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.
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.
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.
The New Statesman published this article by me:
Drink, dictators and belly dancers
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.
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)
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.
1800 policemen have demonstrated in London over pay. The demonstrators estimated their own number at 450.
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.
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.