Sam Miller

Sam Miller is a London journalist who specialises in Middle Eastern affairs.

Show us your corpses

Sam Miller, 13 June 1991

I arrived in Dhaka when the cyclone was barely 36 hours old and the official government death toll was a little over a thousand. My first appointment was a news conference given by the relief and rehabilitation minister, and I went along armed with what then seemed like a totally unbelievable rumour – that five thousand people had died on the island of Sandwip. I mentioned this rumour to the minister, who laughed at me. We now know that thirty thousand people died on Sandwip. For a long time no one – not just government ministers – could believe that the devastation was on such a scale I began to realise the following day. I flew over some of the worst-affected areas with a helicopter load of diplomats and photographers. We circled high above the islands and I could see waterlogged fields and fallen trees and some dead cattle. Then we descended in order to land in Chittagong, and I began to see what had really happened. Along the beach, in the fields, tangled up in trees, were human bodies. I counted almost a hundred that day. At Chittagong the military commander said he thought that as many as fifty thousand people might have died. A terrifying figure. I returned to Dhaka to find it had almost doubled. And I felt I could be shocked no longer.


The Kosovo Question

22 February 1990

I am replying to Branka Magas’s letter (Letters, 22 March) about my Yugoslavian Diary. First of all, apologies to all lovers of Kosovian minutiae: it was indeed the Party and not the Government headquarters which saw the first demonstrations of the latest Kosovo unrest. As for the number of people who turned out: 30,000 was the figure widely accepted in Kosovo – indeed by the various horses’...

Diary: In Kosovo

Sam Miller, 22 February 1990

Yugoslavia is tearing itself apart. Many of the country’s Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Hungarians and Gypsies realise that its continued existence is in doubt. They agree about little else. A week in Belgrade, where the ruling League of Communists decided to disembowel itself, and a week in Kosovo, where the Police shot dead 30 ethnic Albanians, convinced me that Yugoslavia is indeed on the verge of disintegration.

Diary: A BBC employee in Kabul

Sam Miller, 21 December 1989

There was no safety drill on the Ariana Afghan Airlines flight to Kabul, no embarrassed air hostess pretending to blow up a life-jacket. Perhaps they thought it unnecessary in the face of greater dangers. The descent was terrifyingly steep, in order to evade mujahedin rockets fired from the mountains which encircle Kabul. And the plane excreted magnesium flares to fool any heat-seeking Stinger missiles. The Arrivals Lounge at Kabul International Airport was an empty room. There were no customs or immigration officials because a rocket attack on the Airport had forced its evacuation five minutes before our plane landed. The rocket attack also meant that the baggage handlers refused to unload the plane. I hitched a lift in a UN jeep to Kabul’s only grand hotel, wearing my hot-weather Delhi clothes and shivering in Afghanistan’s chilly autumn.

God’s Medium

Sam Miller, 3 April 1986

Reza Khan, Iran’s penultimate Shah, was forced to abdicate in 1941. Among the many measures of social ‘reform’ which he had decreed was the abolition of the veil. In 1941, according to Ahmad, a sceptical university professor in Roy Mottahedeh’s book The Mantle of the Prophet, ‘women such as my aunt, who hadn’t left her house since Reza Shah’s forced unveiling of women, felt as if they had been released from prison, because they could appear in the streets in their chadors.’ In these words it is possible to read a warning addressed to those with an unambiguous image of Iran. Cultural and intellectual ambiguity in Iranian history is the thread that draws together Mottahedeh’s extraordinary book. It is extraordinary because it disobeys, in a very effective manner, the rules according to which most soidisant historians guide their writings. The book is a tapestry of interwoven essays. It is a work of biography, of philosophy, of literary criticism, and of religious and educational history. Mottahedeh is attempting to set the revolution of 1979 in its historical context.

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