by Laura Stuart
Friday, May 18th, 2012
This is a book review by Asim Qureshi a lawyer for Cageprisoners the British charity set up by Moazzam Begg a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, their aim is to help present and former prisoners of the so called war on terror.
You cannot separate Muslims from Islam or from the Quran. The Quranic narration of the lives of Moses a.s. and Pharoah are the same stories of oppressor and oppression that we have in the world today. This analogy between Moses a.s. and Pharoah and the present day situation in Afghanistan under occupation and oppression is mentioned often in the poetry and is discussed by Asim Qureshi in his book review as follows:-
“We Afghans are very emotional people. Even if these songs go against who I am and what I work for, I still feel something in my chest every time I hear those words being sung.”
Felix Kuehn and Alex Strick van Linschoten’s latest contribution to the discussion revolving around the nature and role of the Taliban takes the form of a book of poetry which features work of the Taliban pre and post 11 September 2001. The above quote which they use near the beginning of their introduction, comes from an anti-Taliban government official, who recognises the emotion and sentiment that the Taliban espouse through their poetry, particularly striking due to his appreciation of their words. What is interesting, is not necessarily the value of the poetry in terms of its technical ability (as that would be difficult to assess without understanding of the original Pashto) but rather the themes and messages that pervade the various pieces that are presented throughout the book.
Kuehn and Strick have attempted to group the poems they present in a format that is understandable and recognisable. Their introduction particularly highlights some of the themes which are of particular concern to the Taliban. Amongst them and important to my own work, is the issue of detentions in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. In poems throughout the compilation, these prisons are used as a symbol of arbitrary detention and oppression. The poem Slave by Danesh highlights the sense of grief felt for those detained,
You jailed many religious scholars in Cuba’s Bay
Karzai! They are treated cruelly there. When Danesh observes such cruelties
Karzai! Everyday he hopes for death while he prays.
Much of the Taliban’s poetry in this volume places itself within the context of the oppression and grief that the Afghans feel not only in terms of the current conflict, but also historically. Thus there are mentions of Malalai, the British-Afghan conflict, the Soviets and other times and places around the world. However, there is also a religious current that flows through the poems, a recognition that troubles the region has faced, places itself within a much longer conflict, one that is effectively between good and evil. While the authors have readily identified some of the main themes, I want to focus this review around some of the links that the Taliban make to the Qur’an, and how they relate that to their contemporary situation.
The Qur’an is littered with stories and references to the conflict between Moses and Pharoah, in fact, to such an extent that in a narration of the Prophet Muhammad, he said that, “The Qur’an is almost about Moses”. The significance of this conflict, is that it is the historical representation of the battle between an oppressor and the oppressed. Across the poems in Poetry of the Taliban the constant use of Pharoanic imagery is utilised in order to tie the Qur’anic understanding of oppression to the modern day conflicts that the Taliban have been fighting. This theme is not limited to the Taliban, but rather has found itself as a reference point through much of Muslim history – an example being that of the late key member of the Ikhwaan-ul-Muslimeen, Zainab al-Ghazali who called her memoirs in detention, Return of the Pharoah.
Read the full book review here