October 18, 2004


A Bard Against Bullets: Yemen is using poetry, a potent tool of mass persuasion in its culture, to try to stem tribal lawlessness and the harboring of terrorists. (Megan K. Stack, October 18, 2004, LA Times)

This afternoon, the farmers have come to hear Amin Mashrigi, an itinerant poet who has traveled miles across the mountains, past homes of mud brick and through scabby orchards, to see them. His voice rings out, proud and acrobatic, gliding up and falling low to perch on a single, long-stretched syllable.

Shame on you, kidnapper

Take your clothes and leave from here

Don't be mad or extreme

You've gone too far and there's no honor there

His audience listens, rapt.

Now the ships can't come to Yemen and the country is suffering

The World Bank is paying the debt

Neither New York nor Texas banks paid the price

Your victim is not the right one

Wrapped around the Saudi Arabian outback on the lowest tip of the Arabian Peninsula, this rugged, remote country is best known to the outside world as a lawless badland where tribesmen kidnap foreigners for ransom, Islamic extremists find haven in desert villages and terrorists bombed the USS Cole.

But Yemen can no longer afford the lawlessness. Under massive American pressure and backed by infusions of U.S. cash, the central government has been forced to attempt a daunting task: taming the violent underside of Yemen's storied tribal culture, which exists in relative autonomy from the rulers in Sana, the capital.

Mashrigi's poetry tours are part of the campaign. Funded by the government, the 32-year-old bard travels tirelessly through Yemen's rough countryside, using tribal logic and honor codes to dissuade the locals from kidnapping foreigners, toting heavy weaponry or sheltering fugitives.

To an outsider, the idea of fighting terrorism with poetry may sound naive — even a little desperate. But in these ancient farmlands of rock and dust, spoken verse still holds a power that's hard to fathom in the e-mail-driven West.

In rural Yemen, illiteracy is rampant, and chanted poems remain the language of power and politics. A man is judged more noble if his tongue is suave, his vocabulary supple. Poetry has the power to wed and divorce; to protect or condemn. It is a fundamentally political tool, applied to everything from water rights to vengeance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2004 12:40 PM

[S]poken verse still holds a power that's hard to fathom in the e-mail-driven West.

Uh... Not really.

Megan Stack might not understand it, but anyone working on Madison Avenue would, as would any carnival barker.

The catchy jingle is a mainstay of television and radio advertising, as is the humorous voiceover.

This is the Yemen version of "Just Say No".

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2004 1:06 PM

In answer to the headline, I offer:

Kerry's quite the pest
He has a Global Test
There's a Star on Bush's vest
Al Qaeda kills with zest
But they'll soon be laid to rest
~ mh

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2004 1:15 PM

"Terror nest."

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 18, 2004 2:00 PM

Octoberfest. Eternal rest.

Posted by: mike earl at October 18, 2004 2:20 PM


Posted by: Just John at October 18, 2004 2:31 PM

Combining this thread with a post from Sunday, there was a great episode of "The Odd Couple" that featured Felix's rhyming poetry, and an essay about sexual passion delivered in his writing class delivered by Wally Cox (in his last role before his death).

Perhaps someday the poetry of Amin Mashrigi will, like Mr. Unger's, be worthy enough to be inscribed on the tombstone of Spot Moskowitz's grave at some Yemenese pet cemetery (OK, maybe not Spot Moskowitz's grave, but you get the general idea).

Posted by: John at October 18, 2004 2:34 PM

I think that I shall never see
John Kerry lively as a tree.

Kerry, whose botoxed mouth is prest
To argue for a global test;

Kerry, who till election day,
Speaks of God and pretends to pray;

Yet after that will ere ignore
Commandments at religion’s core;

Whose exploits are in such dispute;
Form 180 he daren't execute.

Vote Bush for our security,
I beg you all, reject Kerry.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 18, 2004 3:15 PM