Monthly Archives: January 2008


Sunday Morning Thoughts

Another sell-out for “The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer” last night took us past our 1,000th person to experience it. We are one week away from moving into the Arts Theatre in the West End and hopefully welcoming that many people every couple of days – a scary thought. Baroness Sarah Ludford, LibDem MEP and (relevantly) Vice Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Extraordinary Rendition was in the audience last night. So far I’ve seen three ex-British Ambassadors – and they’re only the ones I’ve noticed.

More good news – Marks and Spencers have joined Tesco in the boycott of Uzbek cotton, and instituted audit trails to check there isn’t any in their products. This really is amazing.

I know some of my friends will find this hard to accept, but this commercial boycott has come about because, faced with incontrovertible proof of the mass exploitation of children and slave workers, these major British companies have acted out of their own desire to behave ethically, not out of consumer, governmental or judicial pressure, because there hasn’t been any. Discuss.

Yesterday was Australia Day which meant I had to hurdle prone bodies to get around Shepherds Bush. I have been trying to get my Rectorial Address into the right format to publish it as a booklet on Lulu, but it’s technically beyond me. Any volunteers?

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A Life Saved!

I can’t really afford it, but I have just bought and opened a bottle of the best bubbly I can find in Shepherds Bush. Jahongir Sidikov has phoned me to say that the Home Office has just granted him asylum. You will recall that Jahongir had to physically resist deportation from Harmondsworth Detention Centre to certain torture and near certain death in Uzbekistan.

Jahongir has no doubt, and nor do I, that the actions of readers of this blog were crucial in preventing this appalling proposed deportation. Special thanks go to the MPs you activated. Several deserve thanks, but Bob Marshall Andrews deserves a really special mention.

It is not yet clear whether the Home Office now accept as a matter of policy that it is not possible to deport dissidents into the hands of the evil Uzbek regime. That is a point you might wish to take up with your MPs.

But for now, thank you and bloody well done. I am going to get rat-arsed.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2007/11/britain_institu.html

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Amazon

Rather strangely, 10 of 21 customer reviews of “Murder in Samarkand” have been removed from amazon.co.uk, including most of the longest and more interesting ones. They have not disappeared in chronological order. In fact the one thing the ten had in common is that they were all five star. The overall rating has therefore unsurprisingly dropped. Anyone have an explanation?

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A Different Culture

The ever formidable Brian Barder had posted a fascinated observation on the growing weirdness of US political culture. Here is an excerpt:

It’s sad because it’s another example of the steadily widening gulf between the political culture in the US and that in the rest of the west, exemplified by the Iraq war (leaving aside, if possible, the UK’s culpable complicity in it), the so-called “war on terror” and its implications for civil liberties, extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay, the role of religion, attitudes to capital punishment and the treatment of prisoners, demonstrative patriotism, and now the role of the US sub-prime market in bringing about the impending recession which will engulf the rest of us as well as the United States. Alas, it’s no longer the case that the rest of the civilised world looks to the US as its moral and political leader. And I fear that the causes of this ever-widening gulf go much deeper than just the consequences of the catastrophic presidency of G W Bush: whoever succeeds him will not be able to build a durable bridge across it. Many of us small-L liberals used to feel that we had more in common with our American cousins than with our historical enemies just across the English Channel, the French and the Germans, and even our slightly more distant historical friends, the Scandinavians and the Dutch. I don’t think that’s true any more.

http://www.barder.com/ephems/754

The whole is well worth reading. Barack Obama leaves me stone cold too. I think we underestimate how different and dangerous the US now is. Last year I delivered a talk on Central Asia at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As I sat preparing my lecture, I had the television on low in my hotel room because I don’t like complete silence. Gradually I found myself listening intently to an evangelical preacher, telling his TV congregation that they should not worry about casualties in Iraq because the Bible showed us that there had to be a great and bloody conflict in the Middle East before the Second Coming of Christ. So the more people who died in these wars, the closer we are to Jesus.

Now that message would be acceptable to very few people in the UK – just Tony Blair and his immediate friends, really. I related this astonishing thing I had heard to some American lecturers over lunch. They told me that at least a third of their students would believe this stuff. And this was Ann Arbor, not the Deep South. It is essential that we all wake up now to the fact that the US is a deeply disturbed and psychotic society, and by far the biggest danger to world peace.

