Craig Murray Gets Stinged, Or Something

by Joshua Foust on 2/22/2010 · 34 comments

The Guardian reports on faux-artist Sting holding a private concert for GooGooSha, our favorite Central Asian autocratic dictator-daughter. I’m less concerned about a quasi-celebrity being hypocritical for cash—empirical hottie Monica Bellucci did it too!—than I am about how moralistic people are being about Sting.

Our other favorite Uzbek Craig Murray is by far the most entertaining about it:

Why does he think it was worth over a million quid to the regime to hear him warble a few notes?

I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer – go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, sat next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick.

Craig Murray, of course, knows just how to resist President Karimov’s excesses: undermine your own government, then sneak your mistress out of the country and write a nauseous memoir about it.

Now, tut-tutting aside, what Sting did was pretty silly… but no more outrageous than the hundreds of other wealthy westerners who have exploited the Karimovs’ mad quest for legitimacy and popularity to make some extra scratch. How about we reserve our outrage for those who actually matter and have influence? Hearing a washed up old tantric guru was hard up for cash and went running to a broken country for a fix doesn’t really mean much in the long run, does it? No it doesn’t.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 34 comments }

b February 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm

File under: Foust nonsense

Alexander Morrison February 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Yes, I’ve more or less given up reading this blog since it became primarily an outlet for various half-baked theories about how to win the Afghan war. Craig Murray has his faults, God knows, and there are parts of ‘Murder in Samarkand’ that made me wince with embarrassment (as he no doubt intended), but that book contained more frank and in many cases well-informed assessments of the Uzbek regime and economy than have appeared on Registan in the last three years. As for Sting – maybe the moral bankruptcy and rank hypocrisy of a self-righteous aging rocker is petty set alongside the other ways in which the Uzbek regime sustains itself, but it has still done something in a small way to help the regime legitimise and normalise its oppression in the eyes of the population. And anything that makes Gulnara Karimova happy is clearly bad.

Matt February 23, 2010 at 11:32 am

Right on Alexander. Registan seems nowadays to only bash other people who talk about Central Asia, and has given up talking about it themselves. The excuse given is people should only write about what they’re interested in, and apparently everyone here is only interested in Afghanistan now (which encourages more Afghanistan-focused writers to contribute and continues the cycle). Which is fine, but stop bashing people like Craig Murry who, however misguided they might be, are at least still interested in Central Asia and didn’t jump on the Afghanistan bandwagon. Joshua should make a new blog about Afghanistan, and leave Registan (you know, the “All Central Asia, All The Time” blog) to folks like Nathan and Mike, who actually write about Central Asia.

Joshua Foust February 23, 2010 at 11:41 am

Or, you could join the team and contribute what we find interesting. Unless Afghanistan magically stopped being part of Central Asia (what, no Xinjiang, then, too?), we’re all stuck writing about what we like and care about. If you see something missing, sign up and contribute it. But don’t yell at me for not conforming to your preferences – that’s childish.

Alexander Morrison February 23, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I don’t think anyone deny that there is now a considerable lack of balance in the coverage given to different parts of Central Asia: perhaps this simply reflects Joshua’s greater energy in chasing up stories that interest it him. It really does seem though, that from a blog which both provided commentary on stories about all parts of Central Asia from sites like neweurasia and fergana.ru and also hosted informed debate on the history and culture of the region, it is now more or less exclusively devoted to ‘Security Studies’ – everything is policy-driven, and much of it seems to be polemical knee-jerk responses to the pieces in the main-stream media with which the author disagrees, often without any evidence of further research or travel in the region. Too much political science/security studies/IR stuff is written by people who spend hardly any time in the region, and it this which tends to predominate here rather than comment pieces from, say, anthropologists with many months of fieldwork experience. Perhaps a recruitment drive is needed, I don’t know. I’m a historian, and I only pay intermittent attention to the politics of the region, but I could certainly write about, say, Almaty’s traffic problems, the Uzbek government’s appalling programme of demolishing and rebuilding historic monuments, the joys of Chimkent’s shopping malls or the fascinating sacred history of Sairam, if anyone would be interested. I just sense that these less ‘hard-edged’ subjects wouldn’t get much of a look-in.

Joshua Foust February 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Alexander, you can sense it all you want. Back in October, Nathan put out a call for more writers to join the site (as we do here periodically). All save one wanted to write about Afghanistan.

Hate on that focus all you want – and if you assume we don’t have personal experience in this stuff, I’m not sure what to say since that’s an unsupportable assumption – it’s relevant. If you have a factual dispute with a post’s content, then leave a comment or contact the author directly, as is happening here (the commenter consensus seems to be that I unfairly dislike Craig Murray, even though that attitude on this site goes back a good six years).

