Life or death gambles
Not everyone was dismayed by the North Korean missile test in July. In mid-June, the Dublin-based online betting exchange TradeSports had created a market on whether Korea would launch a missile test by the end of July. The winning punters’ joy, however, was short-lived, as it soon turned out that the specific criteria on which TradeSports had determined the market would be settled—an official confirmation of the launch by the US department of defence—had not been satisfied. The rise of online gambling has led to a number of markets on current events; one of the most lively has involved guessing the likely date of Fidel Castro’s demise. Another new market, on house prices, allows wary homeowners to hedge against house price falls by betting on them.
Danger of “Islamofascism” Has George W Bush been spending too much time with intellectuals? asks Peter Neumann. Following the thwarted London terror plot, Bush declared that the world was at war with “Islamic fascism.” Christopher Hitchens coined the phrase “fascism with an Islamic face” after 9/11. But it was Paul Berman who developed “Islamofascism” into a mature intellectual concept in his book Terror and Liberalism, in an attempt to make the “war on terror” more attractive to the left.
There are many reasons why Bush should drop the term, the most important being that many moderate Muslims will find it objectionable. Islam is not just an ideology like communism or Nazism; it is also a religion that millions of people consider a source of spiritual fulfilment. People in Poland didn’t mind when Reagan called communism an “evil ideology,” because very few identified with communism. But even the most fervent Polish anti-communist would have been upset had Reagan referred to “fascism with a Polish face.”
Bush is not referring to moderate Muslims, but many will get the impression that he is lumping together Islam and fascism and thinks they are the same. If the “war on terror” is a war of ideas, as we are told, then language matters. The concept of Islamofascism should be quietly dropped.
The Moonies are unhappy The Republican right may be losing its most devoted media ally. The Washington Times editor-in-chief Wes Pruden and managing editor Fran Coombs, who have yanked the Reverend Moon-owned paper to the far right, are in trouble. Word is out that the leftist Nation is preparing an exposé on racism and sexism at the paper. The Times has published pieces by Coombs’s wife Marian Kester quoting BNP chief Nick Griffin as an expert on Muslim culture. And Pruden is the son of the chaplain of the Citizens’ Council in Little Rock, Arkansas, a segregationist group. When Eisenhower sent troops to protect nine black teenagers attempting to enrol at the local high school in 1957, the Reverend Pruden told the mob, “That’s what we gotta fight: niggers, communists and cops.” The Moonies, who have spent over $1.1bn on the loss-making Times in the 25 years they have owned it, have been fretting about the newspaper’s attacks on the UN (which they like) and on North Korea, where the South Korea-based Moonies have big investments. They have now quietly set up a search committee to seek replacements. A strong contender is said to be Maggie Thatcher’s former aide John O’Sullivan.
Nulab brains Reflecting inside on the 50th anniversary of Tony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, Denis MacShane compares the intellectual giants of bygone Labour cabinets with today’s pygmy-brains. With, he says, one exception, who remains unidentified. Who is the mystery egghead of Blair’s cabinet? Send suggestions, with a few lines making the case for your man or woman by email. Three copies of Stefan Collini’s Absent Minds to be won.
Out of tune
Trouble brewing at the Musicians’ Union, where a cabal of dissenting members have signed a motion expressing “extreme dissatisfaction” with the union’s response to last year’s Licensing Act. They claim the act constitutes a threat to jobbing musicians’ livelihoods by placing onerous restrictions on venues that wish to host live music. Some members even suggest the union is deliberately muting criticism of the act in order to keep intact its relations with Labour officials.
Jack Straw’s Iraq revisionism
Jack Straw has come up with a new justification for the Iraq war. Interviewed on the BBC News 24 show Hardtalk, he said that the current sectarian conflict showed how “fragile” the Saddam regime was and how it had been on the point of imploding prior to the invasion. In which case why invade at all? Why not just wait and help to pick up the pieces? Surely the case for invasion was the opposite—that Saddam had established a brutal, closed system capable of lasting decades.