Al-Zeitouna, or Olive Tree, is the only Arabic library in Switzerland which was founded 33 years ago by a Syrian/ Lebanese man, born in Egypt and holding a Sudanese passport, who has spent all of his life in Switzerland.
"I started this project in 1979, thirty three years ago, and I remember that when I started it I couldn’t speak any Arabic, and had no cultural reference, ignoring even who was Um Kalthoum or Feirouz. I have learned in bits and pieces, with the help of the visitors," said Bitar.
Bitar, an Arab Christian, has not been immune from religious controversy, as some accuse him of being pro-Iranian, while others say he’s against Islam. But, he says:
"This library is a mirror of what’s in the Arab World, from the Maghreb to the Levant," said Bitar.
Key reference books and several others, and more than 5,000 music CDs combining the past and the present, are the fruits of al-Zeitouna Library.
"The library was originally an attempt to establish an Arab Cultural Center, completely independent, combining literature, music and plastic arts, even culinary art, as we sometimes organize cooking lessons and almost everything related to the Arab world," said Bitar.
Arab intellectuals in Switzerland consider al-Zeitouna Library an Arabian cultural oasis, away from factionalism and sectarianism.
The library features books that have even been banned in the Arab world, and others published in the West, but not welcomed in the Middle East.