Afghanistan/November 18, 2022/Source: https://gandhara.rferl.org/
The lives lost when a bomb tore through the Kaaj Higher Education Center in Kabul, killing scores of students and educators, can never be replaced. But the victims’ desire for learning lives on thanks to book drives to establish libraries in their honor.
Fifty-eight people were killed and 126 were injured when the center was targeted by a suicide bomber on September 30 in an area of the Afghan capital predominantly inhabited by members of the Shi’ite Hazara community.
Many of the victims were women and girls who had joined hundreds of other students taking practice university entrance exams. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The bombing in the Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood sparked international criticism and large protests against Taliban rule — under which Hazaras have suffered intimidation, discrimination, and violent attacks despite the hard-line Islamist group’s promises to protect ethnic and religious minorities.
But the most lasting efforts to honor the victims may be the establishment of libraries to stand as a permanent reminder of the importance and difficulties of pursuing education in Afghanistan.
Two libraries in Kabul have been filling their shelves with donated books in honor of the victims of the blast.
Anwar Yasa, a professor at the Kaaj Higher Education Center, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi that teachers and students have already collected more than 4,000 books to stock a new memorial library at the learning facility.
“The purpose of this library is to keep the memory of the martyrs forever in our hearts so that future generations and other students will not forget that the knowledge we have acquired was not achieved simply; it was achieved through the shedding of students’ blood,” Yasa said. “It can be a message for the next generation that we studied under such conditions yet did not let the flag of science and knowledge fall.”
Yasa still believes that creating a library at the center and promoting the benefits of reading are essential for the advancement of a society, and he is not alone.
Book donations and collection efforts are taking place in provinces across the country, and at least two other libraries have been established in Kabul in honor of the victims of the Kaaj Higher Education Center attack.
One book drive involves an online call for donations and even teams of volunteers going door to door in the western Herat Province, the southwestern Nimruz Province, and the northern Balkh Province.
Khaled Noora, a resident of west Kabul where the deadly bombing took place, has also opened a library there in memory of the victims of the Kaaj Higher Education Center.
A person behind the drive to collect books for that initiative who discussed the effort with Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity out of security concerns said in written comments that the goal is to create a safe reading environment for girls and other young students.
Meanwhile, the families of Marzia and Hajar Mohammadi, two cousins and lifelong best friends who were killed in the September attack, have set up a small library at the site of the girls’ graves where visitors can read the young students’ favorite books.
The bombing has also resulted in hashtags on social media aimed at shedding light on the girls and women who suffer for their pursuit of an education in Afghanistan and on the difficulties Hazaras face under Taliban rule.
Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban has banned girls above the sixth grade from attending school. While the militant group has permitted women to attend university, it has imposed gender segregation and a strict dress code at campuses and restricted what women can study.
Hazaras have long been a persecuted minority in Afghanistan. During the Taliban’s first stint in power from 1996-2001, the group terrorized the Hazara community with a campaign of targeted killings.
Since retaking power, the Taliban has tried to assuage Hazaras’ fears of discrimination and persecution. But several thousand Hazaras have been forcibly evicted from their homes and harassment against the minority has been well documented.
Hazaras have been the target of deadly attacks blamed on the Islamic State-Khorasan extremist group, which considers Shi’a apostates who should be killed. The attacks have led to Hazaras demanding that the Taliban protect the community.