For any of you still harbouring the illusion that life might be fun under an Islamist regime, may I draw your attention to this dismal little tale from Somalia. Last weekend, a cinema in a small town in central Somalia put on a broadcast of the Manchester United-Chelsea match, live from Manchester. The fact that amidst the poverty and danger of modern Somalia, people are still watching live football from England is – to my mind – moving testimony to (among other things) the indomitable spirit of man, the true meaning of globalisation and the worldwide appeal of Premiership football. But the local Islamist government did not see things that way. They moved in and arrested all the fans, some of them as young as ten years old, and held them in prison.
Somalia’s Islamists are causing great concern in the west at the moment, where many fear that they are linked to al-Qaeda. But if so, the Islamic Courts Union might consider adopting a more tolerant attitude to soccer. For is there some evidence that Osama bin Laden is, in fact, a football fan himself. A book published in 2001 suggested that during a period living in London, he developed a strong affinity for Arsenal football club – and was a regular at the Clock End at Highbury.
Meanwhile, I am pleased to note that the backlash against the Baker report has already started – even though the report itself is not due to be published until next week. But I cannot see why anyone would be terribly surprised if Baker et al failed to come up with some brilliant new solution to the problems of Iraq. I was struck when Baker-mania was at its height, about a month ago, that the same phrase kept coming up in conversations I had about what the great man might recommend – “There are no new ideas.” And, frankly, if there were any new ideas, Baker and Co. would not be the types you would expect to stumble across them. Without doubt, the Baker commission is full of intelligent, experienced and committed people. But they are also Washington insiders par excellence. “Thinking outside the box” is not their style.