Did IFLA subconsciously ask us to look elsewhere?

Or consciously? “Venus blindfolded” by Gastev  (CC BY 2.0)

By Mikael Böök, Isnäs, Finland

>> See important comments below about IFLA’s statement 18th August concerning the situation in Afghanistan.

To refer to the subconscious of others is perhaps not very polite. Yet I cannot avoid speculating about the subject of the one and only political statement from IFLA’s world congress this summer. Why did the leaders of the international umbrella of the world´s librarians pick the Hungarian laws on LGBTQ+ content for their statement to be approved by the organization’s General Assembly on August 25? Had it not been more appropriate with a statement on the consequences of the “war on terrorism”, as looked upon from a librarian’s angle?

Was the twenty-year Afghanistan war of the USA and their coalition of willing states too depressing and frightening for librarians to look closer upon? Yes, that is probably part of the answer. So many just looked away with disgust, if not to avoid endangering their careers.

Or did the librarians more or less automatically obey to an …

… unwritten rule of their profession, namely, that librarians should not meddle in questions of war and peace (but stick to their last, like the famous Roman shoemaker)? 

Or, is IFLA’s choice of supporting LGBTQ+ rights in Hungary to do, in particular, with how our ideas of the human rights have evolved in the last two decades of media metamorphosis and “war on terrorism”?

In my previous posting about the admirable stand of Benjamin Ferencz, I have quoted the «Emergency Declaration for a Halt to Preparations for Bombing Afghanistan: Librarians Speak Out!» from October 2001, a document which proves that some librarians actually took stand against the Afghanistan war already twenty years ago:

«Out of a simple humanitarianism we ask that the technology and forces of mass destruction ready to be deployed against the Afghan people be demobilized and that the Afghan people be spared the horrors of yet another war…»

they wrote. Now, those progressive librarians certainly understood that the war would violate the human rights of the Afghan people, first of all their right to life. But it seems that the librarians of today, and even the leaders of their IFLA, have still not learned the lesson that wars are to be opposed lest the rights of a lot of human beings are going to be violated, be they LGTBQ+ people or heterosexuals. No progress there.

On the contrary. Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (1948) the matter of the human rights has become thoroughly separated from the matter of war and peace in the minds of the public. So much so that it is no longer understood that war is a negation of the human rights while peace is their necessary condition. If we are to fully accept this separation of inseparable things, then we can as well put the United Nations and the basic ideas of its Declaration of Human Rights in the dustbin. Unfortunately, the unlawful wars of the USA and its coalition of the willing states have created a veritable crisis of the human rights. There we have another explanation of the IFLA’s silence on the Afghanistan war now in the wake of its ending. The media certainly carry a great responsibility for shaping this situation. But, undoubtedly, the librarians, too, as a profession, need to feel responsible for looking — consciously or subconsciously — elsewhere when they should have looked at the wars and the ongoing, ever more inhuman, unecological and costly, not to say insane, preparations for new wars.

Yesterday “Helsingin Sanomat” (the biggest newspaper in Finnish) carried a story with the headline The discussion about the Afghanistan operation has only begun (here, in Finnish and behind paywall.) The words “Afghanistan operation” point at the participation of Finland in the war in Afghanistan as a member of the USA-led coalition of the willing. This headline was good in itself, but the content of the article was even more compelling, especially for librarians and archvists. The reporter tried to interview representatives of the Finnish army about what the Finnish soldiers really have done in Afghanistan. And so it transpired that this will be very difficult to know, because a lot of documents about their doings in Afghanistan have already been destroyed! 

Well, who is to keep the warlogs from now on? On that question IFLA could come out with some political statements about further reform and legislation in their own field, so to speak. If not the professional librarians and archivists are to keep the records, including the digital records, then who? Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft in their clouds, perhaps? 

Or WikiLeaks? Where is the Afghan War Diary of WikiLeaks, “75,000 secret US military reports covering the war in Afghanistan”? Today, that trove of documents is still found at WikiLeaks.org. But for how long will they be found there if Julian Assange stays in jail for ever and WikiLeaks, for some reason, ceases to function? IFLA could also have chosen to publish a statement in support of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and revealed its intention to preserve copies of every file at WikiLeaks.org in the libraries. There is always room for more documents now that the documents are computer files.

PS: In a comment to the mentioned blogpost on Ben Ferencz, I wrote about the IFLA statement on Hungarian LGBTQ+ politics: «This seems to be a very «safe» statement to make these days, at least for those wo support the foreign policy of the USA. Whether it makes anybody safer is another question. Certainly it does not make the LGBTQ+ community any safer, although that might have been the good intention».

4 Responses to “Did IFLA subconsciously ask us to look elsewhere?”

  1. And futhermore IFLA put a lot of energy into another very «safe» campaign, the SDG. I’m not at all a climate change skeptic but call for some clarification of the very close affiliation with development goals that have been criticized for being weak, vague and worthless by researchers. https://bibliotekettarsaka.com/2021/05/08/the-library-and-sustainability-passive-consensus-and-no-debate/
    And: Peace is in fact the 16th goal of the SDG … https://sdg-tracker.org/peace-justice

  2. Thank you, Lisa!

    I had missed that statement on Afghanistan from IFLA, published on August 19. So now I am embarrassed. Writing my blogpost above I did not search the whole website of IFLA, I only looked for the news from the IFLA General Assembly on August 25.

    IFLA’s statement “concerning the situation in Afghanistan” was issued by our organization’s President Christine Mackenzie and Secretary General Gerald Leitner. Having now read their statement, I should like to make some further comments.

    My first comment is that it all sounds very good and nice. Can anybody be against what is said in that statement, like “our concern is first and foremost for the people of Afghanistan, particularly those groups that are most vulnerable, including women and girls”, and “We join our voice to the global call for the human rights of all Afghan citizens to be respected and upheld?”

    Not unexpectedly, the leaders of IFLA are also concerned with the fate of libraries, museums and the cultural heritage in Afghanistan, and of “those professionals who work to preserve it, without discrimination due to ethnicity, gender, religion, or political opinion, to ensure it remains accessible for future generations.” I guess all of us are. At least I am.

    The statement is no doubt very kind and well intended. But, in my opinion, it is shallow. It is shallow because it does not even mention the Afghanistan war. How much is our “call for the human rights” worth if we do not oppose war and “prefer law to war under all circumstances”, like Benjamin Ferencz said in the interview (quoted in extenso earlier in this blog) on the coming US-led war in Afghanistan, which he gave to the US national public radio a couple days after 9/11 2001?

    In my view IFLA should draw the lesson that can be drawn from the Aghanistan war and the other US-led wars on terrorism, and spell it out. Thus IFLA should henceforward take stand against the wars because the wars are opposed to the human rights.

    It is time to put harder press on the political rulers of this world, in particular the governments of the nine nuclear weapons states, to “prefer law to war under all circumstances”. The librarians need to “join their voice to the global call” for stopping the endless wars. As a first step, the IFLA could join its voice to that of the ICAN and add its support to the implementation of the existing UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

    I should like to hear more from you, Lisa!


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