The List

Sonnets for the Mujahideen

The militant movement has a little-examined sensitive side.

Poetry of the Taliban is the first-ever English-language collection of verse from the Afghan militant group. Edited by Kandahar-based researchers and journalists Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, the book is an attempt to broaden international understanding of what historian Faisal Devji refers to in the introduction as the Taliban movement's "aesthetic dimension."

Afghanistan, like other Muslim countries in the region, has a long tradition of popular verse, and the Taliban -- both its official leadership and individual fighters -- have embraced the form. Despite the group's austere interpretation of Islam, which extends to a complete ban on instrumental music, recordings of poetry recitations are frequently traded between fighters on CDs and MP3s and often serve as soundtracks for the movement's propaganda videos.

Shakespearean love sonnets they are not. But those expecting doctrinaire propaganda might be surprised by the range of the verse in the book. "The Taliban are known not only in the West, but in much of the Muslim world, too for their strict conservatism rather than for any delicate feelings of humanity, yet the poetry associated with them is replete with such emotions," Devji writes.

Yes, there are paeans to the glory of the battlefield and vicious parodies of enemy leaders, but also a surprising emphasis on comradeship and some chaste and ambiguous references to romantic love. In its ideology, the poetry tends more toward Afghan nationalism than global jihad, with frequent reference to past invaders, from the British in the 19th century to the Soviets in the 20th.

Poetry of the Taliban is currently on sale in Britain and will be published in the United States on July 17. Here are six examples from the collection:

May I be sacrificed for you, my homeland

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your high, high mountains,
For your flowerlike chest and pines

May I be sacrificed for you, my homeland, each region of yours is beauty,
Each of your stones are rubies, each bush of yours is medicine.
Each village of yours is a trench, and every youth of yours is sacrificing for you,
Each mountain and hill of yours is a calamity for your enemies.

May I be sacrificed for your dusty deserts and green valleys,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for you; I will sacrifice my head and property for you,
I will give you my body's blood in order to make you fresh and thriving.

I will murder all the enemies of your religion and prosperity,
I will gradually make you the holy necklace of Asia.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed, for your hot trenches,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your Helmand, your chest,
For your mountains, Uruzgan, your Kandahar-like trenches,
For Zabul's trenches and Ghazni's honorable battlefields,
For Gurbat, Gurbat Wardak, Maidan and Lowgar.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your great youths,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for you while my homeland, Kunar is alive,
Your youths from Paktika and Farah are heroes.
Your people from Nangarhar and Laghman are successful,
You have trained famous sons.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your dry ruins,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your Hindu Kush and Mahipar,
For your Shamshad, Shah-I Kot, Spin Ghar and Tur Ghar.
My ditch-filled country! You have trenches all over.
Your body is Maiwand, Maiwand, you are Habibi's beloved.

May I be sacrificed for your burnt wounds,
For your flower-like chest and black pines.

Transcribed from a recording made during the 1990s


Your love aside, what else is there?
It is like approaching the desert.
Like the dust on your footsteps.
Look! The crazy one lay down.
In your love up to the sky
Means rising from the earth.
Those who burn with the fire of zeal
Are shackled at this time.
Your cheeks in the spring,
Red like flowers.
Admonisher! Give us advice!
My head has burst.
With the heart, I behave correctly with everyone,
But they cheat me.
Your eyelashes never miss
When they are turned against someone.
Your looks have grabbed my heart,
Its heart's habits are like that of a thief.

—Pordel Pustan

Dec. 23, 2007

Condolences of Karzai and Bush

O hello, my lord Bush;
Now that you've gone, who did you leave me with?

My slave, dear Karzai!
Don't be upset; I am handing you over to Obama.

These words make me happy.
Tell me, how long will I be here?

Karzai! Wait for a year;
Don't come till I send someone else there.

Life is tough without you my darling;
I share in your grief: I am coming to you.

As for death, we'll both die;
Alas, we'll be first and next.

Give me your hand as you go;
Turn your face as you disappear.


Sorrow takes over and overwhelms me;
My darling! Take care of yourself and I will take care of myself.

Mountains separate you from me;
Say hello to the pale moon and I'll do so as well.

—Author unknown

Dec. 18, 2008

How many are the NGOs!

