Monday, March 08, 2004

Brits Give Muslim Women The Vote

Poorly and in bed for the last couple of days, with time to read Churchill's 'My Early Life', Charles Allen's excellent 'Soldier Sahibs', about the young Victorians who policed the North West Frontier, and Dilip Hiro's 'Between Marx and Muhammed', a review of the Central Asian republics and their Muslim neighbours, all the more valuable for being written before 9/11, an event which inevitably colours recent coverage of Muslim affairs.

The Churchill book is fascinating. What a life that man led. And it's all described with such humour and irony. His description of finding himself alone, sword in hand ('after all, I was Public Schools Fencing Champion'), against a dozen NW Frontier tribesmen, and of his rapid retreat, is a classic.

Dilip Hiro's book is full of unexpected information. Where was the first election in a Muslim country with universal suffrage including women ? The Democratic Republic of Azerbijan, capital Baku, which lasted from 1918-1920 and was underpinned (or occupied if you prefer) by British Imperial troops led by General Thomson. The tension between Islam and the Soviets is another theme of this book, from the massacre of 14,000 Muslims at Kokand (Uzbekistan) by Soviet troops in 1917 to the 1992 civil war between Islamists and Russian-backed forces in Tajikistan, in which 30,000 died. And a certain Commissar of Nationalities, one J V Stalin, plays a leading role in the story.

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