More on the Andijon massacre

I have an op-ed about the Andijon massacre in the New York Times:

On May 13, 2005, military forces dispatched by the government of Uzbekistan fired on a massive protest in the city of Andijon, killing hundreds of Uzbek citizens. The day before, thousands had gathered in Andijon’s Bobur Square to protest the imprisonment of 23 businessmen and, more broadly, to protest the deteriorating social, political and economic conditions of Uzbekistan.

The next day the crowd grew to over 10,000, some drawn by an expectation that President Islam Karimov would come to address the protest. Instead, demonstrators were greeted by gunfire. According to eyewitness accounts, the military fired indiscriminately, killing innocent bystanders. Human rights activists put the death toll at more than 700.

This is one narrative of what has come to be known as the Andijon massacre. It is the narrative that the Uzbek authorities do not want you to hear. According to the Uzbek government, what happened was this: A jailbreak of criminal businessmen led by a band of terrorists resulted in a necessary military response. Only 187 people were killed, all of them armed insurgents.

Immediately following the violence, the Uzbek government expelled all journalists and human rights campaigners from Andijon and forbade an international investigation. The title of Mr. Karimov’s 2005 book on the events sums up the insular regime’s philosophy: “The Uzbek People Will Never Depend on Anyone.” The Andijon massacre was Uzbekistan state business, and anyone who dared promulgate a version that contradicted the official narrative faced arrest or exile.

There was one problem: the Internet. During the crackdown that followed the massacre, many of Uzbekistan’s journalists, writers and activists were driven from the country. Most were given asylum in Europe and North America, where many obtained regular Internet access for the first time.

Read the whole thing, Uzbekistan’s Forgotten Massacre, at the New York Times.



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The payday loan crisis

My latest article for the Guardian is on the explosion of payday lending, which is a huge problem in Missouri and in the U.S. in general:

I am driving down Route 180 in St Louis, Missouri, past empty plazas and vacant shops, down a stretch of road that terminates in an abandoned mall. Yet on this road are promises of wealth: “Loans Up to $10,000” says one sign, “Advances up to $500” says another. In contrast to the faded retailers surrounding them, these new storefronts are cheerful, decorated with pictures of flowers or gold or the American flag.

This is the alternative economy of payday loans, which has sprung up where the old economy has died.

In St Louis, a payday loan is something with which you are either intimately familiar or completely oblivious. The locations of payday loan outlets correspond to income: the lower the regional income, the more payday loan centers you will find. The 249 payday lenders in the St Louis metro area are almost entirely absent from wealthy or middle class areas. The outlets supply small loans – usually under $500 – at exorbitant interest rates to be paid off, ideally, with one’s next paycheck.

“You only see them in poor neighborhoods,” says Tishaura Jones, the treasurer of St Louis and an active campaigner to regulate the industry. “They target people who don’t have access to normal banking services or who have low credit scores. It’s very intentional.”

Read the full article The US payday loans crisis: borrow $100 to make ends meet, owe 36 times that sum at the Guardian

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The Andijon Massacre: Ten years later

May 13, 2015 will mark the ten-year anniversary of the Andijon massacre: the day military troops in Uzbekistan shot and killed over 700 Uzbek citizens gathered at a protest in Andijon’s Bobur Square. Those of you who know me for my writing on Ferguson or the U.S. economy may not know I spent the majority of my academic career writing about the Andjion massacre and its impact on Uzbek citizens. It is important we commemorate this anniversary and do not forget the tragedy of Andijon. In the interest of education, here is a guide to my research on the subject:

Inventing Akromiya: The Role of Uzbek Propagandists in the Andijon Massacre. In this paper, I proved that the group the Uzbek government blamed for the massacre, “Akromiya”, was a fabrication. I also analyzed how the myth of Akromiya was propagated by certain members of the international community. This paper rendered me effectively banned from Uzbekistan, but it has been used in UN hearings and in many asylum cases so I’m glad I wrote it.

Poetry of Witness: Uzbek Identity and the Response to Andijon. Political poetry is extremely important in Uzbek culture. This paper analyzes three poems written about the Andijon events and the arrests of their authors and those who dared distribute them or read them aloud. The cases of these dissident poets touch on a number of theoretical issues—among them nationalism, authoritarianism and literary politics—which rose to the fore as a result of the Andijon events.

A Reporter Without Borders: Internet Politics and State Violence in Uzbekistan. This paper is about the life and death of Alisher Saipov, a reporter who covered the Andijon events for the website and was murdered by Uzbek state agents as a result of his public criticism.