Wasting time, they merely sit in their offices,
How many are the NGOs!
Their salaries, more than ministers',
How many are the NGOs!
Wasting time, respecting recommendations,
Those who have no recommendations are forgotten.
How many are the NGOs!
When you are interviewed, they ask for recommendations.
During interviews they make tension suddenly;
How many are the NGOs!
When there is a vacancy, boys are appointed;
They will not admit that they are over-aged,
How many are the NGOs!
If the applicants are girls, they will be admitted without interview;
Women in large numbers but men are few.
How many are the NGOs!
Most people who broke with the government move to NGOs;
The reason is, salaries are in dollars,
How many are the NGOs!
People come from here and there taking salaries in dollars;
They don't work in the government because they have their hearts broken,
How many are the NGOs!
If someone gets to be head of an NGO, then he is rich,
So they enjoy a better living situation than Karzai.
How many are the NGOs!
Perform the tricks, spend large amounts;
It is not clear where these people come from;
How many are the NGOs!
A meddler strolls around with his bodyguards;
That Afghan doesn't think about the situation:
How many are the NGOs!

—Matiullah Sarachawal
Dec. 23, 2007


Hot, hot trenches are full of joy;
Attacks on the enemy are full of joy.
Guns in our hands and magazine belts over my shoulders;
Grenades on my chest are full of joy.
They enemy can't resist when he sees them;
Black hair and stiff moustaches are full of joy.
He who fights in the field is manly;
Houses full of black-haired women are full of joy.
We become eager two times after hearing it:
The clang, clang and rockets are full of joy.
Leave the lips and spring, O poet!
Poems full of feeling are full of joy.
Jawad, I say, on the true path of jihad,
All kinds of troubles are full of joy.

May 21, 2008

Night Raid:

Those who have ruined my life's harvest
Made a night raid on my home again.
The Red armies came and returned defeated;
They left the destroyed Afghan valleys behind them.
In any direction that I look, I see the deserted garders;
The unity of my home has been hit by separation.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

What complaint can you make of the Red, this is their rule;
The forest wolves will always eat meat.
What else should humans expect from the wolves?
They have hit my mount and Hamun's as well.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

Somebody extended the hand of the cruel onto my lap,
That's why there is no respect for the country's Ulemaa'.
The turbans fell from the heads of our elders today,
They have set our people on fire.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

The house of my history and culture was looted today,
Each slave is now riding me.
The teeth of the East and West have become like pliers on my muscles.
I have stepped into his hall in his presence.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

Wise up, O Afghan!
This scene of grief is made for you.
Be zealous and grab him by his neck,
This is seared on your heart from the history of yesterday.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

—Author unknown

Aug. 8, 2008

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The List

Never Say Never

Remember when breaking up the eurozone was unthinkable? That was then.

It didn't take long after Greece's economic woes surfaced in 2009 for observers to contemplate a Greek exit from the eurozone. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman predicted this very scenario in 2010, 2011, and, most recently, on Sunday, when he warned that Greece's withdrawal from the monetary union could happen as early as June (is Krugman angling for his own version of the "Friedman unit?").

But European finance ministers, who tend to choose their words with the utmost care, have generally washed their hands of the topic altogether -- dismissing the notion as unthinkable under European treaties. When the Dutch prime minister and finance minister argued in September that countries that persistently violate eurozone budget rules should be expelled from the union, the Irish Times marveled that the two leaders had "crossed the Rubicon."

After a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Monday, Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker stuck with the script, declaring that "there is an unshakeable desire to keep Greece in the eurozone" and that the group hadn't even discussed a possible Greek exit.

But not all of Europe's financial leaders are on the same page. In fact, several European officials have crossed the Rubicon in recent days as Greece's struggle to form a coalition government has raised the prospect of new elections, which could empower political parties that oppose the austerity measures attached to the country's $170 billion bailout. Talk of a Greek exit is so widespread this week that news outlets are now referring to the looming "Grexit," which has already become a popular hashtag on Twitter.

But are these officials changing their tune because Greece is now more likely to leave the euro, and they want to prepare markets for the news? Or are they doing so as another form of political pressure -- a way to make it extra clear to Greek leaders that they should think twice before jeopardizing their membership in the union? The new message appears to be this: Greece, you're the one who'll decide your future in the eurozone. And if you renege on your bailout commitments, you'll be the one who suffers, not us.


