Daily Archives: January 24, 2017

With William Dalrymple in Jaipur

William Dalrymple gave an extremely fulsome introduction to my talk on Sikunder Burnes:

“He defied the British Foreign Office magnificently and we should really be having a session on Craig’s own life where he very honorably exposed nefarious Foreign Office dealings in Central Asia and the willingness of the Blair Bush combo to countenance massive human rights abuses in the name of the War on Terror. He stood down from the Foreign Office, an act of considerable honour rarely seen in civil servants elsewhere in the world.”

“Since that made it impossible for him to continue his career as an Ambassador he has returned to Britain, he is of course a Scot originally, and has just produced an extraordinary book about another mischievious Scot with mixed feelings about the British government, Bokhara Burnes as he is known to Great Game enthusiasts. Bokhara Burnes was a travel writer who was actually a British spy, a player of the Great Game, a key player in the rivalry between Britain and Russia, but who again very honourably opposed the invasion of Afghanistan until he was bought out by a Baronetcy and then lost his life in Kabul. It is an extraordinary story and one that Craig tells with great aplomb in his new biography.”

“We had a lot of fun when I was working on the subject in the National Archives and I would meet Craig there and go for a drink afterwards in the Meridien Hotel next door and exchange notes on secret documents which we discovered there. But I will leave him to tell his own story. Ladies and Gentlemen please give a warm welcome to Craig Murray.”

I very much enjoyed making this particular riff while I was talking, at 27 minutes in on the video:

“Alexander Burnes became famous as a spy and what the British call an explorer. I always find this absolutely a fascinating idea. We call him an explorer because he went and met peoples who had been there for thousands of years and didn’t feel they had any need to be discovered and had a culture which was every bit as developed as his culture, but nonetheless he was an “explorer” for finding these poor benighted people who didn’t previously exist because they hadn’t met a British person, which is a very strange concept. The British idea of what an explorer is I think is quite amusing. He was, let’s say, a pioneer in introducing new cultures to the British who had not met the British before, that might be a fairer way of putting it.”

“And of course first encounters with the British could often turn out to be violent and unpleasant, and many were. That is one of the things with which I struggled in writing the book, I think that struggle is obvious in parts of the book, which is how do you write a book, about somebody who in many ways was a good and admirable person, but served an Imperial project which in itself was not necessarily a good thing. And coming to terms with our Imperial heritage is particularly difficult for Scottish people. I would argue that we were actually the first victims of English imperialism. So for us, it’s a particularly complex question.”

View with comments