"Only those who have strayed follow the poets"
July 17, 2015 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Battle Lines is an essay by academics Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel in The New Yorker on the poetry of jihadis, especially those who follow the Islamic State. They argue that the way to understand them is to study their cultural products, especially poetry, which is part of their daily socialization, as discussed in this video. Poetry has a special status in the Arab world. Elisabeth Kendall explores that context in her essay Yemen’s al-Qa'ida and Poetry as a Weapon of Jihad. Jihadi poetry is closely linked to the nasheed tradition of songs which are usually sung a capella. Behnam Said traces their history in the essay Hymns ( Nasheeds): A Contribution to the Study of the Jihadist Culture.
posted by Kattullus (11 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
So they're saying we should attempt to understand the "enemy"? That's craaaayzeeeee!
posted by nikoniko at 3:49 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I always appreciate it when Western media digs into the actual ideology of things like ISIS on its own terms. So many of the Western (or at least American) discussions of Islamism are exercises in projection where Christian pundits who don't read or speak Arabic try to imagine the reasons why they might join these groups based on what someone else has told them the ideology is rather than looking at the actual people who left their homes and families to become jihadis. Their actions are horrifying, but I think it's worth taking them at their word about what they say they're trying to do.

I was also struck by the throwaway reference to Don Quixote and medieval romances, because I happen to know that there are some Arabic medieval epic poems (and Byzantine, for that matter) about waging war in the borderlands not far from where ISIS is actually operating.
posted by Copronymus at 3:52 PM on July 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Haven't read any of the links, but the first thing this brings to mind are narcocorridos, the songs lauding the exploits of cartel members and drug traffickers in Mexico.
posted by hippybear at 3:52 PM on July 17, 2015

posted by clavdivs at 3:57 PM on July 17, 2015

Some context to be aware of is that the Qur'an is rhyming poetic verse and is recited as part of Islamic religious services. That's the poetic tradition of the works described in the various links of this post.

I'm reading the Qur'an with some friends, and as a lapsed English major, I was tickled to death by the verse quoted in the post title. In the translation we're reading, it goes:

"Only those who are lost in error follow the poets."

The tradition is that there Mohammad referred to contemporary critics that mocked him in verse. The New Yorker article describes how he co-opted some of them, but others were executed, according to some traditions.
posted by chrchr at 4:08 PM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

The qasidah is a form that predates the Koran. While none of the work from the articles is applicable in form, the theme of praising the self, group/patron and satirizing opponents seems to very much alive.

"Only those who are lost in error follow the poets."

I'm beginning to think Plato was right. I find it ironic that a lot of these great poets through the ages have been jailed.

"This World resembles a cadaver,
And we around it dogs that bark;
And he who eats from it is the loser; he who abstains takes the better part.
And certain is a dawn disaster
to him unwaylaid in the dark."

posted by clavdivs at 5:17 PM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

But it is in keeping with the jihadists’ attack on parental authority and its emphasis on individual empowerment, including the power of female believers to renounce families they do not view as authentically Muslim.

Say what now? It is not about individual empowerment at all. It is about the empowerment of ISIS. They provide the "authority" to these women, to renounce their families. They do not provide any leeway for these women to accept or renounce their families on any other terms.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:49 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

P. J. O'Rourke (I know) mentioned the prevalence of poetry in al-Qaeda, and pointed out that two cultures which value poetry and lyric expression (Irish and Arab) have produced recent terrorist movements.
posted by acb at 5:25 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

They're also two cultures who've been recently done over by the British and our pals, which may be more germane to the shooty stuff.

I don't know much about Arab culture, but I do know the Irish. If they'd been left alone with their poems they wouldn't have bothered blowing anything up.

High opera and bad neighbourliness, now...
posted by Devonian at 7:33 AM on July 18, 2015

This is like saying communicating, using the arts and subtle tools of language, leads to aggression.

I consider terrorism war on a budget, the accompanying poesy, dance and passion, the psy op department, kinda charming, terrifying when you consider the unendurable violence in the everyday reality of living on top of desirable resources. The life and death matter of producing a cucumber salad.

No one in the west would care a fig about war inside the Ummah, but for the seductive oil industry. Meanwhile the boy bands, are holding hands, singing in crispy new fatigues, while the modern day Daniel offs with yet another psychotic stare.

The poets are seduced by fame, and waving their microphones will never make it back to the middle ages, all around them lies the folly of their rages, their song, a minute of reprieve from the tyranny of unrepentant surfeit, masquerading as religious purpose.

If not another shot were fired, and they all found a way, the poetry would be my interest in the Middle East, and recipes.
posted by Oyéah at 8:00 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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