Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Great Game

My friend Iris from Osh tells me that the Ferghana Valley resembles the Big Valley of California. Those central Asian place names—Tashkent, Samarkand, Bishkek—may conjure more exotic associations than Modesto; but their unfamiliarity is just a consequence of our ignorance. A lot of history has taken place in the various Stans, which, if you bother to look, are the geographical and cultural center of the Eastern hemisphere and mediated the interchanges between the great civilizations for thousands of years. All the great religions and diseases staged through these oases and bazaars; and now, following the Persians, Greeks, Hindus, Arabs, Chinese, Turks, Mongols, Russians, and Britons, we’ve arrived to place a piece or two on the venerable chess board. Central Asia, however, is distinctly different than Hades. Getting there isn’t easy; staying there is very hard indeed. In this respect, though I don’t know if the terrorist attacks and public riots in Uzbekistan last week are a real threat to the regime of Islam Karimov or the American garrison at Khanabad, the disturbances should serve to remind us that taking on Imperial responsibilities in this part of the world is far easier than living with them over the long run.

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