Poetry of the Taliban

First aired on Day 6 (26/05/12)

"Gun in my hand and a dagger under my arm, I'm going to battle. I am an Afghan mujahid." -- Taliban poem

"Like a flower with rain in the autumn, autumn has now come to my love. I remain alone with my shaggy head of hair, uncomprehending. My heart has been sad for a long time." -- Taliban poem

taliban-shot-125.jpgPoems and songs about the greatness and glories of war are common across most cultures. When American journalist David Rohde was captured by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in 2008, he would hear guards sitting around and singing in Pashto after dinners. Often the lyrical content involved fighting Americans.

"I remember the lyrics of one song that they liked a great deal was, 'You have atomic bombs, but we have suicide bombers,'" Rohde told CBC's Day 6 during a recent interview.

But Rohde also heard other kinds poems and songs that surprised him. When the guards were out of earshot of their commanders, they'd recite lines about love. "They would sing traditional Pashto love songs at the same time," he said. "Heartbreak, longing for people ... It was very human, some of the songs they sang."

Felix Kuehn, a writer and founder of media monitoring organization Afghanwire, says that there is a strong tradition of oral storytelling and poetry in rural Afghanistan, where most of the Taliban members are from.

"Poetry is just part of everyday life," he said. "People quote poetry time and time again in argument and conversation. It's just so dominant."

Kuehn has co-edited a new book called Poetry of the Taliban, a collection of poems culled from old recordings, magazine articles and Taliban websites.

poetry-of-taliban-120.jpgAs one would expect, the reaction to the book has been mixed, with some asking Kuehn why he wants to give a voice to the Taliban. Kuehn says that part of the reason is that while every official statement released by the Taliban goes through a strict review process and translation (and then gets intensely scrutinized by Western officials and media), the poetry never gets translated. By translating these poems, Kuehn wants to offer a previously unexamined perspective on the Taliban.

"As a starting point we should realize the Taliban are not aliens, they are humans, just like we are."