For decades, the overland route between western Iraq and Lebanon has been the busiest and most important passage for the transportation of books and publications to Iraq.
Today, the route has fallen under control of the Islamic State (IS), with fighters censoring book shipments to prevent the entry of material and information they consider to be contrary to Islam.
Given that the transportation of books by air and sea is much more costly, IS’ control over land routes will affect the market for and distribution of cultural products in Iraq.
Fighters usually inspect cargo, impose custom duties and confiscate any publication deemed contrary to their principles. The offending books are burned or otherwise destroyed on the spot. Moreover, the vehicle drivers face serious consequences. In many cases, they are only released after their relatives or the publishing houses they work for agree to pay large sums of money as ransom.
At one point, publishing houses began resorting to trickery to distribute their products, placing potentially sensitive books under copies of the Quran. This led some fighters to believe that entire loads consisted of the Islamic holy book, so they would allow the cargo to pass on to Baghdad and other southern cities. IS members eventually recognized what was happening and tightened inspection procedures and supervision.
Al-Monitor learned from the Beirut publishing house Dar al-Rafidain that in early December 2013, IS had confiscated one of its latest publications, “Christians in Iraq: Comprehensive History and Current Challenges.” The volume is an encyclopaedia of some 900 pages on the historical roots, cultural presence and social heritage of Christians in Iraq. IS fighters detained the driver and only released him after obtaining a $5,000 ransom from the shipping company.