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Peter Hain

I am really sorry Peter Hain has resigned. Of course, part of me is delighted to crow at the exposure of yet another New Labour financial scandal. But other feelings overrule this.

Peter Hain was the hero of my childhood, who inspired my interest in politics, and helped cement my values, through his anti-Apartheid campaign. I joined the Young Liberals and was soon on their National Executive and a contributor to Liberator. Hain was a talented footballer, and playing against him at a Young Liberal conference in Great Yarmouth around 1975, the only way I could cope with him was to kick him in the bollocks and have him carried from the field.

There was an amazing parallel to this in 2000 when I was playing alongside him in a charity game in Accra, and broke my shoulder in a nasty tackle – he helped carry me off the field.

It was the existence of Peter Hain as a Minister which was one of the factors which led me naively and disastrously to believe for a long while in Uzbekistan that our government could not be knowingly receiving intelligence from torture, and it must be a low level operation. When the government in consequence of my interventions on this issue tried to frame me with false allegations, in a personal way it came home to me hard just how completely Hain and the other New Labour careerists had sold their souls.

Yet I feel sorry for him now, which shows what a sentimental old twit I still am.

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Imprisonment

Occasionally there is a moment of revelation, when an image makes plain an underlying truth. I think the Palestinian breakout through the Wall from Gaza into Egypt is such a moment. The joy of the ordinary Palestinians as they poured through the gap to do simple things like stretch their legs and shop, brought home graphically a truth which the Western media has been hiding for years: that an entire population is imprisoned in Gaza.

The images were so obviously reminiscent of the joy at the fall of the Berlin Wall, that it is going to be difficult to convince public opinion in most of the world that it is a good idea to wall the Palestinians up again. Only the most purblind can fail to realise that this terrible imprisonment and degradation is a major cause of Islamic radicalism, not only in the rise of Hamas but worldwide. It is essential that Egypt now resist pressure from the US and Israel to intern the Palestinians again.

Where is Tony Blair, the Middle East “Peace Envoy”? Not speaking out for the Palestinians right to freedom, certainly.

No doubt Aaronovitch and the Times will now call me anti-Semitic again.

Meantime back at home the government blindly pushes ahead with increasing Muslim grievance with yet another “Anti-terror” bill designed to curb our civil liberties still further. There is no possible justification for the desire to introduce internment at home. This will merely stoke still further the sense of grievance and alienation that can lead a tiny minority into violent reaction.

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Early draft of Iraq Dossier to be made public

From BBC Online

An early draft of the government’s infamous dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction must be made public, the Information Tribunal says.

The document, by Foreign Office press chief John Williams, was an unpublished draft of the dossier which was unveiled by Tony Blair on 24 September 2002. The Foreign Office had appealed against the Information Commissioner’s order that it should release the draft. It is not yet clear whether the Foreign Office will appeal to the High Court.

Weapons expert Dr David Kelly was found dead shortly after being named as the source of a BBC report suggesting the government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was “sexed up”…

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Frontline Club Discussion on Uzbekistan

Interesting discussion here. Sadly I had to leave before Natalya started disagreeing with me! In fact I don’t think we disagree very much. Certainly Karimov’s repression will encourage Islamic radicalism – we disagree in that I think Islamic radicalism is starting from a very low base indeed in Uzbekistan. But about the dynamics and the solutions there is nothing between us.

http://uzbekistan.neweurasia.net/2008/01/17/is-uzbekistan-repressive/

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Free Belly Dancer Tickets for Bloggers

I confess to being chuffed that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, has named Murder in Samarkand as her Book of the Year.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/print/4334781a6442.html

Meantime, Nadira’s performance of The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer has its thirteenth performance at the Arcola tonight. Like all the previous twelve, it is sold out. The audiences’ responses have been enthusiastic, while the critics ranged from bemused to hostile.

So who has got it right? The paying public or the critics? We may get more of a chance to decide when it transfers to the West End, at the Arts Theatre from 4 February. (Box Office 0870 060 1742 or http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/22004023B319A92D?camefrom=CFC_UKAFF_NEWS_LDNP&m3_data=ej0xMDc2fHA9NDEwMHxhPTkzODU&brand=uk_thelondonpaper ) In line with my (rather biased) opinion that bloggers are important, we are offering a limited number of free tickets to bloggers in the first week, on condition that they will blog about the show. That does not mean blog uncritically – we are interested in honest reactions.

