Controversial Taliban poetry anthology to be published


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The Independent Online

Controversy has erupted over the publication later this week of an anthology of Taliban poetry designed to “shed light on who these people actually are”.

Confronted by a barrage of criticism, including condemnation from a former British military commander in Afghanistan, the editors of the volume of 235 poems have defended their project as a way to challenge people’s assumptions.

The collection, Poetry of the Taliban, has been collated by Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, who spent four years living in the Afghan city of Kandahar, and is being published by London’s Hurst publishers.

But even before its official launch, the volume has sparked sharp debate between those who believe it could provide insights into an “official enemy” and those who think the militants should not be given a platform.

In a widely read blog-posting, the Pakistani novelist Bina Shah, said: “If they [the Taliban] had their way, they’d be running my country. They’d destroy every girls’ school from Kabul to Karachi. They’d drive women out of their jobs, out of the streets, out of hospitals and everywhere else that women need to be, and confine them to the house; turn them into baby machines and domestic slaves.”

Ms Shah said in an email: “While I can approach the project with an open mind, I'm having difficulty having an open heart towards it. Intellectually it seems worthy; emotionally, I fail to connect with it, especially given our proximity to the Taliban and their campaign of brutality in Pakistan.”

Mr Kuehn said he had been surprised by the reaction the volume had triggered and the number of people who appeared “to be offended”. “It’s remarkable to see the public discussion,” he said.

The editors defend the poetry as providing a unique insight into an organisation usually seen an amorphous group. Mr Kuehn said that there had been intense analysis of almost every statement the Taliban had said or published and yet almost no study of its poetry. He said while almost all the Taliban material was carefully reviewed before it was broadcast, the poetry was the “opposite to propaganda”. He added: “If you want to find poetry about going out and killing Christians it is here, but you can also find reflective poems about the state of their country.”

The collection is divided into before and after September 11 2001. The earlier poems were clipped from magazines while the most recent ones were taken from the Taliban’s website.

The poems’ topics range from everything to the landscape and nature to Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the military prison at Guantanamo Bay where many Afghan fighters were detained. Others talk about love and grief. One poem entitled I Tell This to Bush! and written by Ezatullah Zawab, begins: “Bush, Don’t get upset, just listen to a few words. Listen to my bittersweet words. You are neither God nor can the light of God be discerned in your face.”

The editors have said a number of the themes contained in the Taliban’s poems are similar to those featured in Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets, a collection of poems by British soldiers and their families by John Jeffcock. Mr Jeffcock, a former British army captain, told the Associated Press that he had seen parallels between the writings of British soldiers and those they were fighting. “They are written by soldiers,” he said. “While you may not agree with their cause, they go through the same anguish and pain and heartache that British soldiers would do.”