THE burning down of an antiquarian bookshop and library
established by a Greek Orthodox priest in Tripoli, in northern
Lebanon, has prompted a public response that has cut across
sectarian boundaries. Money is being raised in Lebanon and
elsewhere to rebuild the facility.
The bookshop and library, known in Arabic as Maktabat al-Sa'eh
(the Pilgrim's Bookshop), is the work of Fr Ibrahim Sarrouj. Over a
period of 40 years, he had assembled about 85,000 titles in his
small premises in the old city.
In early January, a group of armed men, assumed to be militant
Islamists, broke in and started a fire that destroyed up to a third
of the books, including rare Islamic manuscripts. Fr Sarrouj had
earlier received a message falsely alleging that an anti-Muslim
pamphlet had been found in one of his books.
Christians, along with Shia-associated Alawites, are minorities
in Tripoli, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims. After the fire,
hundreds of people from all three communities came to help clear up
the mess, co-ordinating their efforts on Facebook
(facebook.com/events/483734041736112/). They also started an
international online appeal to raise the equivalent of about
£18,000 to carry out repairs and restoration.
Fr Sarrouj has received messages of support and donations from
Lebanese all over the world, as well as books for his collection.
He told CNN that it was "a great source of joy for me that the
burning of this library brought together Muslims and Christians,
and especially clergy and Muslim sheikhs".
Campaigners for the restoration of Maktabat al-Sa'eh say that
they want to send out a message that the people of Tripoli are fed
up with the sectarian violence that has been afflicting the city.
The Sunni-Alawi hostilities in Syria have led to bombings, and to
battles between gunmen in Tripoli.
Tripoli is "the second-largest city in Lebanon, and deserves a
better way of living", one campaigner said.