If any bloggers are interested, please email me at [email protected], including the URL of your blog and the date you would like to go. I will try to organise a ticket for you.

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Drink, Dictators and Belly Dancers

The New Statesman published this article by me:

Drink, dictators and belly dancers

Craig Murray

Published 10 January 2008

I confess that, for me, the festive season passes in a kind of benign blur. As I have never driven, this has limited capacity to hurt anyone else. A friend just suggested to me that, as a good Scot, I shall still be hungover from Hogmanay when people are reading this. Actually, as a good Scot, I shall still be drinking when you are reading this.

I am thoroughly fed up with the anti-alcohol propaganda on every broadcast news programme at this time of year. Look at George W Bush. As a wealthy alcoholic, he was a relatively harmless parasite on society. Then he sobered up, found God, and killed millions. Leave alcohol alone – it does much less harm than religion.

A troubled conscience

I am sitting typing this in Accra, where I have been helping out with an emergency power generation project. One little-remarked consequence of climate change has been unpredictable rainfall patterns, which have adversely affected hydroelectric schemes. The consequences for Ghana, which until the recent problems got most of its electricity from hydro, have been dire. Last year power shortages caused an estimated 30 per cent drop in industrial production.

A large part of the long-term solution must lie in windfarms along the Atlantic coastline, but Ghana desperately needs power now, so we are looking to get additional gas-turbine generation up and running by next summer. Obviously this troubles my environmental conscience, but I prioritise the urgent needs of a society that has struggled successfully for poverty alleviation and genuine democracy. Both sets of gains could be threatened if the power crisis is sustained. Do I worry I am wrong? Yes.

In December 2008 the respected president, John Kufuor, will step down and I am delighted by the selection of my good friend Nana Akufo-Addo as the ruling party’s presidential candidate. Nana Addo is a great freedom fighter who struggled at great personal cost against military dictators from Acheampong to Rawlings. We are rightly quick to acknowledge as heroes those who struggled against colonial and white rule, but seldom recognise those who make the often much lonelier struggle against Africa’s own dictators.

Meantime in Uzbekistan, my old adversary President Karimov is re-elected with 88 per cent of the vote on a 90 per cent turnout. The opposition parties in Uzbekistan are all banned, and the four other “candidates” had all declared their support for Karimov. The fact that Russia praised the election is more evidence that you don’t have to be a right-wing hawk to worry about Putin. But against that must be set the way no amount of googling turns up a word of condemnation from the British government.

Our earlier support for Karimov as part of the “war on terror” is well documented, not least by me. The same philosophy in Pakistan has left our policy in a disastrous mess following the appalling assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Hearing the UK and US drone on about the need for democracy, after enthusiastically backing the military dictator Pervez Musharraf for years, makes me sick. I am least of all impressed by Washington’s sartorial test of democracy. Islam Karimov has never worn a uniform but is still a dictator. Musharraf has never been elected and remains a dictator, even if he dons a tutu.

Romantic progress

My partner, Nadira, joined me in Ghana for Christmas and we spent most of our time rehearsing for her one-woman show, The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, playing at the Arcola Theatre in London throughout January. The show is autobiographical, and Nadira’s is a remarkable story of the degradation we have inflicted on Uzbekistan, and the ability of the spirit to rise above it. Less profoundly, in the second half it casts an entirely different light on some of the events I describe in Murder in Samarkand, as Nadira moves from romantic interest to protagonist. Nadira is searingly honest, and I don’t always look well in this new light. But the play addresses bigger issues than my vanity, and should be a tremendous theatrical experience.

Craig Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002-2004. His book “Murder in Samarkand” is published by Mainstream (£7.99)

http://www.newstatesman.com/200801100008

As usual my copy was slightly edited for length, but I feel the choice of this sentence to cut was interesting: “Benazir Bhutto inherited all her family’s qualities of physical courage, personal charisma and rapacious veniality”. I am extremely sorry she was assassinated, but a candidate for sainthood she is not. Worth remembering, especially given the new prominence of her horrible husband.

