Pashtun Poet

by Matiullah Turab

If our poets cannot empower us to overcome the behavior of our false selves, they can at least give us pause to consider the insanity of our self-inflicted wounds. Afghanistan, until recently not a resource-rich region, would seem an unlikely area for imperial conflict. Perhaps it was its location, a crossroads between competing empires that has cursed its people with repeated invasions.

From well before Alexander the Great, to the more recent British, Russian and American incursions, violent conflict has been a tragically familiar part of Afghan history. Add tribal and sectarian strife and we might wonder how this remarkable people can bear all their suffering. Perhaps the poet Matiullah Turab will have a few clues.

Lately, cynicism about the possibility that there will ever be peace in this violence-wracked nation is created by the activities of the Taliban, the Americans, the Afghan government, and Pakistan.

War has turned into a trade
Heads have been sold
as if they weigh like cotton,
and at the scale sit such judges
who taste the blood, then decide
the price.

The author of this poem is functionally illiterate and works as a metalsmith during the day, but nevertheless, Matiullah Turab’s poetic aphorisms are hugely popular throughout Afghanistan. “‘The President liked my poetry and told me I had an excellent voice, but I don’t know why,’ he said. ‘I criticized him.’”

Turab doesn’t choose sides in the chaos that has enveloped Afghanistan. His poems are critical of both the government and the Taliban. The Taliban gave him a beating after one of his poem’s was published and caused him to stop publishing his work which circulates freely in the world of cyberspace.

In graveyards of skulls and
Oppression
Rip this earth open and come out
They taunt me with your blood,
and you lie intoxicated with
thoughts of virgins.

Afghanistan survived over the decades, according to Turab because of what he calls the “social laws.” The culture, the Afghan version of P-B, is resilient and at the same time resistant to the story that the British, Russians and Americans had in mind for it. “‘Democracy will hurt and eliminate our tribal laws,’ he said. ‘The medicine prescribed by democracy was not suitable for this society’s sickness.’”

Perhaps the imperialist do-gooders should admit their hypocrisy and admit that they are hardly able to tell other peoples how to create a viable community when they have failed in doing so themselves. Turab would understand the following sentence and could probably use it in one of his poems. “Physician heal thyself.”

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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