Mohamad Kanina: ” I still feel the smell of freedom in a library"

Annika Nillson, who is a librarian, said in an interview that one of the duties of a library is to support democracy in society.

What she said roused a profound feeling in me. I myself discovered the importance of a library when I was 15 years old. I went to the library at least once a week in Syria. I felt free there.

I could read and learn a lot without anyone saying, ”You mustn’t read that book” or being told that ”These books are obligatory.” I discovered books on my own.

It wasn’t common for a child or a young person to go to the library so often. Society, both in school or within the family, did not encourage young people to go to the library and read. It was probably on account of something my friend said to me later: ”It seems as if the library has destroyed your brain”. So: society is not comfortable in having an individual who can think critically.

In the library I found books with ideas that were free and democratic. I knew too that censorship cannot find everything there is in books. Contrary to what it said, the dictatorship did not have control over everything in the library.

Since then it has become a habit to go to the library. When I was bored in school or at university I went to the library; there I could read whatever I liked, not what other people made me read. I understood that if we want to create a democratic society we must start with the library, which I have always called my proper school.

I remember books I read in the library better than the ones I read in school or at university. That may be because my thirst for knowledge was intertwined with my need for freedom. At the same time I realised already at that time that more knowledge means more freedom.

I borrowed lots of books on politics from the library. Then a friend warned me to be careful, they would check my library ticket. Perhaps the Secret Service would ask me why I was interested in politics. So then I started to read all sorts of subjects. It was exciting. I read sociology, literature, history.

I left my own collection of books in Syria, my library, which I cherished. I had almost 300 books, very valuable ones, which I had bought over a period of many years. It makes me sad, but I can always start all over again; I survived and I can read.

I have experienced what Annika Nilsson said about democracy for many years. I still feel the smell of freedom in the library, my true school of life.