Thursday, December 06, 2007

Murder in Samarkand

Some months ago, I read “Murder in Samarkand” which is former British Ambassador Craig Murray’s account of his time in Uzbekistan, his fights against the appalling human rights of the country, and as the book progresses of his fights with the British government who were desperate to get rid of him as he was upsetting Washington’s cozy relationship with the Uzbek regime. I was gripped by the first half (or two thirds ) of the book which melds travelogue, expose of the appalling Karimov regime, and insights into the internal workings of the foreign and commonwealth office, but found myself less enthused by the last third which was mostly about the efforts to get him fired by the Blair government, and was not so much my cup of tea (not that I disbelieved it, obviously Blair and Straw et al are as corrupt and useless as any government Britain has ever had). But on my return from Tashkent, I’ve re-read it with the benefit of a deal more context (I actually wanted to take it with me and read it there, but I feared it would be found at customs and cause difficulties), and now find the whole book riveting (though not what one would call enjoyable, as the content is so distressing).

I think the reason for my initial reaction was that I felt the Karimov regime with its torture, murder, rape and general brutality was much more deserving of attention than what amounted to internal FCO machinations to sack someone they didn’t like. But now, I feel both stories are worth telling and I’m glad he does. Murray is pretty blunt and honest about his own failings as well as everything else, and while at times he doesn’t come across as an especially likeable bloke, he doesn’t try to hide any of that and his book is much more powerful as a result. The weight of the evidence presented in the book and on his website, certainly makes it clear that the UK government acted appallingly and pathetically, while the documentation of some of the hideous crimes of the Uzbekistan government is really important. Anyway, I recommend anyone read it who wants to get a sense of what Uzbekistan is all about, what kind of system it labours under, and what the wider geopolitical implications of the “war on terror” are.

Apparently, the relationship between Karimov and the US has cooled somewhat since the book, mostly it seems because the US dared to make vague criticisms of the government after they massacred hundreds of people during a protest in Andijan. These days, outside interests seem to be mainly Turkish and Russian, though I was supposed to be going there in April and my visa was denied – clearance “coincidentally” only coming through in a week when the EU (at the instigation of Germany, who seem to love Karimov) had relaxed some of its post Andijan sanctions.

Anyway, buy the book. If for no other reason than Murray deserves some form of income after the way he has been fucked over by his employer, the British government.

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