Reading: Alex Strick van Linschoten, Felix Kuehn, Faisal Devji — Poetry of the Taliban

This is one book I’ve been waiting for a long time to arrive. It was around August last year when first set to be published, and I was fearing it would remain elusively in the future. So now, the top of my reading pile is graced with Poetry of the Taliban, edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten, Felix Kuehn, and Faisal Devji.

Why would such a book, with such a title appeal to me beyond perhaps a grotesque fascination? After all, the Taliban have a poor reputation, especially among women and others unfortunate enough to be without fist-length beards. Music would be a good place to begin an answer.

Central Asian and Persian music has been almost the totality of what I’ve listened to in the past couple of years (besides Metal in all its guises), and culture is what interests me in my reading on this part of the world. It’s extremely difficult to read anything on Afghanistan from the past ten years that doesn’t regard it through American eyes. There are a couple of very good writers on the Taliban, occupation by Soviet and American troops and intervening years of Mujahideen civil war who are more nuanced in their writing, but art, music, culture … it feels this largely stopped around the time Louis Duprée published Afghanistan.

Forty years of not much written on Afghan art and culture, along with a commensurate number of years of war.

As with music – and I’m listening to Mohammad Rahim Khushnawaz’s Rubab as I write this – poetry is at the heart of Afghan art. So to have a book of poems, some dating back to the Soviet occupation, from those very people who have been objectified as the antithesis of all that western culture stands against is a hugely important thing. A small thing also. It won’t change opinion, likely won’t be read by many beyond those already involved with Afghanistan, but it is a document of art and culture in the country in the past thirty years, partial, incomplete that it is.

And how strongly does it speak of the need, the desire, that even in such circumstances as Afghanistan people are compelled to make art?