Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Power of Nightmares

The Power of Nightmares is a three part BBC series that could not find a US broadcaster willing to show it. It is produced by Adam Curtis, who also recently released The Century of the Self. He uses the series to examine the Iraq War as the most recent chapter in a decades-long process by which two opposing forces, radical Islamists and neoonservatives, attempt to recreate the world in their respective images.
Part 1 describes the origin of neoconservative thought through the philosophies of Leo Strauss and the radical Islamists under Sayyid Qutb. Part II traces how the two groups both take credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, but struggle to get their respective general publics to follow them. Part III describes how the two groups, formerly allies, find in each other the perfect enemy against which to continue to push their agendas.

This is a far reaching Frontline-style work that has already provoked heated discussion among left- and right-wingers despite its limited availability in the US. One of the film's more striking assertions is that the international terrorist network Al Qaeda, at least in the form presented to the American people by Washington (i.e. a vast, coordinated global network of trained super-terrorists) does not exist. It is basically a fabrication created by US Justice Department officials who needed to connect disparate terrorist suspects to a central organization, which would make them easier to prosecute. Far more dangerous, Curtis contends, is the use of the idea of Al Qaeda by people like Osama Bin Laden to rally like-minded people around the world who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other.

Detractors of this film have made comparisons between Curtis' work and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Although not as provocatively bombastic as Moore's work (and I must add that I have yet to read a coherent point-by-point refutation of the material in that film), Curtis' series does use some of the same quirky stock footage and music techniques. However, there are also many interviews with important people who helped shape the events discussed, including many founders of modern neoconservatism, and a line of argument that makes a hell of a lot of sense.

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