Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

An Afghan History Lesson

Sarah Chayes, a blogger for The New York Times, writes about the symbolism and poetry that reflects the “legendary – and to a large degree – unconquerability of the region that is now southern and eastern Afghanistan.” Chayes says that this poetry is “as vital to Persian civilization as Homer’s poetry is to Greece.”

Chayes writes:

“The ‘Shahnameh’ cycle celebrates a dynasty of mythic heroes, whose fiefdom is Zabulistan and whose exploits glorified the kingdom of Iran and protected it from its northern enemies. But the poetry is studded with examples of the champion’s testy independence, even when performing great feats in the service of their kings. In one of the most celebrated episodes, Rustam, the chief hero, kills the crown prince rather than be carried to court in fetters.”

“Eventually (in the mid-900’s), a local fellow – a brigand and son of a coppersmith from a village 200 miles west of Kandahar – opened Zabulistan to Islam. At a victory feast one night, the court poet began singing his praises, in Arabic as usual. ‘Why should I have to listen to this stuff I can’t even understand?’ the conqueror supposedly interrupted, ordering up verses in his native Persian, which until then had been only a vernacular.”

“Although Afghanistan almost brought the Muslim conquest to a standstill; although it maintained, in the 19th century, a difficult independence from both Russia and imperial Britain; and although, a century later, it staved off the Soviet Red Army, the country has been conquered. Indeed, devastating, earth-gutting conquest – as much as Afghanistan’s legendary independence – defines the country’s character, too.”

“This dogged determination to rise from the ashes, this stubborn cleaving to life and beauty and imagination, gives me hope for Afghanistan even now.”

This article is available by subscription only.


Post a Comment

<< Home