For The Atlantic, I write:
The somewhat uncomfortable truth of the matter is, Kazakhstan is the least abusive country in Central Asia (though that isn’t saying much). Sting making a high-profile cancellation for the striking oil workers is fine as far as it goes, but completely misses the point of even complaining about human rights abuses in the first place: oil workers shouldn’t have to protest in front of the media to draw attention to civil rights issues in the country.
The practice of human rights in Central Asia, including how to improve them, requires more than an aging pop singer juggling around a concert or two. It takes consistent international pressure, shame, even ostracism to get even minute changes in posture. President Nazarbayev will treat Sting’s snub like any dictator would treat an artist’s snub: by ignoring it and continuing on. And the opinion writers who gleefully guffaw at Sting’s continuing issues with telling right from wrong will do the same–ignoring everything else that’s happening in the region, all the abuse and misery and promise and hope–and not return until some other celebrity draws our attention back once more.