Digital Freedom of Expression in Uzbekistan. This policy paper traces the history of internet censorship in Uzbekistan, paying particular attention to the websites that sprung up in the aftermath of the Andijon massacre, which sent so many of Uzbekistan’s journalists into exile.

Digital Memory and a ‘Massacre’: Uzbek Identity in the Age of Social Media. This paper, co-written with fellow Central Asia scholar Noah Tucker, compares online media about Andijon with online media written about the killings of hundreds of Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

The Curse of Stability in Central Asia. This is an article I wrote for Foreign Policy on how “peace”, in Central Asia, is often a form of silencing. It discusses the Andijon massacre as well as other instances of state violence in the region that were covered up by government officials.

Can Minor Languages Make Revolution? This 2014 article is my most recent longform popular work on Uzbekistan, and gives a good sense of where things are at now. It discusses the difficulty Uzbek activists have in using the internet to draw attention to their causes, and focuses on two female journalists whose online hunger strike was completely ignored. While not on Andijon per se, it provides important background information on Uzbekistan.

Where following the law is radical. This article for Al Jazeera details the attempts of a group of Uzbek lawyers to explain to their countrymen their legal rights. It is useful for those seeking to understand the justice system (or lack thereof) in Uzbekistan.

I have written a great deal more about Uzbekistan and Andijon, but those are the most relevant works. You can find the rest of them here and here. I will also be participating in a roundtable discussion on Andijon on May 14 at George Washington University, so if you’re in the DC area, come watch.

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My new book – The View From Flyover Country

Big news! I’ve collected the best of my essays from my time at Al Jazeera into an ebook, available as a Kindle download for $5.00. If you would like to support my work – or simply want a copy of the best of it in one place – you can buy it today. The collection contains works on a variety of topics including labor exploitation, race, higher education, and freedom of speech. A full table of contents is below.

Buy The View from Flyover Country today!

PART I: The view from flyover country

The view from flyover country
The peril of hipster economics
Expensive cities are killing creativity
Mourn the fall of the mall

PART II: The post-employment economy

Surviving the post-employment economy
Meritocracy for sale
Survival is not an aspiration
Zero opportunity employers
A government shutdown, a social breakdown
The men who set themselves on fire
Charity is not a substitute for justice
The unaffordable baby boomer dream
The millennial parent
Mothers are not ‘opting out’ – they are out of options

PART III: Race and religion

The wrong kind of Caucasian
The fallacy of the phrase ‘the Muslim world’
In the trial of Trayvon, the US is guilty
St. Louis’s sons, taken too soon
The freedom to criticize free speech

PART IV: Higher education

The closing of American academia
Academic paywalls mean publish and perish
Academia’s indentured servants
The political consequences of academic paywalls
The immorality of college admissions
College is a promise the economy does not keep

PART V: Media

Managed expectations in the post-employment economy
Who is a ‘journalist’? People who can afford to be
Blame it on the internet
When mainstream media is the lunatic fringe

PART VI: Beyond flyover country

US foreign policy’s gender gap
Snowden and the paranoid state
Iraq and the reinvention of reality
Where following the law is radical
Water is a human right, but who is considered a human being?
The telegenically dead


In defense of complaining



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Beverly Hills, Missouri

I’ve been moving away from op-ed lately to concentrate more on original feature reporting. My latest for the Guardian is on the impoverished town of Beverly Hills, Missouri, which has a population of under 600 but whose police wrote over 3800 tickets last year:

A far cry from its California counterpart, Beverly Hills, Missouri, is a 10-minute drive from Ferguson, the city synonymous with racial strife. At first glance, Beverly Hills is one of many St Louis suburbs that makes Ferguson seem comparatively fair and functional.

Less than 600 people live in Beverly Hills, which is 0.09 square miles. Blink and you miss it, unless you are pulled over by one of their 13 police officers – that is, one for each of its 13 blocks – and become incorporated into its system of human currency. In 2013, the town’s municipal court generated $221,164 (or $387 for each of its residents), with much of the fees coming from ticketing non-residents.

Like much of the surrounding area of St Louis’s North County, Beverly Hills feels like suburbia in free fall. The children of Beverly Hills are tied to the failing Normandy school system, which in 2014 was denied accreditation for poor performance. The shops of Beverly Hills have been replaced by predatory loan centers, with a title loan outlet, a payday loan outlet, and two rent-to-own furniture outlets in the plaza across from the police station. The main shopping center, festooned with fading pictures of palm trees, is for lease, and includes a grocery store offering on-the-spot check cashing. The homes of Beverly Hills fell in value following the 2008 housing crash, which disproportionately affected St Louis’s majority black suburbs. Per capita, income stands at $14,411.

