Bloggers & Uzbekistan

by Nathan Hamm on 7/17/2006 · 11 comments

There have been tons and tons of posts on lefty blogs on Craig Murray with his book coming out and his ongoing troubles concerning Crown Copyright. Anyhow, there has not been much I’ve seen worth noting in any of these posts, and if one reads one, one has pretty much read them all. (As is so often the case with partisan blogs, posts on a particular topic tend to all the be slight variations on the same themes.) I did, though, get a kick out of this.

Bloggers have played an indispensable role in getting the news about Murray and Uzbekistan out to the world…

Well, the author got it half right.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Nick July 18, 2006 at 4:09 am

I’m a lefty blogger now, am I? careful, you’ll have David Horowitz on my case!

Nathan July 18, 2006 at 6:40 am

I forgot to clarify that you’re the one non-lefty blogger who posted on Murray recently ๐Ÿ™‚

Alexander July 18, 2006 at 7:12 am

I read the book yesterday. Whilst I have nothing but admiration for Murray’s political stance, and in particular his revelation that MI6 has been using intelligence derived from Uzbek torture chambers,”Murder in Samarkand” reveals all too clearly why the Foreign Office had to get rid of him. Maybe I’m a prude, but I really do not think that a British ambassador’s favoured drinking-haunt should be somewhere girls dance around in their underwear looking for wealthy ‘clients’ – and I don’t care whether he saw any nipples or not! Clearly his repeated philanderings had rendered him a liability before he was sent to Uzbekistan, which also begs the question of why he was sent there in the first place, particularly as all his previous experience was in Africa and he didn’t speak any Russian before the appointment, never mind Uzbek or Tajik. Don’t get me wrong, Murray is no fool, and is clearly a principled man in other respects. The book contains one of the clearest explanations I’ve yet found of how the Uzbek economy is run for the benefit of a small clique of officials and Karimov family members, the horrors of the Kolkhoz system and the hideous nature of a regime where torture and rape by the police and SNB have become almost everyday banalities. His indignation on discovering the extent to which both the British and the Americans winked at all this in return for Karimov’s support for the “War on Terror” was entirely justified. However, you have to ask, now that we have withdrawn support from Karimov (and Murray himself made it clear in a speech I heard him give at Oxford that Karimov was already seeking to reduce American influence and align himself more with Russia and China by the late 90s) what exactly has changed? We can feel better about ourselves, but is anyone in Uzbekistan any better off? I don’t know what we can do to get greater leverage over Karimov to persuade him to liberalise the economy, end human rights abuses and introduce elections, but I don’t think Murray’s approach did much good. The other quibble I have is over Murray’s apparent naivety, his rather grandiose statement that being British stood for something decent in his mind, and that he saw a career in the Foreign Office as a means of upholding and furthering this. When you become a civil servant you don’t put your conscience away entirely, but you do sacrifice a certain amount of autonomy. Your job is to do the bidding of your political masters, and that might involve some pretty mucky stuff. You can protest about it in private, but ultimately if you don’t agree with your orders you should resign. Britain has never had a ‘moral’ Foreign Policy, for all Gladstone’s and later Jack Straw’s pontificating. It’s motivated by national self-interest like that of all other countries, and that’s what Diplomats are expected to promote. If you don’t like that idea (and personally I don’t) then don’t join the Foreign Office. I can’t believe Murray never realised this. As a public servant, your private life also ceases to some extent to be your own, particularly in a high-profile job like an ambassadorship, and it is a very great shame that Murray’s principled political stance was compromised from the outset by his personal indiscretions. He gave his enemies far too many weapons with which to attack him. I do not actually believe that the FCO dismissed him because he disagreed with his superiors over Human rights and other such issues (I originally got the text of his excellent speech at Freedom House off their website): his behaviour was unacceptable for one in his position, and I’m afraid they had a whole raft of other reasons for asking him to resign. It amazes me that it took them so long and that they bungled it so spectacularly. If nothing else, this book gives a tremendous insight into the sheer incompetence and bumbling ineptitude of both the Foreign Office and MI6. Enough. I’ve probably been a bit harsh. Murray has been so embarrassingly open about what he did that you don’t know whether to cringe or applaud a lot of the time. When all’s said and done, as I believe he posted here once before, he’s not the bad guy, Karimov is.

Alexander July 18, 2006 at 7:29 am

Sorry, that should have read “Most of his previous experience was in Africa” – he did work in Poland as well. It’s still not the greatest preparation.

Nick July 18, 2006 at 8:05 am

Alexander, you highlight Craig Murray’s language training, or lack thereof. We shouldn’t be surprised: as anyone who studies in the UK knows, there are no undergraduate or postgraduate programmes in the Central Asian languages – not even at SOAS, my alma mater, which you would expect to have some sort of offerings for these languages, and therefore no opportunities for civil servants to study them either. Russian may still be the lingua franca of diplomacy, politcs and business in Central Asia (i.e. the language of the elites), but a lack of understanding of the indigenous languages is seriously disadvantageous to British interests in the region. IMHO.

Alexander July 18, 2006 at 9:27 am

Yes, I believe the only ambassador we’ve sent there who knew Tajik (and acquired some Uzbek) was Paul Bergne, who was educated at SOAS but is now retired and works at St. Antony’s. Tajik is not that different from Persian, which is quite widely taught, but not many of our diplomats seem to know that either. Things are changing now, I hope: although, much to my fury, Central Asia was specifically excluded from Oxford’s bid for the new money HEFCE and the AHRB are making available for area studies, Newcastle is setting up a programme instead, so there will finally be somewhere in Britain where Uzbek is taught.

Nick July 18, 2006 at 11:12 am

Ooh, I hadn’t heard about that. I received something via the Harvard-List regarding some new Central Asia programmes at Newcastle, but I didn’t realise it included languages. Most interesting – but I don’t think it will deflect me from going to IU.

Alexander July 18, 2006 at 12:28 pm

Yes, IU is still the place for Central Asian stuff in the Western world. They’ve got the lecturers in Uzbek, Kirghiz and Kazakh, and a decent Persian Programme. Also an incredible collection of microfilmed manuscripts assembled by Bregel and DeWeese. That said Bloomington has little else to offer. One of the largest student unions I’ve ever seen, but not one bar anywhere on Campus (meanwhile students in the frat houses and Sports Bars surrounding it regularly have their stomachs pumped). A nice, if slightly twee main square, and a couple of shopping streets, and that’s it (this for a town with a University 50,000 strong). The food on campus is pretty vile, having been farmed out to fast-food contractors, although there are some decent restaurants in town. One bus a day to Indianapolis (a dump) and no railway station (I hope you know how to drive). Newcastle starts to sound slightly more attractive, but I’m not sure when the scheme will be up and running anyway.

Nick July 18, 2006 at 1:26 pm

I liked Bloomington plenty when I was there last summer – and I’ve been living in London for a decade, so I naturally felt some dislocation, but not that much. Mostly the sense of space blew my mind – I wonder if that’s the intended effect in order to prepare students for the Steppes?

Nathan July 18, 2006 at 2:14 pm

Perhaps, but the University of Washington prepares students for the beauty of the mountains!

Alexander, I mostly agree about IU, but I don’t think they’re as great for non-academia types. (Though I’ve always been a strong believer in the idea that anyplace with great resources is great for anyone prepared to exploit them.) Rumor has it that our program might do a couple things to retool it being more clearly for policy-types.

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