Albert Einstein was an influential German-born physicist. His works were burned during the Nazi book burnings. 

Emperor Qin: The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who ordered the extension of the Great Wall, the burning of books with opposing ideologies, and the death of more than 460 scholars.

Fahrenheit 451: A dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury, published in 1953, about a society where books are outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found. It has been used to discuss the historical role of book burning in suppressing ideas.

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German Student Union: The merger of the general student committees of all German universities during the Nazi regime. It was responsible for a large part of the Nazi book burnings. 

"Berlin, Opernplatz, Bücherverbrennung", Nazi book burnings @ Georg Pahl, 11 May 1933, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Great Library: Commonly used title to refer to The Library of Alexandria. Founded in Egypt, it is the most famous library of Classical antiquity. It is also notorious for having been burned down, becoming a symbol of “knowledge and culture destroyed”.

"The Great Library of Alexandria", artistic Rendering of the Library of Alexandria, based on some archaeological evidence @ O. Von Corven, 1801-1900, CC-PD-Mark

Hemingway: Ernest Hemingway is seen as one of the great American 20th century novelists. His books were burned during the Nazi book burnings. 

"Birthplace of Ernest Hemingway", now open to the public @ Nekonomist, 2009, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Joseph Goebbels: Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany.

"A candid Joseph Goebbels at the moment he realized his photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, was a Jew, 1933" @ Gafa Kassim, 2014, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Julius Caeser: Roman dictator who played a critical role in the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Believed to have contributed to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.

"Remastered from a book", Julius Caesar @ Anonymous, 2009, CD-PD-Mark

Junzi: A Chinese philosophical term used by Confucius to describe the ideal man. Translates into “gentleman” or “superior person”.

Kong Fu Zi: The Chinese title of Confucius, literally translating into Master Kong. It is also how Confucius’s disciples address him, as “Fu Zi” means teacher.

Legalism: The chief ideology of the Qin Dynasty, it focused on strict application of laws, management techniques, accountability, “showing nothing” and the manipulation of political purchase.

Li Si: Prime Minister of the Qin Dynasty who served under Qin Shi Huang, he played a role in persuading the Emperor to suppress intellectual dissent.

"Li Si" @ Unknown, 2013, CC-PD-Mark

Pesar: The persian pronunciation of "son" in Perso-Latin alphabet.

Ren: A Confucian virtue denoting a good feeling a person experiences when being altruistic. It is exemplified by a parent’s protectiveness for children.

Seige of Alexandria: A series of battles occurring involving Julius Caesar between 48-47 BC. Sources identify this event as a possible occasion for the destruction of the Great Library. 

Bataille d'Alexandrie, the Battle of Alexandria @ Guillaume de Tyr, 1173, CC-PD-Mark

Shi Jing: Translates into The Classic of Poetry. Also known as The Book of Songs. It is the oldest collection of Chinese poetry, dating from 11th to 7th century BCE.

"Shi Jing", image of the copy of the ancient Chinese book @ Anonymous, 2006, CC-PD-Mark

Shu Jing: Translates into The Classic of History. It is an ancient China literature classic that has served as the foundation of Chinese political philosophy for over 2,000 years.

"Book of Documents", annotated edition, @ Jin Lüxiang, 1279, CC-PD-Mark

Sollum Library: A fictional academic library in Iraq, the location of a rare manuscript collection and the bombing target of the story’s unnamed narrator. Inspired by real events in 2015.

Stormtroopers: Specialist soldiers of the Germany army in World War I, trained to fight with shock and infiltration tactics. 

"Jurišna četa", Stormtroopers of 27. regiment @ Anonymous, 1915-1917, CC-PD-Mark

Xianyang: The capital city of China during the Qin Dynasty.

Yan He: Fictional disciple of Confucius, modeled after Yan Hui, a real disciple.

Zhu Zi Bai Jia: Translates into The Hundred Schools of Thoughts, a philosophical work dating back to 221 BCE.


 

References

Abbadi, M., Fathallah, O. M. (2008). The destruction of the Library of Alexandria: an archaelogical viewpoint. What happened to the ancient Library of Alexandria? (pp. 75). Retrieved from: Google Books

Chesser, P. (2013). The burning of the Library of Alexandria. Retrieved from: https://ehistory.osu.edu/articles/burning-library-alexandria

Eno, R. (2010). Indiana University, early Chinese thought (pp. 2-7). Retrieved from: http://www.indiana.edu/~p374/Confucian_School.pdf

Gavin, P. (2001). The triumph of Hitler: the burning of books. Retrieved from: http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/triumph/tr-bookburn.htm

Hillis, K., Petit, M., Jarrett, K. (2013). Ptolemy’s universal library. Google and the culture of search (pp. 88). Retrieved from: Google Books

Hucker, C. O. (1975). General history, China’s imperial past: an introduction to Chinese history and culture (pp. 43-44). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

M. Ritchie. (1988). The Nazi book-burning. The Modern Language Review83(3), 627–643. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3731288

Krasner-Khait, B. (2001, October/November). Survivor: the history of the Library. History magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.history-magazine.com/libraries.html

Lüpke, M. (2013, May 16). Cultural incineration: 80 years since Nazi book burnings. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved from: http://www.dw.com/en/cultural-incineration-80-years-since-nazi-book-burnings/a-16798958

Ong, S. C. (2005). The Qin dynasty, China condensed: 5000 years of history & culture (pp. 16-17). Singapore, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.

Ouliette, P. (2010). Power in the Qin dynasty: Legalism and external influence over the decisions and legacy of the first Emperor of China (Bachelor’s thesis, Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, Pennsylvania, United States). Retrieved from: http://triceratops.brynmawr.edu:8080/dspace/handle/10066/5251

Phillips, H. A. (2010). Great Library of Alexandria. Library Philosophy and Practice, 2010 (pp. 1). Retrieved from: http://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/handle/document/19080

Qian, S. & Burton, W, Trans. (1993). The basic annals of the first Emperor of Qin, Records of the Grand Historian (pp. 35-83). Hong Kong, China: The University of Hong Kong Press.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (n.d.). Book burning. In Holocaust Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (n.d.). Immediate American Responses. In Holocaust Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/book-burning/response.php

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (n.d.). The book burnings. In Holocaust Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/book-burning/burning.php

Pictures

Dancingshiba (Photographer). (2008, May). Old postcard [digital image]. CC BY 2.0/Modified from original. Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/4NYwLt

Geishaboy500 (Photographer). (2009, June). The County House Library [digital image]. CC BY 2.0. Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/75ZGDK

Ivanov, A. (Photographer). (2012, December). When clock strikes 12 [digital image]. CC BY-SA 2.0. Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/dLcu3g

Leal, J. A. (Photographer). (2012, January). Scroll [digital image]. CC BY-SA 2.0/Modified from original. Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/b87crP

Skinner, L. (Photographer). (2010, March). Interpretive Origin of Existence [digital image]. CC BY-NC 2.0/Modified from original. Retrieved from: https://flic.kr/p/7PijSZ