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Mr Aaronovitch’s Problem

It is a tribute to the power of political blogging that the Times is prepared to devote several column inches to a whingeing reply to this blog. Or perhaps its simply a sign of the intellectual decline of the Times. I am pretty surprised to find even a Murdoch paper publishing this:

Now suppose, that I were to write an article for this paper in which I began by telling readers that Craig Murray was not just wrong and oddly ill-informed, but that he was also – let’s say – a chinless, adulterous, anti-Semitic clown whose vanity and incontinence had led to him damaging those very causes that he claimed to care for so much. My editors wouldn’t have stood for it, and the readers would have thought less of me for it. Yet in several of the more lionised and supposedly political websites that influence some of our journalists, this is exactly the level of debate.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/david_aaronovitch/article3227701.ece

I think I had reached the age of 49 without ever being accused of being anti-semitic. Anybody who even vaguely knows me will find that accusation laughable.

David Aaronovich is confused as to why I would wish to be impolite about him. The answer is quite plain. Supporting the Iraq War, and cheerleading for it, is not a legitimate policy choice. It is complicity in an appalling act of aggression and mass murder. The invasion of another country, resulting in the death of (literally) countless civilians, in order to seize control of natural resources, was an act of hideous criminality. Nazi “Journalists” stood trial at Nuremberg charged with propagandizing for illegal war.

I tend to have rigorously argued political views. I am, for example, strongly against the private finance initiative and other private provision in the NHS. I am opposed to state aid to Northern Rock. On those and other issues, many people have other opinions and I genuinely respect those views and engage with them, much as I may disagree.

But the Iraq war is not like that. Supporting the illegal invasion of other countries is a crime; it is no more legitimate than to argue that “The Yorkshire Ripper Was Right”. It does not surprise me that Aaronovitch and other renegades of the hard left like Phillips and Hitchens have taken this position – ruthlessness and disregard for individuals provide the consistent thread in their odyssey around the unpleasant extremes of politics.

I am afraid, David, that decent people will look down on you the rest of your life. Get used to it.

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Not Dead Yet

Thanks to Andrew for keeping the blog going while I have been hors de combat for a while. First I arrived in Ghana a week before Christmas and discovered my laptop had died. Then project problems meant I unexpectedly stayed there three weeks instead of one. I got back to the UK just in time for the blitz of launching Nadira’s play at the Arcola. Oh, and I got malaria (again).

Normal service will now be resumed, barring further disaster.

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Tesco Ban Uzbek Cotton

In a tremendous victory for a campaign in which this blog and other political bloggers played a leading part, Tesco have banned Uzbek cotton from all products sold in their stores and instituted supply chain audits to ensure this is enforced. Tesco must be congratulated on their response to the irrefutable proof of the massive use of child labour forced by a totalitarian state. But this is also startling evidence of the potency of activists, bloggers and consumers in the information age.

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2005/08/sanctions_again.html

http://disillusionedkid.blogspot.com/2005/09/look-whos-blogging.html

A Tesco executive, Terry Green, stated:

“the use of organised and forced child labour is completely unacceptable and leads us to conclude that whilst these practices persist in Uzbekistan we cannot support the use of cotton from Uzbekistan in our textiles”.

Many congratulations are due to the Environmental Justice Foundation and to People and Planet for their part in the campaign.

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The US Treads Water Over Its Involvement in Torture

From BBC Online

US national intelligence chief Mike McConnell has said the interrogation technique of water-boarding “would be torture” if he were subjected to it. Mr McConnell said it would also be torture if water-boarding, which involves simulated drowning, resulted in water entering a detainee’s lungs.

He told the New Yorker there would be a “huge penalty” for anyone using it if it was ever determined to be torture.

However…

The US attorney-general has declined to rule on whether the method is torture.

And…

In July 2007, President Bush signed a controversial executive order on the treatment of suspects detained by the CIA which did not outlaw the agency’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as water-boarding.

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6 Years of Guantanamo

Tomorrow, 11th January 2008, it will be six years since the US authorities first transported ‘war on terror’ detainees to the military prison at the naval camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Amnesty International are marking the 6th anniversary by assembling as many people as possible dressed in Guantanamo-style orange boiler suits at the Ameriacan embassy in London.

For details go of this and other protest events marking the day go here

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