the power of nightmares

Over the past week the moose has watched The Power of Nightmares (the link is to a really good summary at wikipedia; the three parts can be downloaded or watched here). And, hell’s teeth, you should watch this.

It is Adam Curtis again (he did Century of the Self which I raved about). This time he charts the entangled rise and falls of militant islamic fundamentalism and American neo conservatism.

I found it really fascinating getting more history on the development of islamic terrorist groups. Specifically the development of the ideology and tactics, and their failure to gain mass support. Most extraordinarily, Curtis claims that al-Qaeda did not exist before Bush named it after 9-11. Bin Laden had few direct followers, who were killed in Afghanistan in the months immediately following 9-11. The reason Al-Qaeda has not been found is it does not exist as described. What triumphs there have been in unearthing terrorist groups, on closer inspection, turn out to be laughable.

What most interested me was the conscious tactic of creating myths to unite populations, and the practice of lying to achieve this effect. The myths revolved around the exaggeration of a threat – in the first case the soviet union, in reality collapsing from within, in the second islamic terrorists, in reality scattered and incoherent – and America’s “unique destiny” to represent good fighting evil. Curtis makes a fascinating case that evicting Russia from Afghanistan was a flashpoint in the beliefs of both US neo conservatives and Islamic fundamentalists – each believed they had been decisive in bringing down the empire, and could go on to spread their idea of revolution through the world. He goes on to explain how deluded this belief was – essentially how dangerous coming to believe in one’s own bullshit can be – with the Islamists wiped out in a matter of months, and the Americans now descending into a form of fascism in fear of a false enemy.

The documentary’s strongest moments are in the staggering exposure of blatant duplicity. (eg) the series of scandals that enveloped Bill Clinton, admitted point blank by a journalist for the American Spectator, the magazine which led the charge, as being false, known to be false, but no one making the claims cared because they were so effective.

There’s a lot more to it than this; I encourage you to check it out for yourselves.

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