The Political Poetry in Afghanistan

The Political Poetry in Afghanistan
Partaw Naderi

Political Poetry, perhaps, was born when it stood against politics and said: “I don’t accept you!” In other words, political poetry originates from its encounter with politics. In fact, when poetry withdraws from politics, it politicizes itself, because abandoning politics is a politics of another kind. Even the discussion on the relation of poetry with politics is a political issue.

Initially the encounter of poetry with politics starts when society, which is the source and breeding ground of poetry, is monitored and administrated by politics. Politics wants the society to be explained as it wants; however, poetry on the other hand has a language of its own. Politics is bossy, thus in the very first meeting it offers red, green and black spectacles to poetry and commands it to look at world behind those glasses and praise it. Nonetheless, poetry rejects this gift and answers “I can see the world brighter without the glasses.”

This antagonism is a long lasting one. And today’s world political poetry is but the memoir of this opposition. This tale is “to be continued” for ages and at times politics replace the eyeglasses with marks of burning iron bars. It is this story that narrates that a thousand year ago; they put the burning iron bars on eyes of Rodaki Samarqandi, one of Persian Dari’s fathers, and blinded that great lord of poetry. Perhaps Rodaki, my grand forefather, had not accepted a master’s gift.

By resisting the politics, poetry not only politicizes itself but also proclaims its opposition with history, similar to intellectuals who have always opposed history. With this view, the great poets are great intellectuals too, because they are not only in opposition with the tide of history and politics but are in favor of its change as well.

When Hafiz says 700 year ago

بیا تا گل بر افشانیم و می در ساغر اندازیم

فلک را سقف بشگافیم و طرح نو در اندازیم

Let us diffuse flower and pour wine in goblets

And pierce the roof of sky and establish a new system

He not only announces his opposition with the traditions of that age, but also wishes its change.

Or when Naser Khosrow Balkhi, a great philosopher and poet of Persian Dari, says in the 11th century:

من آنم که در پای خوکان نریزم

مراین قیمتی در لفظ دری را

I am not the one who spoils the invaluable pearls of Dari under the feet of “pigs”

He truly stands for the reverences and purity of words and conveys the message to the poets in palace, not to contaminate the spotlessness of poetry.

These were examples of saying “no” to politics and the dominant political structure.

However, it does not always occur like this. Sometimes poetry, retreats to the ivory tower of isolation after withdrawing politics. The poets domiciled in the ivory tower shut themselves away from themselves and get swamped in making love to the imaginary beloveds. The importance and value of this kind of poetry is related merely to its literary and aesthetic aspects. From the social or political points of view, it may be considered as neutral.

Political poetry is not just a literary phenomenon of our era but it has always existed and till the end of the world the encounter of poetry with politics will continue; however, only the methods of this opposition changes.

Moreover, it is of great significance to consider political poetry and politicized poetry as two different concepts. Political poetry, as said earlier, emerges from the antagonism with dominant politics and political structure; whereas, politicized poetry is the surrendered form of poetry to political circumstances. Intellectual poets have always written political poetry but they have never written poetry for politics because they understand that doing so means mortifying themselves and the poetry. Besides, as politics open a new chapter, the politicized poetry serving that cause, dies too. Had the world poets navigated their sails in the direction of political winds, doubtlessly, neither we had Shahnamaye Ferdowsi in the Persian poetry, nor had we الیاد و ادیسه هومر و یاهم کمیدی الهی دانته in Western poetry.

The worst example of politicized poetry is the 70 years of socialism dominance. During this period in the socialist states, poetry does not only become a variable to the ideological politics and structures but also assumes an ideological nature. It befall the worst disasters to literature of these countries, Afghanistan was one of which. Today socialism is a part of history together with all it red and black ideas and thus socialistic realism has also faded away.

Political poetry is deeply rooted in Persian Dari. In fact, poetry started in this language with politics. Hanzala Badghisi, who is considered as the first poet of Persian Dari, lived in early 9th century. This piece attributed to him is thought to be the first one in Persian Dari.

مهتری گر به کام شیر در است

شو خطرکن زکام شیر بجوی

یا بزرگی و عزو نعمت وجاه

یا چومردانت مرگ رویا روی

Even if eminence is in lion’s mouth

Risk to achieve it

Either dignity, respect and esteem

Or a man’s death

Hanzala had written this piece when his country was in great plight under the Arab atrocity. In this piece he compares freedom and death and encourages people to freedom, pride and fight against foreign invasion. The theme of this poetry is resistance and thus it can be said that both political and resistance poetry in Persian Dari starts from 9th century.

However, the discourse of modern political poetry in Afghanistan dates back to early 20th century. The publication of Saraj-ul-Akhbar daily in 1911 may be considered the advent of modern era in political poetry of Afghanistan. Political poetry was interwoven with “Mashroteyat” or “Constitutional” movements in those times. This movement was commenced by Afghan intellectuals, writers, poets and social activists with an aim to ensure complete political freedom and constitutional system in Afghanistan.

Following that in the democracy decade (1963 – 1973) political poetry got mixed with right and left ideologies. Another outcome of this decade was the creation of communists and Islamic political organizations and political parties. All these organization widely used poetry as a means of propagating their ideological thoughts.

Left Communist movements considered poetry as an effective weapon which should not have been put on ground. In that period the concepts of proletarian revolution, praising proletariat, the peasant, socialism and Linen was recorded for the first time in Persian Dari literature history. The poetry structures introduced in the beginning of the century were developed primarily by the poets affiliated with communist movements. One of the characteristics of that period’s poetry was its ideological and rebellious nature which invited people to revolt against the government.