In March, the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report highlighted traffic ticket schemes as a racist means of boosting small town revenue. In July 2012, the town held a community day event. “Got warrants from Beverly Hills?” the flyer asked. “Come join us at Beverly Hills Amnesty Day.” There, residents could watch a car show, enter a raffle, and “set a new court date for a non-refundable fee of $30”.

Beverly Hills is one of many tiny St Louis County towns whose right to existence has come into question after the Ferguson fallout. Civic groups like Better Together STL have called to incorporate St Louis’s 90 municipalities into a larger whole, and national news organizations have singled out the town as an example of aggressive policing.

But there is more to Beverly Hills than rapacious officials and suffering citizens. In fact, to hear city officials tell it, that is not the story at all.

Read the full story, Down and out in Beverly Hills, Missouri, at the Guardian

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As the Whirl turns

My debut article for the Guardian is on the 77-year-old St. Louis crime tabloid the St. Louis Evening Whirl:

“Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow. That’s how three street goons came at a dude as he said goodbye to his lovely wife on the North Side last week. If that’s too much for you, pick up the Times and read the theatre reviews.”

So begins a typical article from the Evening Whirl, St Louis’s weekly print tabloid which bills itself as “an uninterrupted crime-fighting publication since 1938”. As the world’s attention fell on Ferguson last fall, the Whirl, resolutely non-digital, flew under the radar. But the paper is a St Louis institution: a 77-year-old, African American-run media enterprise that speaks to the complicated questions of race, crime and policing dogging the region today.

For those 77 years, the Evening Whirl has covered the underworld of St Louis in lurid language, cataloging crimes under headlines like “Loon Chucks Shiv at 5-0” and “Bungling Bandit Bagged and Booked”. Regular features include a column called Where Not To Be, which provides a helpful map of where readers are most likely to be murdered, and Behind the Bars, an advice column from a prisoner named Jus Bleezy, who in the latest issue calls upon readers not to flush their lives “down the drain for a chain and some street fame”.

Many articles start with a question: “WHY did a stone-cold gunslinger end a South Side squabble with slugs?” asks one query. “WHO is the con man from the womb who can steal the tighty off your whities that is being sought by North Patrol?” asks another. There are no bylines, giving it the feel of omniscient narration from an alternatively bemused and outraged voice.

Read the whole thing, “Inside St. Louis’s Lurid Crime Tabloid”, at the Guardian

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The Nerdiest Black Market Around

My latest for the Chronicle of Higher Education is on the post-PhD library access lockout:

The hardest thing about doing the revisions for my final scholarly article was not the research, or the writing, but obtaining access to basic materials. Merely tracking those materials down took multiple phone calls and emails to friends with different levels of access. Such is the circuitous path around a paywall: You borrow a friend’s ID and library login, you ask former colleagues to send you articles, you email the author requesting a copy of his or her work, you start offering drinks to graduate students in exchange for PDFs. Suddenly, you are a player on the nerdiest black market around.

Such is life after Google Scholar, where who you know determines what you know. Paywalls on academic journals are not only an economic barrier but an intellectual barrier. If it is this difficult for me, a researcher with connections, to access scholarly materials, think about how hard it is for the average person interested in exploring new ideas. Odds are, they simply pass academic works by, eclipsing “the conversation” altogether.

Open access is a battle long fought, with notable victories over the past few years as several major journals decided to make their works available to everyone. But it is far from the norm, and the combination of closed scholarship and rising contingency has created a “conversation” that functions like a coin-operated feedback loop.

Read the whole thing, Lip-Syncing to the Academic Conversation, at Chronicle Vitae.

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The Future of Central Asian Studies: A Eulogy

Yesterday I gave the keynote speech at the 22nd conference of the  Association of Central Eurasian Students at Indiana University. I am an alumnus of the Central Eurasian Studies (CEUS) program at IU so it was exciting to get to talk to the next generation, even though I may have traumatized them with this talk. Below, the text of my speech:

As you may already know, I am a CEUS alumnus, and I look back at my time here mostly with appreciation.  While I was here, of course, I complained about CEUS with everyone else, even coining the phrase “afCEUSki” to describe it – that’s a joke for the Uzbek specialists in the room — but the truth is there is tremendous value in area studies programs, particularly programs that emphasize languages and history in the way CEUS does.

