In the mountains the butchers come and go
Talking of boys in native Pashto.
Or is it perfume from a burqa
That tempts me from my loya jirga?
(Apologies to T.S. Eliot)
Like other of their fellow poets, Talibani “insurgents,” too, have sometimes laid down their tools and taken up the pen to declare their “wounded hearts, lyrical souls, and . . . passionate love of language.” The torture and slaughter of non-combatants; the administering of purdah and the unsexing of women and little girls with brutality, burqa, mutilation, and murder; the beastly coercion of little boys into a life of feminized sexual slavery and the turning of them out as prostitutes—these are all things that can try a mujahid’s spirit. He will thank Allah, then, for the balm of poetry-writing, even such poetry as might have been written by Emily Dickinson tripping on cough syrup:
I spend my nights hoping for you,
I spend the long nights in waiting.
I, cupbearer at your doorstep,
Still spend the poisonous cup of separation.
Always, in your grief, towards my shirt,
I cause a cascade of lukewarm tears.
And he will also thank a couple of London boys, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, who’ve got a very old-fashioned British jones for the savagery that poses as manhood in the Hindu Kush (and among Islamists generally), for their collection of Talibanic verse—with “an appeal that transcends the insurgency”—which is about to be published in the UK, and will appear in the U.S. in the fall.
“The poetry shows that the Taliban are people just like we are, with feeling, concerns, anxieties like ours,” says Mr. Strick van Linschoten, and indeed, that is just so very likely so. Their anxieties may be particularly acute, what with all the “overheated rhetoric that sustains a one-sided interpretation of the alleged merger between [al Qaeda and the Taliban] as well as the policy implications for Afghanistan that flowed in the wake of its acceptance by Western governments and their militaries” coming from our side.
And we are people just like the Taliban, opinions of Messers Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn notwithstanding. But we may put our own concerns to rest, because the Talib killers we’ve been releasing secretly from detention in Afghanistan have promised to give up violence, and we therefore have every reason to hope and expect that in future they will be producing this kind of thing on paper only:
The spring of change needs blood to rain down,
It requires the irrigation of the gardens with blood.
Valuing the blood of the people of the past
Requires the price of human blood.
Each drop of it has become a Nile of the dawn’s blood;
The Pharaohs want to fill the Nile with blood.
We grow cold . . . We grow cold . . .
We shall see the killers of our children consoled.