Book Review: Inside Central Asia

Inside Central Asia by Dilip Hiro. Published in 2009 by Overlook Duckworth

This book is a great overview of Central Asia from the rise of the Soviet Union to 2009. This book discusses Turkey, the Central Asian states, and Iran. It picks up where Rashid’s book left off. While Rashid focused mostly on Central Asia immediately after the Soviet Union disintegrated, Dilip focuses on how the countries tried to rebuild themselves after the fall of the wall.

Hiro organizes his book based on country influence. He starts the book with Turkey, discussing how it went from a secular republic to an increasingly Islamic republic, traveling through the Central Asian states, and ending with Iran, creating a bookend of influences in Central Asia. This is an interesting way to weave a story together, creating an insightful examination of how the ancient Turkic and Persian influences continue to affect Central Asian culture and politics. It also paints an interesting picture of how interconnected the region still is, despite the Soviet’s attempts to shatter the tribal relationships.

That was the most interesting aspect of the book was how much survived the terror that was the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union tried to destroy tribal relations by creating states (taking territories from other tribes to encourage rivalries) by replacing it with the communistic version of tribalism. Yet, this didn’t destroy the tribal system, it just forced it underground. Additionally, the Soviet Union claimed that they destroyed Islam in Central Asia, but again, they only forced it to the underground, laying the foundation for the Islamic Extremism that would be seen in the 21st century.

Reading this book and Rashid’s book, makes me realize how much the U.S. failed after the fall of the Soviet Union. A lot of the extremism that the U.S. deals with today comes from Central Asia. While the U.S. made a lot of mistakes, they seemed to have exasperated the problem left behind by the Soviet Union. The Cold War created an environment were the choice was between capitalistic democracy and communistic society. Many of the people in Central Asia turned to Islam as a third decision. Thus, the two countries made Islam a political tool that the U.S. will turn into a cause for war in the 21st century.

Pros:

A very insightful look into a region that is mostly ignored in the U.S. but is a vital region for the 21st century. The shape of the narrative also provides a keen understanding of how the region has been influenced over the years and how remnants of its past survived the Soviet Union. It also poses the question: can authoritarian regimes truly destroy culture and religion, or can it only force it to the underground?

Cons:

It assumes that the reader has some familiarity with the region’s history. Also, while it is a useful overview of the region, it isn’t an in-depth insight into the region. It barely discusses the human rights offenses that are being committed on a daily basis, it discusses women’s rights but only briefly, and it doesn’t discuss any culture or literary developments.

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