The following is a book review of 'Murder in Samarkand' by Craig Murray. Murray was the United Kingdom's Ambassador to Uzbekistan until he was removed from his post in October 2004 after exposing appalling rights abuses by the US-funded regime of President Islam Karimov. His website has further articles and supporting documents which he could not include in the book fearing that it would be banned, you can view these on http://www.craigmurray.co.uk
Memoirs of a diplomat
R. K. RAGHAVAN
A British ambassador's candid and controversial account laying bare the underside of the `war on terror'
MURDER IN SAMARKAND — A British Ambassador's Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror: Craig Murray; Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh. £ 18.99.
Diplomats come in different sizes and shapes, very often with a lopsided vision of the globe around them. Like many organised civil services, the Foreign Service of any country is a mixed bag of the most brilliant and the utterly mediocre, the most upright and the disappointingly unethical and dishonest. There also comes once in a while the unconventional and feisty personality who is determined to rock the boat and embarrass his Whitehall or South Block bosses. And when he quits or is forced to, he grabs public attention with some vitriolic memoirs that make interesting if not memorable reading. Craig Murray belongs to this category.
A career diplomat with an impressive educational background, he was eased out of Tashkent in 2004 by his own Foreign Office on a variety of charges, which he says were trumped up. He was later suspended from the post, and he has since quit the Service. Out in the cold, he continues to be a source of annoyance. Interestingly, he contested for Parliament against his principal adversary, the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Murray got only about 2000 votes. Unfazed by this humiliation, he went on to write the present controversial memoirs which has irked Whitehall. The Blair Government severely censored it before publication, but some crucial documents which Murray could not carry in his book — as a matter of prudence because he believed the book would otherwise be banned — have been put on a website hosted by him! Naturally, the book is doing the rounds here in London.
Murray arrived in Tashkent in 2002 with great expectations. This was the first time he was being a full Ambassador. He was as excited as a schoolboy playing cricket for his school for the first time. His description of the customary call at the Buckingham Palace — Princess Anne and Prince Andrew were standing in for their mother who was too preoccupied with Jubilee celebrations — before assuming office is hilarious. In fact, the whole book is laced with some passable humour; something that could distract from its more serious purpose of an expose of what Murray considers the hypocrisy of Whitehall.
Right from day one in Tashkent, Murray began to hobnob with local dissidents who were up in arms against President Islam Karimov and his henchmen for systematically practising torture on their political adversaries in the name of fighting terrorism. What shocked Murray most was the case of Avazov, a member of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which stood for Islamic liberation, and was being held in prison. Avazov was allegedly tortured to death by being immersed in a boiling liquid. Provoked greatly by this horrible incident, Murray went on to brief the media and carry on a public campaign. Murray was equally convinced that the death under strange circumstances of the grandson of Professor Mirsaidov, a retired professor of Tajik literature at the University of Samarkand, within hours of his (Murray's) visit to the professor along with a Foreign Office visitor from London, was a case of murder. The professor was possibly being victimised, all because he was entertaining a hostile foreign diplomat who was guilty of a tirade against the Uzbekistan Government. At a conference in Tashkent organised by Freedom House, (an NGO from the U.S.), Murray pulled no punches while talking on the poor human rights record of the Uzbekistan Government. This may have enhanced his reputation as a fighter but it was not exactly his Foreign Secretary's cup of tea. Murray was euphoric at the response his peroration received from the local diplomatic corps. From here there was no stopping him, and the gulf between him and London was widening day by day. His acerbic telegrams upped the ante and it was a question of time before which he would be asked to pack up. Talking of telegrams, when he showed the draft of one of his strong epistles to the Foreign Office to a staff member at the Embassy, the latter quipped that it was too long for a resignation letter! Murray made no secret of his opposition to his Government's policy of appeasement of President Karimov. He was also critical of what he considered the ganging up of the CIA and MI6, as represented in Tashkent, to purvey intelligence obtained by torture, and which the U.S. and British Governments were lapping up, much against the spirit of the Geneva Convention.
From the vivid account of his Tashkent days, Murray emerges as an odd character, who, despite all his frailties — a fondness for the bottle and the fair sex — challenges his superiors with a ferocity that one normally associates only with a diplomat who has a lily-white reputation. Murray does not seem inhibited by his peccadilloes. The ease with which he slips into a description of his many escapades — including a permanent relationship with Nadira, an English teacher turned a dancing girl at a Tashkent bar and which eventually led to the break-up of his marriage — distorts an otherwise focussed account of his brush with authorities.
One may tend to view Murray as exhibitionistic and erratic, something confirmed by the psychiatric care he received and his own confession that he did consider the suicide option. He may also have been guilty of a gross violation of basic diplomatic niceties. One may not however be able to readily spurn his broad conclusion: something happened on September 11, 2001 that caused the West to lose its moral bearings in a way that led government machines, and those who worked in them, to move a significant way down the path of contempt for individuals.
Murray may not receive our endorsement. But he definitely compels our attention in these days of excesses of those fighting the war on terror.
Source: The Hindu
The following is an interesting incident that took place related to the book:
"Murder in Samarkand" confiscated by Luton airport security
“Is that about terrorism?”, asked the lady that examined my onboard luggage. “Humm, well, it contains mentions of that, but it’s about your former ambassador to Uzbekistan and more about diplomacy”, I replied politely. “Does it have al-Qaida in it?” I looked a bit confused. “What?” - “Well, I have to check this with my manager, the rest of your stuff is fine, though.”
The manager then came after a minute or two. “Hello Sir, can you tell me about this book?” “Sure, it is about Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan.” “Where, if I may ask, did you buy this book?” - “Well, it is available at any Waterstones here in Britain. I just bought my copy in the Angel branch yesterday.”
“I am afraid you cannot take this onboard, Sir.” You must be kidding me. I just spent 20 pounds on a book that, despite arousing some controversy in the UK, should not be banned onboard a flight to Germany. I understand that the terror plot (which coincidentally seems to have an Uzbek dimension) makes for some overwrought nerves.
But to ban a book widely available in book stores in the UK is just a joke. Now, cash-strapped, I have to wait for the paperback edition to be published. Already late for the flight and raging in front of the calm airport security manager, I must have overheard that they can - in exceptional cases - post confiscated material to a UK address. I recalled that onboard the plane…