The latest rage in poetry circles is being lauded as “a remarkable and important book that reveals a hitherto concealed side” to its “harshly perceived” authors.
Just try telling that to family members of 9/11 attack victims, because the poetry being lauded is by the Taliban.
But Jon Lee Anderson, a staff writer for the New Yorker, calls “Poetry of the Taliban” a “remarkable and important book.”
“We see that within the movement there are warriors who have wounded hearts, lyrical souls, and a passionate love of language,” he writes.
The Taliban was identified in court documents in New York as being responsible, along with Iran and al-Qaida, for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on that horrific morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when passenger jets were turned into torpedoes and the graphic images of victims leaping from the iconic towers to their deaths was etched in memory.
Joining in Anderson’s praise was William Dalrymple, author of “The Last Mughal.”
“Afghanistan has a rich and ancient tradition of epic poetry celebrating resistant to foreign invasion and occupation,” he said. “This extraordinary collection is remarkable as a literary project – uncovering a seam of war poetry few will know ever existed, and presenting to us for the first time the black turbaned Wildfred Owens of Wardak.”
Dalrymple said the book 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 still little-understood resistance movement.”
He asserted the movement is “about to defeat yet another foreign occupation.”
“Poetry of the Taliban” was translated into English and edited in London by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehne.
The praise of the book was too much for Lauren Thompson of the Culture and Media Institute of the Media Research Center.
“Boy, can those guys compose a couplet!” she wrote of the Taliban.
“On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of Americans died in an attack that was planned and trained for in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan,” she said. “The same Taliban that sheltered al-Qaida governed Afghanistan as a 7th century theocracy where women were hidden under burqas and homosexuals were executed by having stone walls toppled on them.”
Americans continue dying there “while the Taliban burn down schools for girls and splash acid in the faces of women who don’t cover them.”
Thompson noted that Anderson “fawned over the terrorist composition.”
“Obviously, Americans have been too hung up on IEDs, suicide bombers and bloody riots over books to get to know the Taliban’s sensitive side,” Thompson continued. “No more. Now we’re going to be rooting for those plucky underdogs.”
The Taliban formally was blamed for the attacks by Judge George Daniels, who late last year signed a default judgment that also found Iran and al-Qaida liable for the attacks in a $100 billion lawsuit brought by family members of those killed.
The judge directed a magistrate judge to establish compensatory and punitive damages, although most experts say it is unlikely the families ever will get their awards.
Under the Obama administration, the U.S. launched a series of three-way peace talks with the Taliban and the Afghan government.
An Obama administration official at that time said: “Insurgencies generally end with a political settlement and we believe Afghanistan needs a political process to help put an end to this conflict. Our military campaign has set the conditions for initial reconciliation discussions to begin taking place.”
Afghan president Hamid Karzai said at the time: “People in Afghanistan want peace, including the Taliban. They’re also people like we all are.”
C.J. Chivers at the New York Times quoted from the book a poem about a woman visiting a cemetery.
That’s’ her whole life;
She lives in grief.
I don’t know what’s wrong with her,
But her youth is turning to soil.
As I see these incidents,
My heart splits into pieces.
With the situation of these poor widows,
My life becomes grief.
Chivers noted that while its release in the U.S. is pending, the book already is available in the U.K., where one “retired British Army colonel” didn’t seem to like it.
“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,” said the former officer, Richard Kemp.
Chivers wrote: “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, as evidenced in ‘The Graveyard.’ They capture ambitions, loneliness, resolve and fear.”
Chivers notes the violence that is praised in “Tariq! What can the enemy do besides taking your life: Death is a gift and I thank God for that.”
Another excerpt: “They take him; the house grows full of noise and shouting. A bullet stands in every barrel, Tears are falling on his collar. The moon is standing at the depth of the water; Years passed but in this heart the entire world is waiting, it’s not moving.”
Thomas Hegghammer, author of “Jihid in Saudi Arabia,” said the book “arguably sheds more light on the Taliban and its resilience than could any organizational chart or force assessment. … It draws attention to the crucial role that aesthetics and emotions … play in military organizations.”
James Caron of the University of Pennsylvania wrote, “These poems expose something of the full, textured, deeply conflicted humanity of those who actively consume and recirculate them, those who may be insurgents at the same time they are humans.”
Michael Semple, former European Union representative to Afghanistan, said, “Methinks that as departing NATO armies bury their press statements in obscure computer archives it will be the poets who will inherit the earth. It will be the composers of tales of glory, suffering, beauty and love in a time of war, the Pashto taranas and ghazals, whose account of Afghanistan will endure.”
Thompson commented: “It’s nice that liberals finally have pro-war voices they can rally around.”