Friday, February 21, 2014

Biblioclasm Today

More than 200 copies of books about Anne Frank, including the diary which the Jewish teenager wrote in hiding during the second world war, have been deliberately vandalized in libraries across Tokyo.

Anne Frank

In this case, Anne Frank's book and the many books about her are widely published.  There are no shortage of them.  These are not rare manuscripts. However, her diary is symbolic.  It is more important the the words it contains.  Thus, those who disagree with that symbol strike out at it.  Why?  Because books are easy targets and still the most meaningful object to a culture.
Fortunately, her book is a powerful symbol and I bet that over the next couple of days the libraries in Japan will rebound from this and restore her work to the shelves.

The National and University Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina was shelled and burned for three straight days in August of 1992 during the three year civil war in that country.  Over two million books were lost and many priceless manuscripts.  The library itself did not hold any strategic value (Zeco, 1996).  The Vijecnica as it was called, was the former city hall built in a pseudo-Moorish style at the end of the nineteenth century.  It was a symbol of the city and the cultural heritage of the region (Zeco, 1996).
The library was targeted over this three day period by Serbian nationalists as part of the “cultural genocide” on the Muslim population in the region.  During the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, the destruction of the library was offered as proof to support his conviction for crimes against humanity before The Hague (Kuntz, 2012).
As Knuth (2006) states, books are easy targets because of their “symbolic nature and relative vulnerability” (p. 11).  Sometimes books are banned because of the information they contain.  Many times, however, it’s not only because of the content of the books themselves but also because of their importance to a particular culture (Knuth, 2006, pp. 11, 29).
This can be seen with the recent burning of Islamic religious texts by a Florida pastor in 2012.  The texts themselves were not unique.  What they contained had been reproduced millions of times over.  The words they contained, however, were important to the culture that associated with them.
The destruction of libraries is important in war as a tactical target.  The loss is meant to instill fear.  “The loss of libraries signals to the population that they are vulnerable to the enemy and a superior army (Knuth, 2006, p. 11).
The Vijecnica after its destruction.
The destruction of the Vijecnica was not an isolated incident.  Shortly before, in May of that year and one month into the start of the war, the Serbians destroyed the Oriental Institute, a cultural heritage institution that archived many important documents from the region's past.  Lost were many valuable manuscripts, including an important collection called Manuscripta Turcica.  In addition, many civil and land records from the nineteenth century were targeted and destroyed.  The destruction of these texts and records are consistent with biblioclasm’s effort to erase all cultural records of a people (Zeco, 1996).
Biblioclasm’s aim is not the destruction of the book qua book.  Instead it focuses on books because they are vulnerable and important symbols of society.  By destroying a library, the aggressor is effectively annulling the UDHR’s application to the victims by announcing very plainly: you have no rights.
Joyner, C. C. (2004). The United Nations and Terrorism: Rethinking Legal Tensions Between National Security, Human Rights, and Civil Liberties. International Studies Perspectives, 5(3), 240-257.
Kuntz, B. (2012). The Politics of Cultural Genocide. Progressive Librarian, (40), 91-108.
Zeco, M. (1996). The National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the current war. Library Quarterly, 66(3), 294.
Edited by Peter Cannon on Jan 22 at 11:16pm

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