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Taliban poets sing praise of new Afghan order

An Afghan tradition sees poets congregate with the first bloom of the Judas Trees, sprouting purple flowers
An Afghan tradition sees poets congregate with the first bloom of the Judas Trees, sprouting purple flowers - Copyright AFP Wakil KOHSAR
An Afghan tradition sees poets congregate with the first bloom of the Judas Trees, sprouting purple flowers - Copyright AFP Wakil KOHSAR
Abdullah Hasrat, Joe Stenson and Zahrah Nabi

Taliban poets, long fuelled by fervour for jihad against foreign forces, have focused their efforts on flattering the men who now rule Afghanistan.

Overlooking the deserted Bagram airfield, the US military’s former centre of operations in Afghanistan, a government-organised poetry reading attracts Taliban bards who eulogise their power.

“It is a pure system, this is our victory,” proclaimed Samiullah Hamas in front of an avid crowd in Parwan province.

“We all must be united, live under the same roof of the Islamic system and extend the hand of brotherhood to each other,” the 22-year-old told AFP.

“These are the messages we convey through our poetry.”

As the Taliban government nears the end of its third year in power, it is working to impose its vision for the nation of more than 40 million people.

Poetry is one of the only art forms that Kabul’s rulers are allowing to flourish — as long as the verses adhere to the government line.

In keeping with Islamic tradition across the world, poetry has been instrumentalised as a tool not only for entertainment and expressions of faith but also for propaganda.

Roxanna Shapour of the Afghanistan Analysts Network said that by organising events such as poetry readings, the Taliban government is attempting to “create cultural cohesion” to match their pronouncements that “Afghanistan is for all Afghans” now that foreign forces have left.

“It does include bringing everyone together, finding a rallying point,” she said.

Like their former foreign adversaries, the Taliban authorities are campaigning to capture “hearts and minds” — even using stanzas in the promotion of public works.

News media has been constrained, music has been effectively banned under an austere interpretation of Islam, and human faces have been scrubbed from many public hoardings.

Afghanistan’s fledgling film and TV industry has withered, with serials disappearing from the airwaves and cinemas largely shut — unlocked only to show state-sanctioned documentaries.

– Campaigning through poetry –

Poets “had a great role in (the Taliban) victory,” said Mohammad Alim Bismil, a well-known Afghan poet.

“Their anthems were listened to widely,” even beyond Taliban ranks, he told AFP.

One 2008 ballad written to rally fighters to battle against US-led forces described the trenches and attacks against the enemy as “full of joy”. 

But the focus has since shifted.

“Before, there used to be war — there were passions and emotions, but now it is finished and the field has changed,” 43-year-old Bismil said.

“There are some people who say the best poetry comes from a suffocating atmosphere.” 

Poets now gather in “a peaceful environment” to recite lines about “brotherhood, love and unity among the nation”, said Parwan province information and culture director Shamsul Haq Siddiqui.

However, with the Taliban barring girls from secondary and university education and women all but banned from working, the message of fellowship does not extend across gender boundaries.

– ‘To free myself’ –

The event in central Parwan province was held in spring, in keeping with an Afghan tradition that sees poets congregate with the first bloom of the Judas Trees, sprouting purple flowers for a few weeks each year.

While male poets milled about with purple petals underfoot, a Taliban “Vice and Virtue” squad guarded the entrance, with women barred from entering the park. 

Sequestered at home, a budding Afghan poetess found private solace and protest in picking up her pen after the Taliban takeover. 

“When I see the Taliban… reciting poetry, it makes me very angry,” she told AFP. 

“They can do anything they want, but if we want to do the same, they don’t allow us. They should either let us recite poetry and publish it or not recite poetry themselves.” 

Too fearful to put her name to her verses, the young woman circulates them privately on WhatsApp: 

“I want solitude, to be away from everyone,

To free myself from all these troubles,

To breathe anew and become lost,

To become calm, my soul full of light.”

“When I recite my poetry to my friends, I feel relieved of my pain and feelings — as if I am on top of a mountain,” she said.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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