The newly released book, Poetry of the Taliban, contains poems on love, nature, and nationalism all written by members of the Taliban. The work, which spans from the Taliban’s rise and fall in the Middle East, has caused a global uproar. Originally published in the United Kingdom by Hurst and Co., the collection is part of a series on understanding Afghani culture. Critics of the book believe it will make readers feel sympathy for members of the Taliban. Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Helmand, has been the most vocal opponent of the book, commenting that others should be cautious of “being taken in by a lot of self-justifying propaganda". While I understand the point of contention, it seems that critics of the collection have failed to realize the purpose of poetry – to relate universal human emotion or, if the poem isn’t being published (as many of these were never intended to be), it is a form of expression that simply reflects on personal experience.
To me it seems that critics like Colonel Kemp are uncomfortable with the idea that members of the Taliban may have emotional experiences similar to those of his own troops; the thought of the enemy feeling lonely, scared, or in love humanizes them.
I’m not saying I condone the actions of the Taliban, but it’s important to realize that poetry is not an act of war, and gaining insight on universal human suffering and the struggles of soldiers, be they friend or foe, is a building block of peace. It is a means of understanding another’s culture, and coming to realize that despite minimal differences, humans are all fairly similar. Faisel Davji, who wrote the introduction to the collection, commented that “The Taliban are known not only in the West, but in much of the Muslim world, too for their strict conservatism rather than for any delicate feelings of humanity, yet the poetry associated with them is replete with such emotions.”
Poetic expression is not restricted to members of NATO, and people who think otherwise are ignorant of general human nature. As creative beings, there is an inherent desire to express oneself and comment on experiences that others can relate to. Not to go all philosophical-high-school-English-student, but that is a key factor for why universal themes in literature exist; to show common experiences and open discussion of similar emotions. The most commonly cited humanizing example from Poetry of the Taliban is an anonymous contribution, and is actually one that expresses regret for violent acts.
It’s a pity that we are wandering vagrants/we did this all to ourselves.
This snippet brings to mind hundreds of American and British authors and poets who have discussed regret, loss, and the effects of war in the works. Clearly, Anglo-Saxon writers are not the only people who feel these emotions. No doubt the Taliban are guilty of heinous acts, but that doesn’t make them any less human – if anything it makes them more human, to be capable of such destruction and at the same time write such accessible poetry.