Via the former comes Craig Murray’s letter to SOAS criticizing Dr. Akiner as a “propagandist for the Karimov regime.”
While I think I’ve made it clear that I have serious problems with Akiner’s report, I do not think that the exact form of Murray’s criticism–a letter to her employers–sends the right message about one’s intentions even if they are clarified multiple times in the article. And as to the nature of the criticism, she has said that she didn’t intend the report for publication, suggesting that accusing her of propagandizing on the government’s behalf is a bit much.
But then again, she clearly is more than willing to go to bat for her case, as she does in this interview on Channel 4 news (WMV). My jaw dropped at the end of this interview, but more on that in a moment.
Going back over Akiner’s report, it is clear that while it is informed, it is not particularly scholarly (nor was it apparently intended to be, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as I wouldn’t term anyone’s reports “scholarly”) and it leaves a lot to be desired. Early on, there’s an odd claim that the insurgents were intending to replicate Akayev’s fall from power–revealing an awfully peculiar interpretation of both events. As far as methodology goes, it isn’t worth rehashing again all the problems with her report.
It is worth pointing out again the rhetoric used though. To those critical of the government, she more or less says that they have a high burden of proof to meet for some of their claims and that there is reason to doubt some of the claims and arguments offered. That’s all well and good. But she flirts with the dubious claims that the media was in on the whole thing and that the US and NGOs helped fund the whole thing while offering as evidence the arguments that it seems possible that this is true and that a lot of people believe these things. (I should point out that almost every Uzbek I discussed the matter with believes the US owes one state of Alaska back to Russia because the lease on it has expired. I suppose I’m a fool for thinking that’s silly.)
Back to the Channel 4 interview now. Akiner appeared willingly it seems. And once someone places his or herself in the public eye, one should be prepared for some criticism. And when someone responds to the assertion that there’s a great degree of difference between the the UK’s democratically elected government and Uzbekistan’s by saying “These things are matters of opinion,”* it’s entirely fair to ask why Uzbekistan’s government deserves such vigorous defense. (Or to ask why one should believe that the Uzbek government’s investigation is fair and accurate.)
I certainly do think it would be to everyone’s benefit to stick to discussing the issues rather than the personalities. Akiner herself, as far as I have seen, has been quite civil–a far cry better than this.
However, Mr. Starr says the Human Rights Watch testimony cannot be accurately evaluated since so much of it came from anonymous sources, apparently afraid to be identified. He says such anonymous denunciations are akin to the old days in Uzbekistan.
“It is anonymous evidence. This is Stalinism,” he said. “Just because it is in the name of human rights does not change its character. They must address this problem. They are hurting the very cause that they represent and which we all support.”
While one is tempted to ask whether or not Akiner’s evidence is Stalinism as well because it doesn’t name eyewitnesses, that’s not the point that necessarily needs to be made here. I think that many people do have a fairly caricatured and uninformed view on Andijon if they have one at all. Not one of the individuals or organizations whose reports I have read would I characterize as such. But in the battle for meaning and understanding of Andijon–something that likely will be a long time coming–it’s worth keeping the focus on the event as much as possible and not getting swept away in attacks on messengers.
*It’s possible that this is a case of poor word choice on her part. What follows that sentence suggests the possibility that she’s referring in general to interpretations of Andijon. However, the exchange came in the context of her argument that the shooting of the Brazilian by London police is comparable to Andijon,** so one should draw one’s own conclusions.
**Since it’s one of my most hated things, let me just mention again that moral equivocation and selective moral relativism are some of the least unbecoming arguments one can make. They are all too often made to shore up morally shaky positions and to deflect criticism of the indefensible by pointing out that no one’s perfect.