Position: European Central Bank council member and governor of the National Bank of Belgium

Then: In an interview with La Libre Belgique in January, Coene declared that Europe would "stand shoulder to shoulder to protect the system" if Greece exited the eurozone. But such a scenario, he explained, "seems to me to be completely inconceivable."

Now: Over the weekend, Coene told the Financial Times that "an amicable divorce -- if that was ever needed -- would be possible," though he would still regret it. He argued that Greece's decision to stay in the eurozone was a political one, and that Europe's financial "firewalls" were sufficient whatever the outcome. "The ideal would be if all member states stayed in the club -- that would be the best for everyone, even the Greeks," he noted. "But, of course, if one member decides it no longer has a shared interest in being a member, you must allow them to get out -- that is part of a democratic system."



Position: German finance minister

Then: Schäuble, whose government has been Europe's primary proponent of austerity measures, suggested in February that Greece might withdraw from the monetary union, stating that European officials were "not going to pour money into a bottomless pit" when it came to Greece and that Europe was better prepared for a Greek default than it was two years ago. But as Greece scrambled to prove it could meet the conditions necessary for a second bailout, Schäuble also pointed out that "what we're experiencing at the moment is much less bad than what may happen to Greece if the attempts to keep Greece in the eurozone failed."

Now: In recent days, Schäuble has amped up his optimism about Europe's ability to withstand a Greek exit and adopted a laissez-faire posture toward Athens. "We want Greece to stay in the eurozone," the finance minister informed the Rheinische Post. "But it has to want this and has to accept its commitments. We can't force anyone. Europe won't go under that quickly." Various "protective mechanisms," he added, have reduced "the risks of contagion for other countries of the eurozone."


Position: European Union economic and monetary affairs commissioner

Then: Last May, Rehn told Der Spiegel that he didn't regard Greece dropping out of the eurozone as a "serious option." Doing so "would harm the Greek economy and be a setback for European integration," he explained. "The euro is more than a currency; it's the central political project of our community. For this reason, too, we would not accept a Greek withdrawal." In September, he reiterated that European officials would not allow Greece to exit the euro since it "would cause enormous economic and social damage, not only to Greece but to the European Union as a whole, and have serious spillovers to the world economy."

Now: On Saturday, Rehn did an about-face and argued that Athens -- not Brussels -- must decide whether it wishes to remain in the monetary union, and that Europe would be fine either way. "The ball is now in the Greek court and the hands of the Greek people," he said, sounding a lot like Schäuble. "It would be much worse for Greece and Greek citizens, especially for the less well-off Greek citizens, if Greece did leave the euro than for Europe as such," he added. Europe, he explained, is "certainly more resilient" to a Greek exit than it was two years ago.


Position: European Central Bank council member and president of the Deutsche Bundesbank

Then: When the Financial Times asked Weidmann in November whether Greece should be forced to exit the eurozone if it failed to meet its bailout obligations, the head of Germany's central bank had a succinct answer: "That's not a discussion that I want to join."

Now: Over the weekend, Weidmann waded into that very discussion. If Greece doesn't honor its agreements with international creditors, he reasoned in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung, "that is a democratic decision," but it will force donor countries to cut off financial aid to Greece. Not only would an exit "be historically unprecedented and linked with great uncertainty," he added, but it would also be "more serious" for Greece than for other eurozone countries.


Position: European Commission spokeswoman

Then: In November, as the prime ministers of Italy and Greece resigned amid economic turmoil, Ahrenkilde Hansen declared, "We cannot allow the eurozone or the European Union to fragment because it would be very much against the interest of the European people as a whole." A few months later, she told reporters that Greece leaving the euro was "not a scenario that we are ready to contemplate."

Now: On the surface, Ahrenkilde Hansen expressed a similar position on Monday, noting that while Greece must respect its commitments to its creditors, "we wish Greece will remain in the euro and we hope Greece will remain in the euro." But she didn't say no when asked if European officials were developing contingency plans in case Greece chose to reject the bailout terms and leave the eurozone. "There are many, many questions arising and many questions open about Greece, and most answers have to come from Greece and we have to respect the ongoing political process," she said.

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