The Poetry of the Taliban

The Poetry of the TalibanThe Poetry of the Taliban, edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn and due out in July is already garnering a lot of discussion both positive and negative.

Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan criticized the book in The Guardian, cautioning readers against “being taken in by a lot of self-justifying propaganda”.

However, Michael Dwyer, managing director of Hurst & Co., the British publisher of The Poetry of the Taliban, views the book as an important part of their list of books focusing on Afghanistan: “All these books, including Poetry of the Taliban, contribute to our knowledge of Afghanistan and the vicissitudes endured by its people in recent decades.””

In the New York Times blog At War, C. J. Chivers argues that the book Reading The Poetry of the Taliban as a way of better understanding the Taliban and Afghanistan:

Whatever the current controversy, “Poetry of the Taliban” serves as a martial and social artifact from a broken land. Its poems are variously political and pastoral, one moment enraged and the next heavy with sorrow … They capture ambitions, loneliness, resolve and fear. Many passages crudely mock the West. Others sketch the Taliban’s foes in harsh but lyrical caricature, including a passage in “Death is a Gift” that acidly describes Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, as among “those who have one mouth but utter fifty different words and have fifty different thoughts/Like Karzai; I will not behave like a juggler.”

In yesterday’s New York Times , Faisal Devji, a fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and the author of the preface for the “Poetry of the Taliban,” also views the poems as an important way to understand the Taliban mindset and Afghan culture. Poetry, he writes, has played an important part in Muslim culture and in a variety of movements and struggles. In assessing the importance of Taliban poetry, Devji claims:

These poems are not merely propagandistic; they move beyond the hard politics of the Taliban to form a bridge to the world outside the movement. And the rest of the world would do well to pay attention, because their ideals are more likely than any Taliban communiqué to survive the insurgency and to play a role in the remaking of Afghanistan. These poets criticize the idea of human rights that coalition forces are supposedly fighting to protect in their country. Instead, they voice notions of humanity that are linked to private duties like generosity, compassion and, indeed, nonviolence.

In his op-ed he includes a poem by Qari Yousuf Ahmadi on the hypocrisy of humanitarian intervention:

The cloaked magician wanders like a beggar,
Trying to find some more forces to kill me.
The green parrots of the United Nations are mute;
Those who talk of human rights have sealed their mouths shut.

Devji concludes by arguing, “By excluding the aesthetic dimension from our analyses of militant texts like those recovered from Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani lair, we miss a crucial opportunity to confront the humanity of their authors.”

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