A group of researchers are preparing to release an anthology of Taliban poetry, something they hope will help English-speakers better understand the men who've waged more than a decade of war against NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.
Many of the works in "Poetry of the Taliban" center on the movement's campaign to expel foreign forces from their territory, with angry battle anthems or mournful dirges devoted to civilian casualties. But others touch on themes of religious devotion, nostalgia, or even love.
Alex Strick van Linschoten, one of the anthology's coeditors, said he had collected the 240-odd poems off the Internet and in the field not for novelty's sake, "but as a way of understanding who the Taliban are."
"This is one of the big problems of the conflict, which is one of making decisions without properly understanding the circumstances of the people around which these decisions are being made."
Although the Taliban's Web presence is closely monitored, few people showed much interest in the group's poetry. Strick van Linschoten suggested that was a mistake.
"The only way you're going to understand who the Taliban are is reading and understanding what they have to say," he said.
The poems cited in the book's forward run the gamut. There's an ode to the guerrilla fighter:
"I know the black ditches/I always carry a rocket launcher on my shoulder;
"I know the hot trenches/I always ambush the enemy;
"I know war, conflict, and disputes/I will tell the truth even if I am hung on the gallows ..."
But there's also a cry for peace:
"End cruelty so that,
"An ant won't die by someone's hand ..."
And moments of introspection and self-doubt:
"It's a pity that we are wandering as vagrants,
"We did this all to ourselves."
John Jeffcock, a former British army captain who edited an anthology of U.K. war poetry called "Heroes," said he'd seen parallels between the writings of British soldiers and those they were fighting.
"They are written by soldiers," he said of the Taliban poetry. "While you may not agree with their cause, they go through the same anguish and pain and heartache that British soldiers would do."
But he said that he'd been struck by how stark some of the war poems were.
The Taliban poetry was "much more black-and-white" than what British soldiers wrote, he said, warning that "war is a gray business."
"It tells me that these people are going to be very difficult to negotiate with," he said.
The Taliban poems, which were co-edited by Felix Kuehn, and Faisal Devji, are being published in Britain by C. Hurst & Co. Publishers Ltd. later this month. The anthology is scheduled for release in the U.S. in September.
Strick van Linschoten said the book was part of a wider effort to archive and digitize more than a million of words' worth of old Taliban documents recovered from Afghanistan.