Poetry of the Taliban by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn
The Taliban are synonymous with the war in Afghanistan. Doughty, uncompromising fighters, they plant IEDs, deploy suicide bombers, and wage guerrilla warfare. While much has been written about their military tactics, media strategy, and harsh treatment of women, the cultural and sometimes less overtly political representation of their identity, the Taliban's other face is often overlooked. Most Taliban fighters are Pashtuns, a people who cherish their vibrant poetic tradition, closely associated with that of song. The poems in this collection are meant to be recited and sung, and this is the manner in which they are enjoyed by the wider Pashtun public today. From audiotapes traded in secret in the bazaars of Kandahar, to mp3s exchanged via bluetooth in Kabul, to video files downloaded in Dubai and London, Taliban poetry has an appeal that transcends the insurgency. For the Taliban today, these poems, or ghazals, have a resonance back to the 1980s war against the Soviets, when similar rhetorical styles, poetic formulae and tricks with metre inspired mujahideen combatants and non-combatants alike. The poetry presented here includes 'classics' of the genre from the 1980s and 1990s as well as a selection from the ghazals of today's conflict. Veering from nationalist paeans to dirges replete with religious symbolism, the poems are organized under four headings--War, Pastoral, Religious, and Love--and cover many themes and styles. The political is intertwined with the aesthetic, the celebratory cry is never far from the funeral dirge and praise of martyrs lost. Two prefatory essays introduce the cultural and historical context of the poetry. The editors discuss its importance to the Pashtuns and highlight how poetic themes correspond to the past thirty years of war in Afghanistan. Faisal Devji comments on what the poetry reveals of the Taliban's emotional and ethical hinterland.