Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.
Reciting his own poetry, Yemeni poet Amin al-Mashreqi has a unique take on fighting terrorism. He explains that while other countries fight terrorism with weapons such as guns and bombs, the Yemenis prefer to employ poetry. The poet claims that with his poems, he can persuade people regarding the necessity of peace. He says that poetry works better than making laws or using force. The following lines exemplify al-Mashreqi's peaceful verse:
O, you who kidnap our guests,
Your house will refuse you,
These violations are against Islam
University of Wisconsin professor, Flagg Miller, who has studied Yemeni poetry for twenty years, explains that the Yemenis prefer listening to poets who are capable of addressing diverse groups. The literati and the elite have not been able to reach many of these people, who gladly listen to poets.
Yemen Fighting Terrorism
The USS Cole was bombed off the coast of Yemen in 2000. Yemen became the refuge of Usama bin Laden after Saudi Arabia expelled him, and Yemen became a haven for other violent jihadists. After suffering the reputation as a refuge for terrorism, this small country is now strongly fighting back against extremists who use Islam as an excuse to terrorize and murder. The Arab world has often relied on poets to spread messages to their people.
Professor Miller explains that a long tradition of Arabic leaders employing poetry exists and is particularly strong in Yemen. Miller says that the prophet Muhammed actually worked with the poet, Hassan ibn Thabit. Together the prophet and the poet composed poetry to assist them in broadcasting peace and harmony as they attempted to spread Islam. They also declaimed against poets who tried to instill fear and terror.
Not Always a Poet of Peace
Amin al-Mashreqi did not always compose poems of peace and harmony. A few years ago, at a meeting of Yemeni leaders, al- Mashreqi was present along with Faris Sanabani, the editor of The Yemen Observer, an English language newspaper. They had gathered in Sanaa to discuss politics and listen to poetry. Someone turned to al-Mashreqi and asked if he had a poem on terrorism; he obliged with a poem glorifying suicide bombers.
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After the meeting, Sanabani took the poet aside and invited him to come to his office the next day, where he showed al-Mashreqi a video of an al-Qaeda attack on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast in 2002. Sanabani explains that he showed the poet film footage of the devastation caused by the terrorist attack on the French oil tanker that destroyed the livelihood of Yemeni fishermen and their families. Their fishing waters had been polluted.
Change of Heart
After having his consciousness raised by the video regarding the devastating effects of terrorist activities, al-Mashreqi had a change of heart. Replacing al-Mashreqi's earlier despicable verse, the poet then offered what Sanbani described as some of the most beautiful poems he had ever experienced.
According to Sanbani, al-Mashreqi's new poetry promoted pace and harmony and spoke against the violence of terrorism. Al-Mashreqi has explained that the citizens of Yemen are very sensitive to poetry. They especially are attracted to traditional verse. The poet says that if the poems speak with correct ideas within the appropriate context the Yemenis will respond also appropriately because poetry is "heart of their culture."
No Panacea, But Still Helpful
The poet and the newspaper editor both claim that poetry has the power to win over the tribal people who are skeptical of what government officials say and do. The following lines appeal to the people’s sense of pride and honor as well as patriotism:
O men of arms, why do you love injustice?
You must live in law and order
Get up, wake up, or be forever regretful,
Don't be infamous among the nations
Although poetry is no cure-all for terrorism, Yemeni leaders believe it helps. Ahmed al-Kibsi, professor of political science at Sanaa University has remarked that education as well as the media and the military all must combine to spread the word that the effects of terrorism result in a dangerous and degraded world. Universities, the media, and the military all complement one another. And poetry complements them all.
- Admin. "USS Cole Bombing." Official US Government Web Site: FBI. Accessed July 14, 2021.
- James Brandon. "In poetry-loving Yemen, tribal bard takes on Al Qaeda - with his verse." Christian Science Monitor. May 12, 2006.
- Flagg Miller. "The Moral Resonance of Arab Media." Cambridge University Press: July 15, 2010.
- Editors. "Militant poetry: Art and Tolerance in Yemen." Hawaii Forgiveness Project. August 5, 2007 .
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes