And you didn’t think there was a soft side to the Taliban.
A controversial new book has hit shelves in Great Britain that contains poetry written by members of the group or authors who seem quite romantically devoted to it. It's titled, appropriately enough, "Poetry of the Taliban."
The spot on my heart makes a candle like the sun
To watch the earth and skies with.
That’s just a taste of the verse two Western researchers stumbled on while perusing the Taliban’s web site. Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, who have been living in Afghanistan for years, found the trove while they were working on a project called Afghanwire, an online resource they created to help foreigners understand what everyday Afghans were doing.
They noticed that new poems kept popping up on the Taliban’s site and kept clicking to find poems dating to the 1990s. They asked around to see if anyone was bothering to translate them to English.
No one was, so their translator went to work.
“The poems seemed part of our understanding of who the Taliban were. They meshed with what we’ve seen living in Kandahar – that it wasn’t enough to believe that the Taliban are fighting simply out of religious fervor,” Kuehn said. “There was a lot more to these guys.”
Beyond fighting, the poets penned odes to love, and to Afghanistan. They wrote about corruption in government and about NGOs that are failing to really help Afghans. They ruminated on money, loss of life, being a refugee and beauty.
There was a sun escorting your beauty
There was a moon with you and a great army of stars.
The ignorance of the dark turned to light when you came;
The army accompanying you dug into the chest of darkness.
Several of the poems sound like lines that Sacha Baron Cohen might say in his new movie “The Dictator.”
Your love aside, what else is there?
It is like approaching the desert.
Like the dust on your footsteps.
Look! The crazy one lay down.
Other poems are a little more direct:
I will murder all the enemies of your religion and prosperity,
I will gradually make you the holy necklace of Asia.
Response among Afghans to the book has been split, the researchers said.
“A lot of people thought it was strange that it was a couple foreigners working on a book about poetry by talibs [the Arabic word for students of Islam],” Strick van Linschoten said. “The feedback in intellectual circles in Kabul is [some think] that it’s great that we’re showing the international community another side to the Taliban.” Others in Kabul, they say, disagree with the book's publication.
Meanwhile, outside of Afghanistan, there has been other criticism of the researchers for publishing the words of the Taliban and giving a platform for the Islamist militant group.
Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, calls the poetry propaganda, reports The Guardian:
"What we need to remember is that these are fascist, murdering thugs who suppress women and kill people without mercy if they do not agree with them, and of course are killing our soldiers," Kemp said. "It doesn't do anything but give the oxygen of publicity to an extremist group which is the enemy of this country."
The book's editors say the poetry provides insights into the group.
“They’ve said, ‘How can you publish the poems of people who have created problems for me and my ethnic group?’” Kuehn said. “One of my favorite questions is, ‘How can you humanize the Taliban?’ I always say, ‘They are human, right?’"
The researchers said they were able to meet at least one poet in real life – a university student.
“They are not demons from an outside world,” Kuehn continued. “Right or wrong. Agree or disagree with them. Hate them if you want, but they are still human.”
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