Jihadist Poetry: A Conversation with Elisabeth Kendall (S. 6, Ep. 12)

On this week’s podcast, Elisabeth Kendall speaks about her research on poetry by militant jihadists, particularly in Yemen.

“There was so much poetry being produced by militant jihadist movements— and nobody was looking at it,” says Kendall. “I found it initially online, but I didn’t know that the online magazines as I found were also being passed around in hard copy on the ground. And I could tell that Yemen was a real hot spot for this, possibly because being the birth place essentially of Arabic poetry. It still was an oral culture, particularly in a desert environment. So I thought I’d go there and find out what was what was actually happening and how much still resonated on the ground.”

Kendall is a senior research fellow in Arabic and Islamic studies at Pembroke College, Oxford University. She is also a nonresident senior fellow with the Middle East Peace and Security Initiative and the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

“I sneaked in a little question about poetry into [a survey of eastern Yemen in 2012-2013] where I simply asked, ‘How important is poetry in your daily life?’ And over 2000 tribesmen and tribeswomen, 74 percent said either ‘important’ or ‘very important,’ on a scale you know six different possible answers. And that was their daily lives. So that was really fascinating because I did not ask specifically about jihadists, but what that said to me was this is no surprise therefore that militant jihadist groups are using poetry to propagate their message when it clearly still resonates so strongly on the ground.”

Music for this season’s podcast was created by Feras Arrabi. You can find more of his work on his Facebook and Instagram page.

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