What is a bit silly, however, is to complain about the coverage here not suiting your preference while sitting back as a historian and assuming your observations about the region are inane or whatever. It’s true, the posts about history and culture aren’t as explosive or immediate as the posts about the war. But we have never, to the best of my knowledge, discouraged those from appearing.

That happens to not be my main interest. Frankly, I’m not schooled enough in them, and I know better than to run my mouth off about things I don’t know (seriously).

So, to repeat: if you think we should be covering something, COVER IT YOURSELF. We’ll run it. We like doing it. But 90% of the “new” authors here stop posting eventually. That’s not my fault. It’s theirs.

Alexander Morrison February 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Well, after that warm and welcoming invitation, how could I refuse? I do recall a rather hostile reception to some comments I left on a piece about the tribal territories along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier which attempted to give some historical context to the problems faced by successive Pakistani governments in this region, and the British before them. Still, I’ll try to come up with something in the intervals between teaching and research, and see if Registan is interested.

Nathan February 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm

For what it’s worth, I cordially invite you to join, Andrew.

We had a handful of others who joined in the latest round who wanted to write about Central Asia proper, but for various reasons cannot. I would love to write more, but the addition of work and family over the last several years has considerably eaten into my free time.

Peter February 26, 2010 at 10:31 am

Bloody hell, I think I may be responsible for hurting Alexander’s feelings all those years ago by gently poking fun of his slightly toddle-pip manner. But heaven knows I wouldn’t have done it – and it was meant quite without malice – had I know he was going to bear a grudge for this long.
Actually, I find Alexander’s (as opposed to the mysterious Andrew that Nathan addressed) contributions well-informed, erudite and mercifully short on horrid Americanisms like “to hate on.” There, I’ve said it.
Now, Alexander, posts please…

Nathan February 26, 2010 at 10:45 am

Thanks for pointing out my foul-up, Peter. It is a result, no doubt, of the precipitous drop in my mental faculties in recent years. I did mean Alexander.

Many apologies Alexander. Your posts are always welcome, and all of the topics you mentioned would be interesting to me and many others.

Toryalay Shirzay February 23, 2010 at 12:01 am

b, right on. It’s more helpful and fair to look at Uzbekistan relative to other countries as opposed to a nonexistent ideal state.For example,let’s look at Pakistan which the US claims it to be an ally and has patronized it since it’s inception.According to many informed Americans,Pakistan is a terrorist producing state and gets 7.5 billion USD anyway and it is run by a military,and secret powerful gangs who are involved in international terrorism,drug dealings,nuclear proliferation and etc,etc. By contrast,Uzbekistan goes out of its way to defeat terrorism at home and abroad.Uzbekistan under the leadership of the very able Krimov has been a responsible government which does not allow drug dealings or smuggling,does not allow nuclear proliferation,does not allow islamic fascism or terrorism,does not play the dirty Great GAME, and etc,etc.And yet Uzbekistan is getting all this bad rap here,what gives?Don’t we have better things to do than criticizing Sting for entertaining Uzbeks?Wealth comes with power in any country you care to look at ,so why Uzbekistan be any exception ?And needless to say,whether it’s Googoosha or any other Uzbek,they have the right to be entertained by whoever they choose,don’t they?

Nathan February 23, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Ummm… I don’t think that’s what b meant.

Turgai February 23, 2010 at 3:47 am

Bwah, that reminds me the show that French crooner Charles Aznavour once gave in honour of Farah Diba (the Shah’s wife) in Teheran in the mid-seventies.

Not that it harmed Aznavour. He still go a long and lucrative carreer. The Shah and his wife, by contrast…

So there’s hope. 😉

Dafydd February 23, 2010 at 5:04 am

I think you are being unfair to Craig Murray.

Undermining the Brit government is hardly a bad thing (at least he paid with his own career).

Brit music, on the other hand, is something we can at least try to be proud of. Sting undermines that.

Turgai February 23, 2010 at 6:05 am

Murray’s great merit is that he brought the situation in Uzbekistan to the attention of a wider audience and that at least he put out his neck and took risks, in stark contrast to the widespread cowardice (and, in some cases, even outright complicity with the regime) of foreign diplomats. Yet as Alexander Morrison says, there are also embarassing chapters in the whole story that undermine his achievements.

