By MARY-JANE DEEB
The September 11 national crisis highlighted the importance not only of the vast resources of the Library of Congress, but also of its area specialists, whose knowledge of the languages and cultures of the Muslim world was critical in providing much needed assistance to members of Congress, the media and the general public.
Following the September 11 bombings, the Near East Section of the Library of Congress was flooded with requests for information about Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, Islamist groups, Muslims and Muslim countries. Arab World area specialist Fawzi Tadros decided to look through the Arabic collections to see what the Library held that could help those seeking more background information on the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Searching through the minimum level cataloging materials in the Arabic collection, Tadros discovered a slim 93-page book written by bin Laden himself and published in Cairo in 1991. Curious to see what bin Laden had to say, Tadros read the book from cover to cover and decided that it provided extremely valuable information that needed to be made public. He took it upon himself to translate the entire book to English.
The book entitled "Ma'arik Ma'sadah al-Ansar al-'Arab bi Afghanistan" (Battles of the Lion Den of the Arab Partisans in Afghanistan) was written by bin Laden as a testimony of his faith and addressed to the memory of those who fought with him against the Soviets in the 1980s. He describes how he and the mujahedeen fighters planned and executed major attacks against the occupying Soviet army in Afghanistan, how they encircled the enemy and launched lightning attacks, then retreated to some of the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. He also describes the tactics and the ruses used, such as fighting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when the Russians believed the partisans would hold fire.
Another important aspect of this book is the fact that bin Laden mentioned the names of the people who fought with him, many of whom were killed in the war against the Soviets, but some of whom may still be alive and among his closest allies. He also included valuable background information on the nationality of his allies which could prove useful for those attempting to trace the roots of the movement he leads.
When Tadros completed the translation, he gave a copy to the Federal Research Division so that it could be made available to those in government who might be interested. Word spread, and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington requested a copy. In mid-March, when Billington presented the Library's budget before the Senate legislative appropriations subcommittee, he took the book with him to show committee members the importance and timeliness of the work that was being done at the Library.
After September 11, the African and Middle Eastern Division's (AMED) Iranian area specialist, Ibrahim Pourhadi, thought it was important to expand the Library's collections on Afghanistan. Turning to his wide network of connections, Pourhadi met with an old friend, a professor named Ludvig W. Adamec, who had just retired from the Near Eastern Studies department of the University of Arizona. Adamec had spent 40 years of his professional life studying Afghanistan and had collected an extensive and valuable collection of publications on that country. Pourhadi suggested that he should consider selling his collection to the Library of Congress. Adamec agreed that this would be the most effective way to dispose of his collection. As a gesture of friendship, and in gratitude for Pourhadi's suggestion, he decided to give the Library a unique collection of newspapers, journals and periodicals published in the past few years in Afghanistan by the state Pushtu Academy. Early this year, several boxes of materials arrived at the Library; they included periodicals such as Ayendah-e Afghanistan (Afghan Future) which covers the Soviet invasion and its aftermath; Adab (Literature) which focuses on Afghani literary output; Ehsaiyeh (Statistics) which provides statistical information on Afghanistan; Nafus (Population) which includes demographic information on the people of Afghanistan; and Sobhi-omid (Hope of the Morning), a general interest periodical.
Other AMED specialists went on acquisition trips to the Middle East in September 2001 and April 2002 with the Cairo office field director, Laila Mulgaokar (see related story, p. 179). They selected Islamic materials for acquisition and expanded the acquisition guidelines to include more Islamic opposition materials, more non-governmental materials and "ephemera" such as Friday sermons in mosques.
Mary-Jane Deeb is an Arab world area specialist in the Library's African and Middle Eastern Division.