Thursday, 3 May 2007

Murder in Samarkand

I feel a little guilty that it has taken me so long to read Murder in Samarkand, Craig Murray's memoir about his time as British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002-2004. Craig kindly sent me a copy after coming across my blog late last year, but I had to psyche myself up to be able to read something so detailed (lots of facts & figures) and harrowing, and I stopped and started several times. He exposes the chilling truth of President Islam Karimov's regime in Uzbekistan (where so-called Islamic dissidents have been boiled to death), a regime funded by the USA - in exchange, they were getting intelligence, and an airbase in Khanabad (now closed, they were evicted) from which they could carry out operations in Afghanistan after 9/11. It didn't matter that people were being boiled, Uzbekistan was now a cosy ally in the War on Terror. At this time, the invasion of Iraq was unfolding (somehow, Saddam was a bad guy yet Karimov was a good guy). It's not just the 'dissident' torture in Uzbekistan that horrifies, day to day life is grim. Uzbek children are forced by the state to work seventy hour weeks in the cotton fields in appalling conditions. Women set fire to themselves with cooking oil to escape their terrible lives. Innocent people are routinely beaten and raped by the police. The double standards and myopia of the British government in all of this is nausea-inducing. Craig couldn't turn a blind eye to this sickening abuse of human rights - as our government appeared to be able to do without conscience - and was sacked after he blew the whistle on Uzbek intelligence being gained through torture. It's depressing reading, but his style is light, he is funny and self-deprecating - at one point he irons a crumpled speech. One of my favourite lines is: The British Foreign Office sees no distinction between diplomacy and brown nosing. Like all heroes, Craig Murray is flawed - he is disarmingly honest about his love of women - half the women in the book are described as pretty or gorgeous, and I felt increasingly sad for Fiona, his now ex-wife, who ends the marriage when he falls in love with beautiful Nadira. Still, Craig comes across as being immensely likeable and fiercely intelligent, if a little dishevelled at times. I could have cried with rage and frustration at the way the Foreign Office treated him, trumping up charges against him that caused him a breakdown (he was on suicide watch at one point) and finally cost him his diplomatic career. Even when the allegations were found to be empty, they still contrived to get rid of him. Yet the world would surely be a better place if there were more ambassadors like him. My one quibble is his claim about kilts: It is of course a truth universally acknowledged that no woman can resist flirting with a man in a kilt. I understand the book is being filmed by Michael Winterbottom. That will be a must-see. If you haven't already read Murder in Samarkand, I urge you to do so.

10 comments:

Anna MR said...

Alright honey, in the face of a serious topic such as this, I feel ashamed (but only mildly) to admit that I do most whole-heartedly agree with the man with regard to the kilt issue.

Will try to read the book, although current frame of mind seems to require protection from, rather than more exposure to, the horrors of the world. Sounds so wussy (sp? woossy?) to say that, doesn't it, I can't even read/know about it, when other people have no choice but to live through/inside it.

Yes. Press here for global guilt syndrome activation.

nmj said...

Anna MR, We usually agree, you and I, but I think you have not come across too many men in kilts, maybe they seem exotic to you - I have seen too many with terrible legs, and a swaying tartan skirt will not change that! But it is a lovely tradition all the same. The last wedding I was at, the groom and best man wore all black kilts, I guess that is in just now. I agree, I think you need to be feeling robust to read this book, that's why it took me so long, but once I really got into, it gripped me like a thriller.

trousers said...

Thanks for another literary tip - I have "Stasiland" sitting on my table ready to be devoured once I've finished my present read.

Interesting what anna mr says. I find reading newspapers or internet news sites difficult at times - either sensitivity to the amount of horrible shit that's happening in the world, or sheer information overload.

With books, however, it can be even more depressing or gruesome in terms of content...but the fact that its not a constant barrage, and may be more reflective (given that its in the past, even the very recent past) makes it easier to approach, apprehend and be drawn into rather than repulsed by. For me, anyway.

nmj said...

That is a good point, Trousers.

The Periodic Englishman said...

Hey NMJ - that was quite a good point that Trousers made, you're right. I certainly go with the line that books are (or at least should be) more reflective. This fact is still not enough to make for easier reading, however - not for me. (I mentioned this before, I think)

I also mentioned that I have this book already but have not started it yet. Reading what you have written here makes me think that I may just have to wait a little while longer before picking it up.

There must be something in the air, because I feel similarly to Anna MR on this - I really can't bear to be exposed to this stuff right now. Weak, I know, but sometimes very necessary. I'm barely recovered from yet another woundingly despair-inducing look at Rwanda. Too much to take in, as ever.

Just as a by the by, the thing you wrote, never mind the subject matter for a moment, was a rather enjoyably good book review. Do more, do more, do more......

Kind regards etc....

(Oh - kilts. Love them. But the legs really do need to be nice to pull the look off satisfactorily)

nmj said...

Hey Loveliest Pony Boy, I am usually fairly confident about my writing, but I really feel daunted by reviews, I think they are much harder than they look, and my instinct is to say I loved something or I hated it, not very subtle or informative, I know. But I really felt compelled to write about Craig's book, I learned a lot from it, I wouldn't usually pick up a book about Uzbekistan, but I'd read a review last summer/autumn and actually got it from library and they nabbed it back before I'd read it, so it was a nice quirk that Craig would later stumble over this blog and supply me with a copy. His book is a very personal story too, and that takes courage.

Anna MR said...

If you haven't yet read him, I can very heartily recommend the recently-deceased Ryszard Kapuscinski - Mr PE enjoying these types of books has probably already read him anyway. I read Imperium (about the Soviet Union) and the one about Africa, which, it seems, is unavailable in English, according to wikipedia. It is translated into Finnish as Eebenpuu, Ebony, so keep a lookout for it in any language you speak.

Seriously hope the embedded link works, by the way - I have a bad track record on my bloggy for them fucking up the whole comment. Ah well, can't fault me for trying.

Sorry NMJ, you'll never turn me off kilts. They are hot. Some clothes are, in spite of the wearer.

x

nmj said...

I wore a mini kilt when I worked as a waitress years ago, that was my heyday.

craig said...

I feel obliged to point out that my legs are perfectly lovely. Sadly the rest of the body is pretty repulsive. But it was almost worth writing the book just for that mini-kilt image.

nmj said...

tsk, ambassador, you are making me blush.