The Power of Nightmares

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A 2004 documentary series by Adam Curtis, "The Power of Nightmares; The Rise of the Politics of Fear seeks to overturn much of what is widely believed about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The latter, it argues, is not an organised international network. It does not have members or a leader. It does not have "sleeper cells". It does not have an overall strategy. In fact, it barely exists at all, except as an idea about cleansing a corrupt world through religious violence." --Andy Beckett for The Guardian, 15 October 2004

"As Curtis traced the rise of the "Straussians", he came to a conclusion that would form the basis for The Power of Nightmares. Straussian conservatism had a previously unsuspected amount in common with Islamism: from origins in the 50s, to a formative belief that liberalism was the enemy, to an actual period of Islamist-Straussian collaboration against the Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan in the 80s (both movements have proved adept at finding new foes to keep them going). Although the Islamists and the Straussians have fallen out since then, as the attacks on America in 2001 graphically demonstrated, they are in another way, Curtis concludes, collaborating still: in sustaining the "fantasy" of the war on terror." [1]

From the BBC announcement:

This new series, from acclaimed film-maker Adam Curtis, tells the story of how the fear of a hidden network of terror has come to dominate politics in America, Britain and around the world - and examines just how far that fear is based on an illusion.
In an age in which people are wary of optimistic political visions of the future, The Power Of Nightmares asks if politicians have stumbled upon a new force that can restore their power: the fear of a hidden and organised web of evil from which only they can protect their people. The series tells an epic story, at the heart of which are two groups: the American Neoconservatives and the Radical Islamists.
The first film begins in 1949 and traces the lives of two men living in America: Egyptian school inspector, Sayyid Qutb, whose ideas would later directly inspire those who flew the planes on 9/11, and political philosopher Leo Strauss, whose work strongly influenced the Neoconservative movement that now dominates Washington. Both men believed that modern liberal freedoms were eroding the bonds that held society together, but both had very different ideas about how to improve the situation.

Part 2 shows how the radical fundamentalist Islamist movement, which would later be named al-Qaida, had failed without popular support, and concludes with the statement that neo-conservatives' reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 "transformed the failing Islamist movement into what would appear to be the grand revolutionary force which Zawahari had always dreamed of."


Audio & Transcript