Tag: syria art

Muhannad Qaiconie

Syrian Refugee Creates International Library in Berlin

In a Berlin loft, a team of international academics, writers, and publishers have come together to create a sanctuary for Arabic culture in Germany. Muhannad Qaiconie, the mastermind behind the unconventional library, is a displaced Syrian student studying English literature who found solace in Germany after years in Lebanon and Turkey.


Muhannad had to abandon his own library in 2013 when he fled his home in Aleppo. “I didn’t have a single book in my hand at that time,” he says. “But studying was always in my mind, because I missed it so much. In Syria, I bought the books to read and made my own library, my own education.”


“It’s horrible to lose everything, but it’s not just the need of food or money, there are the needs of the mind. You need your culture, your books.”


After leaving Syria, Muhannad spent time in Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, before waiting in a shelter in southern Germany for his asylum application to process. 


While waiting for the bureaucratic red tape to clear, he found himself bored and in search of a good book. An online friendship began with Berlin-based Ines Kappert, who is a literary scholar and newspaper editor. When Muhannad asked his new friend where he could find an Arabic library, she was unable to help him as she didn’t know of any in the country. 


“That stayed in my mind,” said Muhannad. And it stayed in his mind even after he won a scholarship and moved to Berlin. Now living in the same city as Ines, the pair began to bring their idea of an Arabic library to life. The reality solidified once they found a space – the top floor of a high-rise hotel now used to house families from Syria and Iraq – and filled it with donated books on politics, religion, history, and science. The library doesn’t only house Arabic books. German and English books also fill the shelves.


Arabic books at Qaiconie's library

Image via UNHCR


“The library is for everybody – it’s an exchange of culture. There are many writers, authors, musicians coming to Berlin. They need this stage, a place to introduce their work. We can learn from each other, it’s not just one side. If there’s such a thing as integration, that’s it. You learn from me, I learn from you.”


The library has received support from a large amount of literary and cultural groups from a variety of countries, including Germany, Syria, and Jordan. The library is open four days a week and patrons are invited to browse, discuss, and research. At night, the library showcases authors from Berlin’s flourishing Arabic-speaking literary scene.


“Lots of people feel they are home now, because it’s their culture, their people, and their discussions.”


Featured image via Twitter – Muhannad Qaiconie.

Exterior of Doncaster Airport

British Woman Interrogated at Airport for Reading Syrian Art Book

Thomson Airways cabin crew reported Faizah Shaheen to authorities in 2016 on her way to her honeymoon in Turkey for reading ‘Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline,’ a book that compiles poetry, stories, photography, and cartoons from Syria.


The cover of Syria Speaks

Image courtesy of Amazon


Two weeks later, Shaheen returned to the UK where she was promptly stopped by police and interrogated. The police asked about the book, Shaheen’s job, and how many languages she spoke. Regarding the interrogation, Shaheen said, “I felt upset and distressed, followed by anger. I struggled to accept that I was being singled out for reading a book on art and culture.”


Picture of Faizah Shaheen

Photo of Faizah Shaheen, via BBC


Despite Shaheen’s legal team requesting an apology from Thomson, they haven’t heard much. Thomson hasn’t been totally quiet on the matter, though. In a statement, they said:

“We’re really sorry if Ms. Shaheen remains unhappy with how she feels she was treated. We wrote to her to explain that our crew undergo general safety and security awareness training on a regular basis. As part of this they are encouraged to be vigilant and share any information or questions with the relevant authorities, who would then act as appropriate.”


The interrogators might have been surprised to learn part of Shaheen, who works in the field of mental health, studies the radicalization of young people by religious groups.


If policing what their passengers read is being “vigilant,” then libraries might want to watch their backs.


Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia