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Poetry of the Taliban
     

Poetry of the Taliban

by Alex Strick van van Linschoten (Editor), Felix Kuehn (Editor), Faisal Devji (Preface by), Hamid Stanikzai
 

Overlooked by many as mere propaganda, the poetry of the Afghan Taliban offers unparalleled insight into the organization's wider worldview. These two hundred poems, bound together in this collection, draw upon both Afghan tradition and the nation's recent past, and seamlessly connect with the long history of Persian, Urdu, and Pashto verse. The contrast between

Overview

Overlooked by many as mere propaganda, the poetry of the Afghan Taliban offers unparalleled insight into the organization's wider worldview. These two hundred poems, bound together in this collection, draw upon both Afghan tradition and the nation's recent past, and seamlessly connect with the long history of Persian, Urdu, and Pashto verse. The contrast between the severity of the Taliban's ideology and its long-standing poetic tradition is nothing short of remarkable. Unrequited love, vengeance, the thrill of battle, religion, and nationalism — even a yearning for nonviolence — are expressed through images of wine, powerful women, and pastoral beauty, providing a fascinating perspective on the hearts and minds of Western civilization's redoubtable adversaries.

Whether they are describing a wedding party annihilated by an air strike or lamenting, "we did all of this to ourselves," these poems are concerned not with politics but with identity and a full, textured, and deeply conflicted humanity. Such impassioned works — defeated, enraged, triumphant, bitterly powerless, and bitingly satirical — ultimately endure as a record of the war in Afghanistan. Two introductory essays contextualize the anthology's poems, relating their significance to Pashtun history and their reflection of a culture inundated by thirty years of war. Faisal Devji, noted Taliban scholar, underscores the link between these poems and the Taliban's emotional and ethical character in a preface.

Editorial Reviews

Hugh Pope

By turns angry, idealistic, or cynically witty, these Taliban poets can leave none unmoved by verse that conjures up Persian metaphysics, Muslim traditions, and a Pashtun quest for honor. Indeed, as triumphs and ruination test these mujahedeens' faith in God, some even echo the shock, sense of betrayal. and despair of Britain's First World War poets.

Mohammad Hanif

These poems of love, war, and friendship tell us more about Afghanistan than a million news reports. Anyone claiming to be an Afghan expert should read this book before giving their next opinion.

Jon Lee Anderson

A remarkable and important work. In Poetry of the Taliban, we see that within the movement there are warriors with wounded hearts, lyrical souls, and a passionate love for language and ideas.

Thomas Hegghammer

A highly original and extremely important book that sheds more light on the Taliban and its resilience than any organizational chart or force assessment. It draws attention to the crucial role aesthetics and emotions -- as opposed to resources and doctrines -- play in military organizations. As such, this may be the first poetry book of strategic significance.

Michael Semple

An essential work. In compiling the poetry of the Taliban, these young scholars have preserved the intimate and the expansive, ranging from pastoral imagery of the Afghan countryside to satire on global politics and rich references to Afghan, Muslim, and biblical history. In the process, they go beyond humanizing the Taliban toward understanding them. A Taliban the world knows as culturally backward have in fact inspired a corpus of poetry reflecting the finest accomplishments of Pashto, Farsi, Urdu, and Arabic civilizations. If anyone still wonders which cultural resources the Taliban drew on to inspire a people to resist a dull global plan to modernize them, read on.

Maclean's - Stephen Marche

The most shocking emotion the book inspires isn't fellow feeling with the butchers of Afghanistan; it is delight. The pleasure of Poetry of the Taliban is its most upsetting feature.... Such poetry is profoundly revealing of the psychology of our enemy. Culled from cellphones, websites and cassettes, the Poetry of the Taliban bears little, if any, relation to official al-Qaeda "literature" with its idiotic, dull, unreadably boring dogmatism. There is politics in this collection but little ideology, little talk even of Islam. The verse burns with immediacy of reality. It's full of alternately witty and grotesque bragging.... The publication of this anthology is as depressing as it is revelatory. Poetry of the Taliban is a celebration of indestructible despair, of unending destruction and resurgent beauty. It is as harrowing a portrait of Afghanistan as any piece of reporting I have read.

