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When you hear ‘Taliban,’ do you think ‘poetry’?

Columnist

A book that shouldn’t be missed! It’s “Poetry of the Taliban,” a slim volume hailed by scholars and diplomats as “an essential work” for anyone who wants a better understanding of what makes the Taliban tick.

The book, compiled by writers and researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn and recently published by Columbia University Press, purports to show another side of the infamous bearded beheaders.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The collection “goes beyond humanizing the Taliban toward understanding them,” says a jacket blurb by Harvard’s Michael Semple , a former deputy European Union representative in Afghanistan.

“Anyone claiming to be an Afghan expert should read this book before giving their next opinion,” writes novelist Mohammed Hanif , author of “A Case of Exploding Mangoes.”

Military and intelligence analysts might find it well worth pursuing, at least as a “know thine enemy” exercise. But it falls a bit short of what American readers may see as great poetry.

’Poetry of the Taliban,’ edited by Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn. (Colombia University Press)

For example, there’s the catchy “Strike the Enemies of Our Village With Stones!”:

Strike the enemies of our village with stones!

Youths! Be alert! they are spying on our village.

Depart for Jihad; this is a legal obligation.

Kill the traitors of the village in the mountains.

The army of the crazed crusaders will withdraw.

Probably sounds more poetic in Pashtun. And remember, these are supposed to be memorized and sung.

Well, maybe you’d prefer “Great Guiding Star”:

When you were born, time brought changes;

Stars were falling on the earth, beauty brought color.

Spring arrived everywhere, red blossoms hugged each others

As you brought the love from love’s world.

Then there’s this one, titled “Give Me Your Turban,” written by a woman who’s not happy with some of her fellow Taliban:

Give me your turban and take my veil,

Give me the sword so that the matter will be dealt with. . . .

Don’t just call yourselves men, how long will you lie there asleep?

You sit among the girls; may calamity fall down on your masculinity.”

Where’s the music in that?

Artificial Latin flavor

Sometimes cheering crowds don’t translate to actual support. President Obama wowed perhaps a quarter-million people in Berlin during the 2008 campaign, but most of them were non-U.S.-voting Germans.

Mitt Romney got a rousing response last week at the University of Miami when he was interviewed by Univision. The network’s moderator later said that was because the campaign couldn’t fill all the seats allotted for student supporters and bused activists in to fill them.

The activists naturally ignored network admonitions to hold their applause.

It’s unclear whether even such great visuals will be enough.

The latest tracking poll from Latino Decisions shows Romney, already struggling to connect with Latinos, sinking further with that key demographic.

Obama leads Romney by 69 percent to 24 percent in the latest poll — a three-point increase over last week, where he led 68 to 26. “That’s within the margin of error,” said pollster Gary Segura, but “the trend over the last four weeks is unmistakable and statistically significant.” Romney’s support had been around 30 percent.

“Any way you cut it, President Obama appears to be consolidating his advantage among Latino voters,” who once gave around 40 percent of their vote to Bush II. And Latinos’ enthusiasm for voting has risen dramatically, the poll found.

Confirmation day

Maybe the scent of jet fuel from the planes waiting to ferry them back to their home states went to their heads, because senators did something unlikely Friday: They confirmed a couple of judges.

By voice vote, the chamber confirmed Gonzalo Curiel and Robert Shelby to judgeships in California’s Southern District and the District of Utah, respectively. The approvals came after Republicans made a contentious move Thursday by blocking confirmation of 17 long-pending federal district judges, setting off another round of familiar partisan sniping over judgeships.

Shelby had the backing of Sen. Orrin Hatch . And though the other home-state Republican senator, Mike Lee , voted against that nomination in committee (he said the “no” vote was in protest of the Obama recess judge appointments back in January), he didn’t object Friday.

These were the longest-pending district-judge nominations on the Senate’s calendar, and they follow the chamber’s tradition of pairing a Democratic-supported nominee (Curiel) with a GOP-backed one.

Baby steps at the MDA

It’s half a loaf for Jim Syring , the White House’s nominee to head the Missile Defense Agency.

The Senate on Friday boosted his rank from rear admiral to vice admiral, a prerequisite for naming him to lead the MDA — but senators stopped short of actually giving him the job.

The MDA chief is traditionally a three-star officer (though a civilian once held the post), so Syring needed the promotion to hold the job. But he also needed the Senate to vote to confirm his nomination, and now that the chamber has left town without plans to return until after the election, it appears he’ll have to cool his heels a bit longer.

Obama nominated Syring to replace Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, whose management style was faulted in an internal report.

At least Syring has a nifty title while he waits.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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