Martin Walker: The Big Map Problem

by Laurence on 3/28/2005

Bill Clinton’s classmate looks at the geopolitics of the Kyrgyz revolution:

On a large enough map, Iraq and Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan all look close enough for some common effect to be plausible. On a large enough map, it is deceptively easy to make connections between a new American airbase in the Russian back yard of Central Asia, and Russia’s “loss” of its traditional dominance in Ukraine and Georgia.

On the ground, and to those like this reporter who have visited Kyrgyzstan and know a little of its people, their religion, their relations with Russia and their clan structure, all of this Big Map staff looks very much less plausible. This is a part of the Islamic world that wears its religion lightly, merging it with the traditions of a proud steppe-based nomad people that defeated the Mongols and held off the great Tamburlaine. In the rural areas, the courtship ritual is still conducted on horseback, where the women beats off her chosen suitor with a horse whip until she deems him determined enough to be acceptable. This is not a form of mating procedure that finds favor with the ayatollahs in Tehran or the Wahhabite clerics of Saudi Arabia.


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