Dafydd February 23, 2010 at 6:51 am

I don’t doubt that for a moment. But as UK diplomats go, this guy was probably a more agreeable person than the average, if somewhat less professional.

reader February 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

A government that hires a Polish speaker to work in Uzbekistan because, after all Polish and Russian are both Slavic languages, lends itself to being undermined. Nothing against Murray, got lots of respect for him, but that is how he said he was hired to be ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Joshua Foust February 23, 2010 at 7:28 am

Guys, undermining your own government as an ambassador is wrong no matter how you slice it. His job was to represent UK interests. If he couldn’t do that, he is obligated to resign in protest. Instead of behaving like an adult, Murray threw a fit then ran to the press. The philandering is a sideshow, but indicative, I think, of his overpowering narcissism.

The man is hardly a saint. Let’s not forget his election meddling in Ghana in 2000. I’m not saying the man is wrong in his beliefs – you’d have to be a fool to believe that any of us at this blog actually support the Karimov regime – but (and this is the point Nathan and I keep getting caught up on) he is a terrible cheerleader for Uzbek rights. Murray’s actions have almost permanently undermined any US or EU attempt to moderate the Uzbek government’s actions – regardless of how likely that moderation was, they now have a likelihood of zero because of Murray’s petty moralizing. Being a boor and a cad does not help one’s case under any circumstance.

reader February 24, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Joshua,

Morality be damned? I’ve also a question, is Murray’s duty to the British people and what we all know to be right and wrong or is it to Blair’s circus? So what if he undermined London, those idiots hired him because he spoke Polish. And pleez, Murray is a narcissist in an Anglo-American policy-maker ocean of humility? Cite me one major name in international policy these days that isn’t a narcissist.

Scott Neil February 23, 2010 at 10:11 am

got any more on that Ghanaian election and Murray, Joshua?

AFAIK didn’t he just make some shout about only allowing those with the new identity cards to vote? given what background (not much, granted) i know of this fairly unspectacular and seemingly benign interfering suggestion, throwing that into the pot of “hardly a saint” is a bit of a stretch…

Dafydd February 23, 2010 at 11:00 am

Murray criticised the Uzbek government in pretty strident terms, and went beyond his professional competence in doing so. Murray also interfered in an election in Ghana (although you could argue his intervention was in defence of the Ghanaian constitution, and therefore the legitimate government).

In both cases he strayed srom the strict line on representing British interests (although in the case of Ghana the fact that Ghana is a member of the commonwealth and Murray was employed by the foreign & commonwealth office could complicate that judgement), and his actions were likely adverse to British relations with the local regimes.

The running to the press was done by the UK government, who also adopted a policy of patently false accusations and smear of a pretty unpleasant kind.

I do not view Murray as either a boor and a cad. Self righteous, certainly. Naive, possibly. Principled but misguided, probably.
From what I know of the British diplomatic service, that is a significantly better than average report card.

You kid yourself if you think the US or EU was ever going to do anything about the Karimov regime. Whatever Murray’s motivations or methods, Karimov was confronted by Kofi Annan as a result. Corruption in Uzkekistan made the western press.

Pretty minimal achievement, but again, more than the average career in the UK diplomatic service.

Nick February 23, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I think the problem is that there are still a lot of myths being peddled by all sides regarding the Murray Embroglio which still muddy the water. So, to clarify:

1) Murray’s original speech in (October?) 2002 lambasting the Uzbek government was cleared by the FCO in London. So, sorry Josh, he wasn’t undermining (at least, not initially) British *government* interests in Uzbekistan …

2) … talking of which, British economic and strategic/political interests are not the same. He appears to have been as keen as any ambassador usually is to promote British business interests abroad, in this case Uzbekistan. When the controversy was at its height, he received plenty of support from the British business community in Tashkent.

3) Also, he did the usual good stuff of boosting for the British Counci and gladhanding NGOs.

If people are peeved that he is in, Josh’s words, ‘a terrible cheerleader for Uzbek rights’, that’s seems to me to be a fairly misguided attitude because, ultimately, the Uzbek government is seriously unlikely to change its methods whether it is being flayed or soft-soaped over its approach to human-rights, freedom of religious expression, open media etc.

Toryalay Shirzay February 23, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Craig Murray and other Brits who relentlessly try to jump on high moral grounds also need to look at their own doings,to wit: Brit businessmen and their diplomatic allies bribing foreign officials for lucrative contracts,selling advanced and highly lethal weapons and other military equipment to oppressive and fascist Arab regimes and other nasty dictators,allowing Islamic fundamentalism and fascism to flourish in Britain itself and therefore perpetuating Islamic fascism throughout the world,cozying up to and attending lavish parties with nasty ,oppressive Arab oil Sheiks and etc,etc.I suspect the reason the Brits are lashing out at Uzbekistan is because they failed to get lucrative contracts there and are pissed off now.

