On Thursday, September 29, Sadar Ali Takkar addressed a group of IWP students, faculty, and friends on the history of poetry in Islamic culture and in the Middle East.
Mr. Takkar, recipient of numerous international prizes, including a Pride of Performance award from the President of Pakistan, a highly popular artist throughout Afghanistan,, is an independent contractor with the Voice of America.*
After offering a historical overview of poetry in the Muslim world, Mr. Takkar shared his own personal experiences concerning the power of poetry and music. Though trained as a mechanical engineer, he had always wanted to be an artist. When asked what lines of poetry first came to him, he responded with a theme that recurs in his work, which translates roughly as "love is better than a thousand years of worshipping." Implicitly, the message is that human affection and generosity take precedence over and supersede theology - which explains why he was unable to live in Pakistan, where this kind of literature is outlawed. He has long been banned on TV and radio in Pakistan. Right now, the Taliban wants to close his studios.
After emigrating to Afghanistan, Mr. Takkar dedicated his musical career "use art as a weapon against extremist forces in my area." Poetry has great value to communicate to people. He comments, "Everyone can talk - but poetry and music hit your heart. They almost automatically change you." For centuries, the power of metaphor has been recognized and celebrated in that region.
Mr. Takkar explained that the Pashtun do not have their own free and independent media in Pakistan, which is why he is working at Voice of America - he finds it the best way to reach his people. Currently, he produces three programs a week: on mysticism, the message of love, and the unity of the international community. He is also compiling a history of music in Afghanistan.
The conversation was supplemented with interesting observations from a former Ambassador to UNESCO on the tremendous influence poetry has had in this region and why it is such a powerful instrument politically, since it can convey complex messages under the cover of allegory. As Dr. Juliana Pilon noted from her own experiences growing up under communism in Romania, this is also why poetry can be seen as very dangerous by a totalitarian regime. LTC Michael Eastman, IWP Army Senior Service Fellow, added that when he was in Afghanistan, in charge of several PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) designed to promote closer ties to the local population, poetry readings provided an especially useful occasion for bonding - their impact far exceeding that of projects whose costs were astronomically greater.
At the conclusion of his presentation, Mr. Takkar promised to return at a future date and play - an offer that was heartily accepted by the grateful audience.
This event was sponsored by IWP's Center for Culture and Security.
*The views expressed by Mr. Takkar in this discussion are solely his own, and not those of Voice of America.