You never know how much you appreciate CEUS until you’re out in the real world answering questions like “Where is Central Asia?” with “It’s in the center of Asia”. So it’s great to be talking with young scholars who know beyond the basics and are interested in the future of the field.

I started my MA in CEUS in 2004, and looking back, it’s hard to believe how much has changed. I thought about titling this talk “The Future of Central Asian Studies” until I realized how much my keynote resembled a eulogy. Because the truth is, Central Asian studies is in bad shape. Our field is a great example of how funding impacts knowledge, and how without money and jobs, research on a region declines. Our field is also a cautionary tale on the dangers of linking independent academic research to military intelligence, and what happens to scholars when the wars that indirectly fund their training end. And our field is also a fine example of the challenges of research in authoritarian states, and the limitations of what scholars can do in restricted information environments.

That said, I still feel very strongly that research on Central Asia is important, and that we need to figure out a way to keep it going despite these obstacles. Though great strides in scholarship have been made since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is still a woefully underexplored field, regardless of your discipline. It is a field of untranslated texts for historians, unexplored regions for anthropologists, and untested theories for political scientists. It’s a field of unanswered questions. And one of the biggest questions, unfortunately, is how to keep the field alive. I would imagine that is a question many of you are asking as you wonder what you will do with your degree.

Continue reading

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Institutional bias in academic hiring

My latest for the Chronicle of Higher Education is on institutional bias, which has come, in academia, to function something like inherited wealth:

What that means is something every Ph.D. from a less-prestigious institution knows all too well: No amount of publishing, teaching excellence, or grants can compensate for an affiliation that is less than favorable in the eyes of a search committee. The fate of aspiring professors is sealed not with job applications but with graduate-school applications. Institutional affiliation has come to function like inherited wealth. Those who have it operate in a different market, more immune from the dark trends – unemployment, adjunctification – that dog their less-prestigious peers.

The Great Recession is notable not only for its relentlessness – many people, six years later, are still waiting to feel the effects of the “recovery” – but for the way a tiny elite was able to continue their luxurious lifestyle while the livelihood of the majority was turned upside down. During the first two years of the “recovery,” the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent. With wages largely stagnant and cost of living soaring, it made less difference what one did during the recovery than what kind of money one had before the crash. More and more, the American Dream is a foregone conclusion, a tale told in reverse.

The same trend holds true in academia: career stagnation based on institutional affiliation. Where you come from remains cruelly indicative of where you will go. What you actually do on the journey is, to the status-obsessed, irrelevant.

With institutional bias in hiring now proven by multiple social scientists, why don’t prospective graduate students simply limit their applications to favored elite institutions? The answer is often financial, and, again, speaks to privilege and discrimination endemic to academic culture.

Read the whole thing, Academia’s One Percent, at the Vitae section of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Ferguson Inc — a story of money and a movement

Months of research and interviews went into my latest for Politico Magazine, which is on the sustainability of the Ferguson protest movement, the participants of which are struggling to survive:

Ferguson began as a movement led by the people who had lost. Protesters took to the streets not only to rail against racism and police brutality, but also to decry decades of deeper divides: in housing, education, jobs, and the court system. But as the months wore on, the media frenzy built up, and the money rolled in, Ferguson turned into something else. A struggling suburb without a prominent industry suddenly had one: Ferguson Inc., a national protest movement.

In St. Louis, money is in the air—or, at least, talk of money. In the months since Michael Brown’s death, following all of the street violence, tear gas, and press conferences, national money flooded into Ferguson. The problem is no one seems to know where the money is going. They only know who is not seeing it: folks on the ground. Ferguson Inc. may be big business, but its dividends for the average St. Louis protester are few. Three months after the grand jury let Wilson walk, many struggle to simply survive. […]

“Ferguson” has become a buzzword, shorthand for engaged activism or lucrative chaos, depending which way you lean. Twitter splashes #Ferguson across their office walls, Ferguson T-shirts are sold at rallies across the country, and in November, media pumped Ferguson for ratings like they were staging a hunger games. Documentaries of protesters abound, with the documented now complaining that outsiders are profiting off their exploitation. Dozens of online fundraisers drop the Ferguson name to push for everything from community service initiatives to independent journalism to restoring burned-down businesses to riot tourism. National black leaders like Al Sharpton have embraced Ferguson as a cause celebre, much to the dismay of some St. Louis activists, who fear a local movement instigated by youth is being hijacked by an older generation for profit.

Read the full article, Ferguson Inc, at Politico Magazine. And don’t miss the photo gallery by the talented Andrew Moore.


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