In the past few days Alex Strick van Linschoten, the co-editor of Poetry of the Taliban was interviewed in the Christian Science Monitor, and Faisal Devji, who wrote the book’s preface, spoke with NPR (you can listen to his interview below):
In both interviews, van Linschoten and Devji spoke about how Taliban poetry addresses a variety of issues from the Soviet and American invasions to the beauty of the Afghan landscape. The poetry, as both suggest, should not be seen as merely Taliban propaganda, as Devji says, “this is the kind of verse that not only tries to put the Taliban view, if you will, across to other people and other situations of life, situations other than militancy, but also in doing so makes itself vulnerable, opens itself up to other ways of conceiving life, religion, and politics as well.”
In his interview with the Christian Science Monitor, van Linschoten said that the inspiration for Poetry of the Taliban came after he and fellow editor Felix Kuehn noticed the prominence of poetry on Taliban websites. The two began to translate the poems and were impressed by their emotional power the ways in which they grappled with Afghanistan’s recent history.
In the following exchange, van Linschoten addresses the controversy that has developed in the wake of the book’s publication:
Q: This book has been pulled into the political debate. Did you intend for that?
A: We didn’t publish the book with any sort of political agenda, but I’ve found it interesting how challenged people have been just by the idea that Talibs write poems, even regardless of the actual content. A lot of the negative responses we’ve had are by people who’ve never read the book; they’re just objecting to the pure existence of it. I think that says something interesting about how we view the Taliban. We don’t think of them as people who write poems. They’re the enemy, they’re terrorists, people who blew up the Buddha statues, they’re people who’ve done all these bad things to women. We have quite a limited frame of reference. If there was anything we were trying to do with the book, it was to try to offer an extended, more complex view of things.
Q: People have criticized you for over-emphasizing the Taliban’s humanity. What do you think about that?
A: It’s surprising that this is such an outrageous observation to have. Where do people think these guys come from? It’s not like they came from Mars in a spaceship. They’re Afghans and they’re engaged in this political conflict. Just like our soldiers have feelings and emotions, the Talibs do as well.