Afghans are know for their poetry and rich artistic heritage, miraculously managing to not over-gild the lily even though their translated works are central to the flowery nature of the literature's Dari, Pashto and Urdu roots. Remarkably, "Poetry of the Taliban" succeeds in not only dispelling the academic-induced dismissals of Taliban poetry as mere "propaganda", but retaining the flavour of the country's cultural past, represented in stark verses citing decades of war and strife.
Published on the Taliban website during the last decade, with a few older specimens of Afghan poetry dating from the 1980s and ‘90s, the anthology draws upon Afghan legend and recent history as much as calling upon the influence of the Taliban which most of its writers have been involved.
Interestingly, unrequited love, bloody vengeance and the thrill of battle, religion and nationalism, even a desire for non-violence, are expressed through images of wine, powerful women, song, legend and pastoral beauty – the very tenets you would except the poets to abhor but which they unexpectedly embrace in their writing.
The most heart-wrenching element of the poetry is not the sonorous laments of a country stewing in conflict and socio-political failure, nor the ironic and often hilarious rebuking of Western as well as orthodox Afghan principles. All 253 poems somehow leave you with a sense of bitter resentment over events that led to an entire nation struggling to establish a sense of identity after being bombarded by religious extremism and colonial influences. The Taliban is not as much a religious movement as a way towards cultural homogeneity - the concept of jihad is not questioned as much as the
There is just one, if not the the most stirring, poem by a woman: Asefi Nasrat mocks a man who would cast aside arms and stay in bed: "Give me your turban and take my veil, / Give me the sword …" She notes the land "is ablaze" and full of widows and orphans while "the enemy of my religion" prevails. The spirit of Malalai, the 19th-century Afghan warrior woman who rallied troops in the Anglo-Afghan war, is invoked in many of the poems.
The most recent poems as expected portray the country under attack from foreigners. There are frequent references to burning villages, imprisonment and terrorised women and children. Titles portray the changing socio-cultural landscape: "The Young Bride Was Killed Here", "I Live in Flames", "Scream", "The Burning Village", "Graveyard". The editors towards the end have published a poem by Sa'aad. "London Life", the only work set outside Afghanistan, bemoans the lack of joy, warmth and spiritual heart in London.
"They walk around with ironed cleaned clothes and suits, / But they are not pure and clean on the inside."
There is fervent criticism of human rights abuses by all parties to the war in Afghanistan; whether an air strike on a wedding party or lamenting, “We did all of this to ourselves”.
Sorrow, triumph, bitterness, satire and desolation percolate through the verse and condense the text into forms that cause a permanent impression on your mind, no matter how familiar you are with the Afghan conflict.
In the end, you are left with faint sadness over the world's apparent loss of the Afghan narrative - a culturally rich yet simple people, whose literary expressions have been brushed aside and clouded over by years of struggle. It's not politics or sectarianism that ultimately divides the Afghan people, but the terrible onus of circumstance set within a deeply conflicted humanity.
"I am falling in every direction; I live in the dark.
I am Watanyar, in mourning for my country,
I am awake each night until dawn."