The communist coup d’état in 1978 linked poetry to political and ideological structures more than any time in Afghanistan’s history. In those years, there was a line which existed every where. It was a red line which divided people to the revolutionary and reactionary fractions. This line divided the poets to two parts of revolutionary and reactionary poets as well. The party poets who wrote poetry against the government in the democracy decade, had turned into the admirers of government and would despise the independent poets.

The independent poets mainly faced three fates. Some of them were executed in Pul-e Charkhi prison. Some others spent theirs lives behind the bar and the remaining fled into Iran and Pakistan and established the overseas resistance literature.

Afghan literature, on one hand, greatly underwent politicized, ideological and governmental experiences in those years. On the other, the resistance poetry became more prominent than ever. Particularly in 1980’s internal resistance poetry flourished greatly.

It is worth-mentioning that no government in Afghanistan, in order to pursue its political aims, misused literature and arts more than the puppet communist regime. This not only paved the way for ideological, governmental and politicized literature but also provided a good ground for anti-government literature.

The poets affiliated with Jihadi groups had an instrumental approach with poetry too. After the triumph of Mujahidin over the communists, the Jihadi poets turned into governmental poets and considered the other poets remaining in Kabul as communists. The Mujahidin reign was a period of severe bloodshed in Kabul; however, these incidents had not been reflected in writings of Jihadi poets at all. In that period, Mujahidin burned thousands of books published during the communists’ regime as woods in heaters. I myself was a witness of thousands books of “Afghanistan Writers Association” being burnt by them. Caravans of refugees from Afghanistan became more and more and more poets deserted the country.

Taliban who entered Kabul with rhythmic slogans, opposed romantic poetry because they considered it would promote ethical vice among young people. Locking the doors of cultural and artistic centers, they made the poets understood that Afghanistan was no longer a suitable place for them. As a result, many well-known poets left the country, many of whom migrated to Peshawar, Pakistan. This led to another expansion of Afghan cultural activities in Peshawar.

Women’s poetry could hardly breathe during Mujahidin rule in Afghanistan and completely muted during the Taliban’s. Compelling everyone to observe silence, the whips left no well-known women poet remain in the country.

Afghanistan has entered a new phase of socio-political life since the collapse of Taliban in November 2001

Seemingly, there are some proving grounds for nurturing and promoting poetry in the country. The country has joined the PEN International as a dynamic member, and has currently a functioning Afghan PEN in its capital city, Kabul

Still, needless to say, both literature in general and poetry in particular have been seriously marginalized by other practical means of life. This in turn has resulted in placing Afghan intellectual (both writers and poets) in an awkward situation. They have mainly been feeling isolated, cornered and suffering from significant down mood.

Undoubted, Afghan writers and poet presume their existence as low-cast strata, and almost as aimless as paper trash trivia.

The current wave of poetry in Afghanistan maintain its presence in a number of those highly-committed poets and writers who see their destiny tightly inter-related to their literary products.

The once-powerful voice of Afghan poem has been mainly under-echoed and therefore has remained less-heard. The chaos of widespread noises of explosion, violence and firing are becoming a kind of daily routine over-shadowing literature in general.

The prospect hardly seems to be a joy. The vision and the “prime objective” that used to be the greatest motif for composing quality poem are no more as tangible as they once were. As a country, widely based on “visualization”, Afghanistan is on the grips of “free market” now. It may be safe to say that the then highly-observed-vision has painfully undergone the fever of market and the so-called market values.

The unavoidable influence of English commonly-used terminologies in Farsi and Pashto is another notable challenge for these two local Afghan languages. It is quite evident that the course of time will sooner or later display a mosaic of “ready made” languages, perhaps called Englo-Persian (Pers-English) and Englo-Pashtu (Pasht-English).

Presently, English is the dominant and prevailing medium of communication in over 2000 National and International Afghanistan-based NGOs offices, and a wide range of governmental institutions. Moreover, the burning desire to learn English and various computer programs (which of course are in English) is attracting a huge number of youth. This not only hinders the enthusiasm to better learn their mother tongue but affects the indigenous process of learning science and culture in their initial language as well.

In the absence of a clear and specific cultural policy, the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture has been unable to publish as minimum as five books in the span of five years

Still, it is striking to note that a peculiar type of “resistance poetry” is on once again on the verge of emerging from the existing wave of poem, most of which appears as satire.

To conclude, a thorough and meticulous research of poetry in general and political poetry in particular in the post-Taliban years is yet to be undertaken.

Political poems have gradually gained more strength. Presumably, poetry and politics have been and still are proceeding along as two co-travelers, marching as two parallel vectors.

Can this notion still exist that poetry does not have any feature but to praise beauty and bring joy and we shall not load the heavy burden of social and political issues on its soft shoulders? I do not know, but I feel this notion can only exist in a utopia, where love rules, where triggers are unknown to hands, where ears and unfamiliar to explosions and where freedom is another name for life. But in a country where one’s Musalmani “Belief in Islam” is measured form the length of his beards, and its city’s rivers smell blood and where blood grows instead of red flowers in the garden and where bread is the hot topic, poetry can never be a silent spectator sitting in its beautiful ivory tower. Yes, if poetry is not political in such lands, it should be made political.

8th Oct 2006

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