July 22, 2024
The man who burned the library in protest

The man who burned the library in protest


Most people have a breaking point. For some, it is achieved under fairly everyday pressure. For others, it hits hard when the conditions are so cruel that they are almost unbearable. And you shout out to humanity that they must see what is happening. If you are not heard then, you might lose your mind for a moment. And burning a library.

I am sorry, but I am mentally unbalanced, says Mr. Suleiman

The man who has entered the room is older and looks tired. He sits down easily in his chair when he expresses his regret. His glasses adjust slightly as he looks towards the gathering in the small meeting room in Dohuk, located in northern Iraq.

We who meet his gaze are from the Norwegian Humanism Association, and have been appointed by the organization as ambassadors for part of our international work. There is also a real ambassador from Holland present. As well as several from his delegation.

The glasses are correctly placed over the nose when he introduces himself as Bir Khadr Suleiman in a firm voice. Then he reaches towards the floor and picks up an older bag. From it he takes some of the 11 books and countless booklets he has written about the Yezidis. He is clearly proud of them when he says that he would like to give them to us as a gift, so that we get to know this small minority better.

The peaceful people

He says that he has dedicated his whole life to telling the outside world about the peaceful Yezidi people. That they follow a religion that does not seek to convert others and that they do not represent any danger to any part of society. All they want is to live peacefully with others in their country.

His hands are raised to his face and he hides it for a second, while he pulls them down until he is again sitting with them in front of him. Then he looks us in the eye as he tells us that his work has been of no use.

Therefore, he got to the point where he gathered some supporters. And set fire to his entire personal library dealing with the Yezidis. The library included thousands of books. Valuable and rare texts were taken by the flames. So did much of his own work.

After he burned his library, he explained why he did it and what his message was. He said:

It is a religious message aimed at the extremist conflicts that have justified violence against us for centuries. It is a social message to a hostile environment that refuses to live with us, and a political message to the local authorities in Iraq and the major powers that have failed to protect us, even though we are in danger of being totally exterminated from our country.

He repeats this message to us with extra emphasis on the words and a clear look that goes to each and every one of us present. It is important to him that we understand how serious the situation is for these people. That we bring it with us into the world. So that the world understands.

In 20 days you removed a dictator. But you lack the will to stop the barbaric abuses of Daesh. Why is this so?” asks Mr. Suleiman

The frustration is clear when he mentions how quickly Saddam Hussein was removed when the major powers wanted this. Now, on the other hand, it is the case that girls from primary school age are being held as sex slaves by Daesh (designation for IS). And boys of the same age are held for religious indoctrination, or are killed by beheading.

And it feels as if the great powers are washing their hands, even if they know it. He says in a voice almost at the level of a whisper that perhaps there are political reasons behind it. Individuals can quickly disappear in the big picture, even if what happens is a disaster for a small and vulnerable people.

Minorities under pressure

He returns again to the fire when he says:

What I did was a cry addressed to all of humanity. I burned my life’s work with the hope that I could reveal to the whole world the cruelty that is now happening to the minorities in Iraq, with the active participation of all factions.

Because it is not only the Yezidis who are at risk in Iraq. Even though they have been hit the hardest both in recent atrocities and throughout history.

The other minorities in the country also experience hopelessness. And they largely share a common sense of distrust in and abandonment of the world. They therefore ask many questions about their situation and the world’s attitude towards them.

Several minority groups feel that they are victims of dirty games played against them by regional and international powers. They ask why over several years Daesh was allowed to grow into the monster it is today, and why the borders with Syria’s neighbors were opened so that thousands of soldiers and weapons could enter unhindered and create the terrible conditions in which the minorities in Iraq live under.

Forgiveness is difficult

We dare to ask how he sees the future. It is a big question that is not easy to answer briefly. He says:

Over 60 percent of our population lives in tents. You may not know what it is like. Living in a tent. For years without knowing when it will end. No education for most of our children. An uncertain future.

It is challenging to hear him describe in broad terms the situation as he sees it, without the eyes getting moist.

How can I forgive those who have raped and killed our daughters, and beheaded our sons?” says Mr. Suleiman.

Before he adds that:

We are not well represented, either in the Kurdish or Iraqi parliament, so our voice is silenced. We are living through a disaster and we don’t know what to do.

Those of us who have met this handsome older man don’t quite know what to do either. To help this peaceful people. What we can do is help make it a little easier for the Yezidis by collecting money for the projects. And we can tell his story as he has told it to us.

Because he has devoted his life to writing about the Yezidis. He has burned down his life’s work through the library. And yet he has not been heard. But maybe he will be heard through this blog post?

Please help the Yezidi people by supporting our collection in collaboration with Norwegian People’s Aid: Support the Yezidis in Iraq. All contributions are gratefully received. Because this vulnerable people need it badly.

Post on korpset.human.no on 23 October 2016: Human.no.

Photo credit: Sean Kjetil Nordbo

Written by
Sean Kjetil Nordbo
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