Happy World Book and Copyright Day! It is very significant that this year UNESCO chose Port Harcourt, Nigeria, as the World Book Capital of 2014. I can’t help but think it is a direct response to the ongoing terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, whose name literally means “books are forbidden.” Their stated aim is to abolish what they call Western education and impose Islamic law on all Nigerians. They enforce that law with the most brutal methods imaginable, preferring blades to guns. They have been responsible for the murder of some ten thousand Nigerians, mostly Christians but also Muslims who actively oppose them, and have succeeded in shutting down the school system in the northeast of the country.
This Easter, Boko Haram launched their most horrific attacks yet, with a string of bombings that killed nearly 300 people and the mass abduction of over 200 girls who were sitting their final exams. The school had only two guards, who were easily dispatched by the raiders. It is in the midst of this worsening nightmare that UNESCO is celebrating the power of books to foster peaceful prosperity and coexistence. Though a good education never stopped anyone from becoming a terrorist, I believe an educated public is essential to organizing a society that is capable of repelling threats like Boko Haram.
We can help by supporting literacy organizations the operate in Africa and other regions where schools are under violent threat. If these children are brave enough to risk death or abduction in order to learn, surely we can do something to help them? This year UNESCO has partnered with Worldreader, a non-profit organization that is trying to capitalize on the popularity of mobile technology in Africa to distribute ebooks and ereaders where they are needed. In places where it is simply too dangerous to go to school this is a godsend. There are also other great organizations that distribute paper books and teacher resources in Africa; here are some of my favourites. In the battle between books and brutality, let’s make sure books win.