The Guardian - Daljit Nagra

A welcome addition to the growing, largely non-fiction, archive about the Taliban. Much of the poetry here appeals to the heart rather than the head, engendering sympathy for the speakers' plight. That these poems put us in this uncomfortable place is the most impressive achievement of the anthology.

The Guardian - Robin Yassin-Kassab

A brave and useful project... offers a perspective on the conflict through the Other's eyes, something worth more than a library full of cold analysis.The Guardian

Time Magazines Higher Education
There is much shock and some awe in this mixed collection, and the editors are to be applauded for beginning "our" education in this troubled and troubling literature.Times Higher Education
New York Times At War Blog - C.J. Chivers

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,New York Times At War BlogNew York Times At War BlogNew York Times At War Blog

Washington Post - Al Kamen

A book that shouldn't be missed!

New Republic - Anna Badkhen
[ Poetry of the Taliban] allows us first-hand access to the sentiments of a people the West still knows too little about, even after more than eleven years of occupation. With the NATO troop pullout less than two years away this candid look in the hearts of Afghans may be overdue. But it's not too late.
Maclean's

The most shocking emotion the book inspires isn't fellow feeling with the butchers of Afghanistan; it is delight. The pleasure of Poetry of the Taliban is its most upsetting feature.... Such poetry is profoundly revealing of the psychology of our enemy. Culled from cellphones, websites and cassettes, the Poetry of the Taliban bears little, if any, relation to official al-Qaeda "literature" with its idiotic, dull, unreadably boring dogmatism. There is politics in this collection but little ideology, little talk even of Islam. The verse burns with immediacy of reality. It's full of alternately witty and grotesque bragging.... The publication of this anthology is as depressing as it is revelatory. Poetry of the Taliban is a celebration of indestructible despair, of unending destruction and resurgent beauty. It is as harrowing a portrait of Afghanistan as any piece of reporting I have read.

— Stephen Marche

The Guardian
A brave and useful project... offers a perspective on the conflict through the Other's eyes, something worth more than a library full of cold analysis.The Guardian

— Robin Yassin-Kassab

Times Higher Education

There is much shock and some awe in this mixed collection, and the editors are to be applauded for beginning "our" education in this troubled and troubling literature.Times Higher Education

New York Times At War Blog

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,New York Times At War BlogNew York Times At War Blog

— C.J. Chivers

Atlantic Blog

...give[s] an insight into the lyrical souls of the members of this miltant group.

Washington Post
A book that shouldn't be missed!

— Al Kamen

William Dalymple

Afghanistan has a rich and ancient tradition of epic poetry celebrating resistance to foreign invasion and occupation. This extraordinary collection is remarkable as a literary project -- uncovering a seam of war poetry few will know ever existed. Yet it is also an important political project, humanizing and giving voice to the aspirations, aesthetics, emotions, and dreams of the fighters of a much-caricatured and little-understood resistance movement about to defeat yet another foreign occupation.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231704045
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
07/17/2012
Series:
Columbia/Hurst Series
Pages:
176
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

James Caron

These poems expose something of the full, textured, deeply conflicted humanity of those who actively consume and recirculate them; those who may be insurgents while also being human. In providing such a picture, the 'insurgent' is restored a sense of humanity and agency, and even (as the editors note) an accountability for violence that would be impossible from a mere avatar.

Meet the Author

Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn are researchers and writers who have worked in Afghanistan since 2006. Their research focuses on the Taliban insurgency and the history of southern Afghanistan over the past four decades. Their academic interests also extend to other Muslim countries. They are regular commentators on major Western news channels and editors of the acclaimed memoir of Abdul Salam Zaeef, My Life With the Taliban.

Faisal Devji is university reader in modern South Asian history at St. Antony's College, Oxford University, and the author of The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics.

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