May 7, 2012

Anthology of Taliban poets said to be “giving voice to terrorists”


Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef (C), translator Ahmed Ratib (L) and deputy Ambasador Sohail Shaheen(R), at a 2010 news conference in Islamabad

A forthcoming anthology of poems endorsed by the TalibanPoetry of the Taliban, is marked as controversial in an interesting Guardian dispatch by Julian Borger. The book, which is being published in the UK by Hurst and Co. on May 17, and in the U.S. this fall, contains 235 poems “published online by the Taliban website… [with the] movement’s imprimatur.”

Predictably, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, Richard Kemp, has denounced the book, saying: “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… It doesn’t do anything but give the oxygen of publicity to an extremist group which is the enemy of this country.”

Kemp’s feelings are presumably shared by an anonymous caller to the Hurst and Co. offices that accused the company of “giving voice to terrorists.”

A more subtle coalition has sprung up to defend the book, which carries blurbs from the New Yorker’s John Lee Anderson and New York Review of Books contributor William Dalrymple.

As the Guardian notes, the book also contains some surprises:

In the collection there are many Tarana ballads, translated from Pashto, about fighting and dying, often dripping with contempt for the foreign enemies and their Afghan allies, led by President Hamid Karzai. But more surprisingly, there are many love poems, drawing on pre-Taliban poetic traditions, harking back to a 17th-century golden age in Pashto poetry.

One of the co-editors of the volume, Alex Strick van Linschoten, defends the project by saying “The poetry shows that the Taliban are people just like we are, with feeling, concerns, anxieties like ours.”


Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.