Dafydd February 24, 2010 at 6:13 am

You don’t even scratch the surface.

Back home – detention without charge, trial (or even the courtesy of being told WHY you are being detained) for 42 days.

Virtual house arrest (control orders) without charge, trial (or even the courtesy of being told WHY) for indefinite time periods

Possibility of purchasing a seat in upper house of the legislature

I mean, a few business bribes, a bit of arms trading, what is THAT by comparison?

AJK February 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Karimov aside, I think we agree Murray is a loudmouth. And the foreign service is no place for one. He coulda resigned and done NGO work if he wanted to make a scene (that needs and needed to be made).

Michael February 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I have to agree with Nick. The majority of criticism here is ad hominem, bearing no relevance to the points Murray made about the brutality of the Uzbek government.

Realist Writer February 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Micheal: But we’re aren’t debating if the Ubzek government is brutal. We’re debating if Murray is a good person. I think attacking Murray’s actions and behavior would suffice.

I may be an idiot, but doesn’t Sting have to make money to sustain his lifestyle, and because of that, he has to sell his services to people he may not personally like? And doesn’t that provide him a valid excuse? I don’t really want to engage in massive moral calculations every time I receive an offer from So-And-So, it’s just not practical or useful in the grand scheme of things. I like to be moral; I also like to eat.

Turgai February 25, 2010 at 3:59 am

As far as I noticed Sting may not appear among this jolly bunch ( http://www.forbes.com/2009/03/11/worlds-richest-people-billionaires-2009-billionaires_land.html ) but it doesn’t look to me as if he has to scratch every gig he can get to make ends meet.

Anyway, if he wants to be a useful idiot, fine. What I would ask him is, whether he would have done the same for the daughter of Milosevic in the nineties. And if not, why he is doing it with a representative of a regime that is as rotten and wicked.

lone wolf wolf March 6, 2010 at 1:25 pm

what a hore
sting and googoosha !

Elbow M February 23, 2010 at 11:14 pm

This is just grand. A spineless bloviator takes a cowardly potshot at Craig Murray, the only person who has drawn significant media attention to human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, and who has paid a significant personal price for actually taking action on the issue.

reader February 24, 2010 at 12:31 am

To sum it all up:

1. Craig Murray does not have/has the right to criticize Sting because
2. Craig Murray is/is not himself credible since
3. Craig Murray did/did not dishonor his ambassadorship
4. Sting should/should not have worked for GooGoosha since GooGoosha is the daughter of President of Uzbekistan
5. Karimov whose methods of running the nation is not/is justifiable
6. Registan is/is not a good forum for Central Asia related topics since
7. Since Joshua writes mostly about security topics in Afghanistan and his is/is not a credible author as well as
8. Other authors are/are not intimidated by Joshua’s critical style and
9. People have been given the opportunity to write about various other topics in the past and have done so but minimally.

That’s way too many topics discussed in one post – like a noisy room with a couple of fights. I believe Joshua was unfairly attacked on substance of his post and he overreacted somewhat. This is a blog for personal analysis as well as informed opinions. If you disagree with someone, you don’t need to cut them down, just politely inform please.

Nathan as well as Michael have done some valuable and interesting posts in the past about former Soviet Republics issues. Perhaps the reason there is not much more of it is access is difficult. I always look for those and welcome them.

Michael Laubsch February 26, 2010 at 3:53 am

Josh:
I partially disagree with you. OK, companies like Siemns just wanna do business, even when they sell bug techno to dictators. Should we tolerate this? Probably no one would have cared (I wouldn’t) when Lady Gaga or other “blondes” would have gone to Karimova. But a guy who always pretends to be the savour of the world with all his rain forest stuff, fighting against poverty and hunger … no way. He lost every credibility in my view. “Just earn some other millions, but leave us with your moralistic prayers”

Metin March 6, 2010 at 11:16 am

Why to stress on Gulnara’s daughter-ness of Islam Karimov?
is it a real face of western democracy to judge about people based on people’s origin rather then their deeds?
Gulnara clearly is different from her father. She is western educated, a person of different generation. One should give a credit for the charity work she’s been doing in Uzbekistan, especially for children. The fact Sting got invited and performed in Tashkent was great event for youth – now a lot of people here aware about Sting. Think about the impact Sting left here and who profited from his presence in Tashkent.
By the way, it’s not only Sting, but many more celebrities have visited Tashkent. I personally think without Gulnara that would not have been possible.

Turgai Sangar March 7, 2010 at 5:28 am

“Gulnara clearly is different from her father. ”

I agree. She’s worse.

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