Ideas are bullet-proof, minds are not.

In his newest book, the highly successful American author, journalist and bureau chief for Newsweek in Europe, Joshua Hammer, tells a story that will almost certainly have evaded the broad public. Among the heavy artillery of war and anti-terror rhetoric, a few people have taken to fight the islamists and jihadists in a different way.

Back in 2012, a group of Islamist extremists in Mali, who have been linked to al-Qaeda, were targeting places that stored medieval texts and literature of all kinds with the sole objective of erasing them from our collective history. A librarian by the name of Abdel Kader Haidara, risked his life to save hundreds of thousands of historic documents and an entire culture´s heritage from obliteration.

The book, “The Bad-Ass Librarian of Timbuktu”, describes the journey and just how this unlikely hero had to overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. At that time, the region was occupied by religious fanatics, which meant that Haidara had to find a way to smuggle hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and texts to a safe place about 1000km away, without the jihadi occupiers noticing anything.

Needless to say, this put the protagonist under immeasurable pressure, since once caught it would become increasingly difficult to talk your way out of such a situation. Especially when confronted with people who have proudly displayed their inability to reason effectively and rely solely on barbaric practises for punishment.

Such brave undertakings have occurred throughout history and have proven time and time again to be one of the most effective ways to undermine a toxic ideology. During the cold war, the creation of an underground press called “Samizdat”, which loosely translates to “self-made”, has led to a subversive political movement that spread western novels and texts throughout the USSR. They typed out the novels and edited them into inconspicuous looking books to smuggle them right under the noses of the authorities. By creating and supplying the marketplace of ideas, they have managed to uphold an intellectual resistance that corroded the system from inside. This is why totalitarian regimes do their best to prevent the import of different and critical ideas.

Many such unsung heroes have served humanity, often under the pain of severe punishment and even death, but they have continued nonetheless. It is as Vladimir Bukovsky put it, a member of the grassroots movement, who spent 12 years in psychiatric prison hospitals, labour camps and prisons for his actions:

Samizdat: I write myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend jail time for it myself.

The entire story of Abdel Haidara was put to paper in Mr. Hammer´s book, the ending of which will not be given away here. That pleasure is reserved for the reader.