Recent reports from National Public Radio and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) paint an abysmal picture of libraries in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime has left the nation’s cultural and literary heritage in shambles.
NPR correspondent Anne Garrels reported from Kabul January 17 that although the National Library of Afghanistan (NLA) is still standing, its contents have been plundered. She talked to librarian Mohammed Shaffi, who told her that 20 years ago the library was brimming with readers but under the Taliban women were banned and men avoided appearing in public places for fear of being drafted. While in other cities all library books were destroyed, Shaffi said, NLA books that were deemed un-Islamic were put under lock and key, among them books with illustrations, including children’s books.
National Library Director Fazlollah Qodsi told IRNA Janaury 27 that about 80,000 books have been lost in the course of Afghanistan’s civil war under Taliban rule. Many were burned for heating or used to wrap food. Eight of Kabul’s 18 libraries were shut down and seven more were converted into residential buildings by the Taliban, Qodsi said, adding that “despite all the pressure, fortunately our colleagues managed to rescue a great number of handwritten and illustrated books on calligraphy.”
Garrels said Afghan librarians first and foremost “see the need for professional texts for students, everything from law books to engineering manuals, but they wryly note [that] to study electricity, you need light, and that too is missing. For lack of power and funds, the library is only open for a few hours in the morning.” The nation is looking to outsiders for assistance, she said, echoing a recent call for support issued by UNESCO.
Posted February 4, 2002.