The UK publication this month of a book of translated Taliban poetry has been denounced as enemy propaganda by a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan.
The publishers have been accused of “giving voice to terrorists”, but the book’s editors argue that its 235 poems, including love poems, verses exulting in the Afghan landscape and patriotic ballads, provide a unique insight into the human side of the Taliban.
Alex Strick van Linschoten, one of the two editors of Poetry of the Taliban, which will be released on May 17, said, “The poetry shows that the Taliban are people just like we are, with feeling, concerns, anxieties like ours.”
However, Richard Kemp, the former commander, cautioned against “being taken in by a lot of self-justifying propaganda”.
“What we need to remember is that these are fascist, murdering thugs who suppress women and kill people without mercy if they do not agree with them, and of course are killing our soldiers,” Kemp said. “It doesn’t do anything but give the oxygen of publicity to an extremist group, which is the enemy of this country.”
The retired army colonel acknowledged that the legal right to print the book in the UK should be respected.
But Michael Dwyer, managing director of the publishers, Hurst and Co, said there had been some angry reaction to the publicity, and the company had received an expletive-filled anonymous call accusing it of “giving voice to terrorists”.
The verses in Poetry of the Taliban are drawn from both the period before and after the Taliban’s fall in 2001, and are by known Pashto poets as well as anonymous writers. All the poems were published online by the Taliban website and so received the movement's imprimatur.