Soul of the Taliban | Culture | Times Crest
Popular on Times Crest
  • In This Section
  • Entire Website
  • Tossed, by a new flood
    June 29, 2013
    This bookstore boasts a clientele that once included Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Yashwantrao Chavan and CV Raman.
  • In here, it's always story time
    June 29, 2013
    Dayanita Singh launched an informal project on Facebook by asking her fellow photographers to document India's independent bookstores.
  • Specialise to succeed
    June 29, 2013
    Despite its sudden closure in 2006, Lotus Books lives on in dog-eared snippets of memory among a certain section of Mumbai readers.
More in this Section
Profiles
Leaving tiger watching to raise rice Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in…
The crorepati writer He's the man who gives Big B his lines. RD Tailang, the writer of KBC.
Chennai-Toronto express Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil…
Don't parrot, perform Maestro Buddhadev Dasgupta will hold a masterclass on ragas.
A man's man Shivananda Khan spent his life speaking up for men who have sex with men.
Bhowmick and the first family of Indian football At first glance, it would be the craziest set-up in professional football.
From Times Blogs
The end of Detroit
Jobs in Detroit's car factories are moving to India.
Chidanand Rajghatta
How I love the word ‘dobaara’...
Can ‘bindaas’ or ‘jhakaas’ survive transliteration?
Shobhaa De
Anand marte nahin...
India's first superstar died almost a lonely life.
Robin Roy
Poetic life: Taliban

Soul of the Taliban

|


POETS SOCIETY: Faisal Devji (left) and Alex Strick Van Linschoten (top) have created controversy by compiling Taliban poetry


Poetry of the Taliban, co-edited by Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Faisal Devji, was released in India on Friday. Van Linschoten, a Dutch freelance writer and researcher who lives in Afghanistan, has co-authored My Life With the Taliban which profiles the life of Abdul Salam Zaeef, a senior former member of the Taliban. Devji, who teaches in Oxford University, specialises in the intellectual history of South Asia and Islamic militancy. He is the author of Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity and The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics. Van Linschoten and Devji spoke on their latest book and why it has raised hackles.

'The Poetry of the Taliban' was released in the UK in May and received a controversial reception with a former commander of British troops describing it as "enemy propaganda". What's your reaction?


ALEX:

The controversy has been exaggerated but it is good it has produced some kind of discussion. The problem with what a lot of countries have done in Afghanistan since 2001 is that they have failed to understand the environment they are interacting in, but through these poems you can understand what goes on in people's heads. If you only think of the Taliban in terms of stereotypes, it will make negotiations very difficult and I don't think will get very useful results. Many of the poems we have published are already on the Taliban website and yes, a part of them might be propaganda, but that does not mean we should not try and understand them.

FAISAL:


It surprised me initially because I did not think anyone would bother with a book on poetry but then I realised that people were not so concerned with the poetry, they were worried about the human side of the Taliban. I think that if you insist on making your enemies inhuman that's disturbing. One senior Taliban figure has written a poem about a pine tree - how that can be propaganda I don't know. It's too crude a way of typifying this. A number of people who are not Taliban and have no intention of becoming Taliban appreciate the poetry. The poems do not make you feel sympathetic towards the Taliban. I am not sympathetic towards them. It's a question of trying to figure out what kind of diversity of expression the Taliban possess and it allows one to envisage more than one way of communicating with them. The more you analyse the texts the more you understand the Taliban. I think people should at least come away thinking there is a diversity of experience among the Taliban. Even for military and diplomatic purposes it allows people in the West different ways of approaching the Taliban and I know the British and Americans are approaching them.

What drove you to compile this poetry collection?


ALEX:

We had translators translating local news into English for Afghan-Wire (An online research group which monitored the local news in Afghanistan aiming to give a more prominent voice to Afghan voices and issues. It closed down in 2008) and we were looking at the stuff the Taliban put out and we came across these poems no one else was translating, so we got them translated. The more time we spent in Afghanistan, the more we realised how much poetry was a part of the Taliban identity. The poems are split into those pre-2001 and those post-2001. The ones pre-2001 we collected for the book from old tapes, newspapers and magazines. Then the post-2001 poems were all taken from the Taliban's website and represent every poem published there between 2006 and 2009. Two Afghan colleagues did the raw translation and then Felix and I edited it. It took about five years.

My understanding is that poetry is


the lifeblood of Afghanistan?

FAISAL:

Yes, Afghans will often use a couplet to make a point so it's no surprise that the Taliban have written poems. Poetry is more popular than prose in the region. Poems are oral and sung and easily memorised so you don't need to be literate.

ALEX:


Afghans often use poems to win an argument and there are many poetry contests on TV and poetry festivals.

These poems are part of a tradition of Pashtun poetry. What are the themes and genres covered?


ALEX:

Some of the poems encourage people to continue the war. Others have nothing to do with the war and are about things like flowers! Having said that, the parts on the human cost of the War in Afghanistan are by far the most powerful. I think the thing that comes out of this book is the whole idea of the Taliban being people and the whole human side of them. It does not mean you support their political and military aims.

FAISAL:


These poems are not uniquely Taliban, they are drawing upon a tradition already prevalent. Some of them are ghazals. Others draw from say 20th century nationalist poetry, others fall under communist verse Some talk about love, which might refer to love between a man and a woman, homoerotic love, love of a subject to a prince or love of God. There are even poems about women and wine. These are images so for example the wine is divine knowledge, women can mean God.

A couple of the poems even talk about non-violence. Some of the poems are critical of NGOs operating in Afghanistan? Why is that?


ALEX:

Western aid has brought with it Western influences of money, corruption and discontent.

FAISAL:


Nowadays NGOs are at the mercy of different governments because of the way they are funded and so they are viewed as part of the occupying forces.

What interest will these poems have for Indians?


FAISAL:

Indians should concern themselves with the Taliban because they are allies of Pakistan. And I think the India-Pakistan problem is one of the major impediments to peace in Afghanistan because of Pakistan's fear of India and its propping up of the regime there.

Other Times Group news sites
The Times of India | The Economic Times
इकनॉमिक टाइम्स | ઈકોનોમિક ટાઈમ્સ
Mumbai Mirror | Times Now
Indiatimes | नवभारत टाइम्स
महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स
Living and entertainment
Timescity | iDiva | Bollywood | Zoom
| Technoholik | MensXP.com

Networking

itimes | Dating & Chat | Email
Hot on the Web
Hotklix
Services
Book print ads | Online shopping | Business solutions | Book domains | Web hosting
Business email | Free SMS | Free email | Website design | CRM | Tenders | Remit
Cheap air tickets | Matrimonial | Ringtones | Astrology | Jobs | Property | Buy car
Online Deals
About us | Advertise with us | Terms of Use and Grievance Redressal Policy | Privacy policy | Feedback
Copyright© 2010 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service