Books

New book, new ways to order

 
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“I was around three or four years old when the Communists led the bloodiest coup in Afghanistan. KhAD personnel were arresting the faithful. One day, a few ugly moustached men knocked on our door. My father left with them and then he never came back. We never saw him again.

“After a year, I began to understand that this kind person was no longer with me. Poverty, a cold fireplace, and my old clothes made it evident – I was an orphan. Every man with a moustache looked like my father’s murderer. My uncle took us with him to another village, and we no longer had a home of our own.”

In this way Abdul Hai Mutma’in begins his memoir of time alongside the senior leadership of the Afghan Taliban movement. First published in Afghanistan a couple of years ago, Taliban: A Critical History from Within is now available for pre-order in an English translation.

Mutma’in served as a political advisor to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and as spokesperson. He worked in the media section of Kandahar’s Culture and Information Ministry and from 2013 onwards served as a political and humanitarian affairs advisor to Mullah Akhtar Mansour from 2013. In short: he spent a good deal of time around the senior leadership and was privy to the internal workings and machinations of the Taliban movement at its highest levels.

At First Draft Publishing, the small publishing house I started five years ago together with Felix Kuehn, our explicit agenda is to publish books that will help “give researchers, professionals and the interested public access to primary and secondary sources”. This book falls firmly into this remit. The list of primary sources relating to the Taliban (or primary-source-adjacent) is exceedingly thin, even all these years since the movement first burst onto the national and international stage. From our perspective as researchers, the more such memoirs get written, the more we are able to attempt a critical unpicking of narratives and myths that have driven both conflict and efforts towards integration. Without these raw materials, it is impossible to begin the slow and methodical work of scholarship: triangulation, verification, context, synthesis and so on.

A bit of additional housekeeping: if you want to (pre-)order Mutma’in’s book, we have made some changes to how we’re producing and delivering books. We’re moving away from Amazon as the delivery system for our content and will simply process orders manually. For hardcopy purchases, we’ll be printing copies on demand. For ebooks, we’ll distribute DRM-free copies upon receipt of payment. If you’re interested in purchasing any of our books, please visit our website to learn more about our titles and email us to place an order.

My new book: The Taliban Reader

 
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My new book is out (finally). The Taliban Reader is somehow the culmination of years of work to drive studies of the Taliban back to primary sources. Some of this work was accidental; more recently it was more purposeful. The book I produced (together with Felix Kuehn) is long and detailed.

Comments and feedback prior to publication were extremely positive. It'll presumably take readers a while to start getting some real independent reviews in, but I look forward to feedback and whatever conversation is generated off the back of it all.

You can pick up a copy at any good bookshop or from Amazon here.

My First Arabic Book Translation

 
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I’ve been sitting on this for a while. 

Early in 2017, I was lucky to get put in touch with Sami Al-Hajj and al-Jazeera by a good friend. They were looking for someone to translate Sami’s memoirs from Arabic into English. I had done similar work in the past, working Zaeef’s memoirs from his Guantánamo time that later expanded into My Life With the Taliban. I had never done any serious translation from Arabic, however, particularly of this length.

I finished translating a while back. It was both harder and more enjoyable than I had expected. Harder in that it requires an intense focus that can’t really let up while the translation is happening. More enjoyable since I realised the process was something that brought in a lot of creativity to get the language ‘just right’.

Today, Sami’s memoirs have been published. You can download the PDF version via Al-Jazeera here. It looks like Kindle and iBooks versions will be made available in due course as well.

I hope you get a chance to give this book a read. Not only is it some work that I spent a good chunk of time working on, but it’s a really useful and moving account of someone who passed through Guantánamo. In particular, Sami was often on a hunger strike so there is a lot of detail on his mental state and coping mechanisms, as well as the way the medical authorities at Guantánamo attempted to 'deal' with the problem.