Taliban poetry changes tone, but some say it’s a sham

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The poetry of the Taliban was instrumental in the conquest of Afghanistan by Islamist militants. It was a front largely ignored by the Afghan government and coalition forces.

But maybe it shouldn’t have been.

“The poetry of the Taliban was so effective,” said Hamdullah Wesal, a Pashtun poet and literary analyst. “It would literally force a person to strap bombs around their body and blow themselves up.”

Struggling to govern, former guerrilla fighters now expect poetry to help them reach the public.

On January 29, the Taliban held their first major poetry recitation show, titled “The Spring”, on the country’s national television channel, with the caretaker government’s so-called foreign minister Amir Khan Mutaqi in attendance. and the Chief Spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, among others. .

However, the tone had changed dramatically.

Abdul Aziz Azizi, a Taliban poet who used to encourage suicide bombers to “engulf” their opponents with “fire and smoke”, sang a song about hope in the show. “The buds of hope have blossomed,” Azizi recited melodiously on stage, his words echoed by another cantor.

The poetry of the Taliban, sung voluntarily by members of the group and their sympathizers, has changed from ruthless to compassionate as they attempt to control the fractured country.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, the Taliban deputy spokesman who is now the head of Radio and Television Afghanistan (RTA), opened his remarks on the show with a famous line. “Life is even too short to love,” he recited. “I have no idea how other people have time to hate.”

For the families whose loved ones were killed in the group’s indiscriminate attack suicide attackshis words may have sounded unconvincing.

Poetry and taranasa kind of emotionally charged a cappella song not only helped the Taliban communicate with the masses, but played a vital role in mobilizing young people against coalition forces and the government they supported.

“We have a deep connection with poetry,” Anas Haqqani says of the Taliban during the poetry show. “He was almost 70% part of our fight.” Haqqani, a senior Taliban figure, is also the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the interior minister who is on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $10 million bounty (WE).

By removing music from songs and avoiding romance, the Taliban made their taranas and poetry accessible to all across the religious spectrum.

Religious conservatives, who shared the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia, viewed romantic poetry and music as provocative and un-Islamic. Yet they had no problem with the Taliban taranas — the melodious vocals often produced using Auto-Tune software.

The religious and the ultra-religious have replaced the ringtones of their mobile phones with these taranas as they considered the former to be a type of music.

“More people listened to the Taliban taranas than we thought,” says Azizuddin Yousafzai, a professor in the department of language and literature at Balkh University in northern Afghanistan. “They filled the place with music for those with strong religious inclinations.”

the taranas and poetry were also a good way for the Taliban to communicate who they were and what they wanted, according to Yousafzai. “The poets applauded the sacrifices of their comrades, showed their commitment and pointed out the mistakes made by the coalition forces and the government they supported.”

“Drone hit,” says one Tarana on a Taliban YouTube channel. “The kohled eyelashes and the earth mingled, burned.”

“It’s time for revolution,” chants a Taliban on YouTube, calling a friend to see him one last time. “I don’t know if I will be martyred, injured or chained.”

Taliban poets have also glorified their way of jihad and the simple deadly tools they used in their conquest. “Break the pride of arrogant NATO, O antichrist-slaying jug,” says another Tarana, referring to the gallon of cooking oil used in improvised explosive devices (IEDs). the homemade bombs, consisting of fertilizer, a pressure plate and plastic oil cans, were one of the insurgent group’s most effective, yet indiscriminate, weapons. Thousands of civilians were caught off guard and killed by these IEDs.

Taking control of the country at lightning speed last August following the withdrawal of US forces, the Taliban must govern the war-weary country of nearly 40 million people. Ethnic and religious divisions, harsh economic sanctions, brain drain, unemployment and misery, to name a few, are some of the challenges that have caught them off guard.

Poetry, whose power they know well, is something they hope to help them unify country and get people’s support.

“No one should be alienated,” Haqqani recited during the poetry performance. Haqqani, who was released in a prisoner exchange in front of Doha peace talks in 2019, calls himself a poet. “Why should anyone be forced into infidelity?”

“Whether it’s a Pashtun or a Hazara, a Tajik or a Turkmen, an Arab or a Gujar,” recited Faqeer Mohammed Darvish, the iconic Taliban poet and Tarana singer, during the show, referring to the different ethnicities of the country. “They have all become true sons of the land,” he added, saying the country is now safe for everyone.

However, the words of the Taliban, whether those of a politician or a poet, do not match their actions. Their firm, for example, has not given a single chair to women and ethnic minorities. Government ministers are almost all Taliban leaders and Pashtuns, members of the country’s largest ethnic group and the one to which most Taliban belong. the former Afghan forces are killed or disappear and women who protest for their rights are detained. They recently started a disturbing sweep from house to house.

The Taliban, on the other hand, do not recognize that poetry could be a double-edged sword.

“My town has turned into a graveyard,” recited Idress Zwak, who appeared to be the only bare-headed, clean-shaven poet in “The Spring.” “Cemeteries have become bigger than cities,” he continued. “How many more will we lose in the foreign war? »

The “foreign war” the Taliban brought home by offering sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.

The audience, made up almost entirely of Taliban, fell silent and froze.

Zamir Saar is a former language and literature teacher and Wall Street Journal reporter in Afghanistan. He had previously worked for Pajhwok Afghan News. He is a member of the Fellowship in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto.

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