View Full Version : Is Al Qaeda Just a Bush Boogeyman?
01-13-2005, 01:35 PM
Is it conceivable that Al Qaeda, as defined by President Bush as the center of a vast and well-organized international terrorist conspiracy, does not exist?
To even raise the question amid all the officially inspired hysteria is heretical, especially in the context of the U.S. media's supine acceptance of administration claims relating to national security. Yet a brilliant new BBC film produced by one of Britain's leading documentary filmmakers systematically challenges this and many other accepted articles of faith in the so-called war on terror.
"The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear," a three-hour historical film by Adam Curtis recently aired by the British Broadcasting Corp., argues coherently that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism "is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media."
Stern stuff, indeed. But consider just a few of the many questions the program poses along the way:
• If Osama bin Laden does, in fact, head a vast international terrorist organization with trained operatives in more than 40 countries, as claimed by Bush, why, despite torture of prisoners, has this administration failed to produce hard evidence of it?
• How can it be that in Britain since 9/11, 664 people have been detained on suspicion of terrorism but only 17 have been found guilty, most of them with no connection to Islamist groups and none who were proven members of Al Qaeda?
• Why have we heard so much frightening talk about "dirty bombs" when experts say it is panic rather than radioactivity that would kill people?
• Why did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claim on "Meet the Press" in 2001 that Al Qaeda controlled massive high-tech cave complexes in Afghanistan, when British and U.S. military forces later found no such thing?
Of course, the documentary does not doubt that an embittered, well-connected and wealthy Saudi man named Osama bin Laden helped finance various affinity groups of Islamist fanatics that have engaged in terror, including the 9/11 attacks. Nor does it challenge the notion that a terrifying version of fundamentalist Islam has led to gruesome spates of violence throughout the world. But the film, both more sober and more deeply provocative than Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," directly challenges the conventional wisdom by making a powerful case that the Bush administration, led by a tight-knit cabal of Machiavellian neoconservatives, has seized upon the false image of a unified international terrorist threat to replace the expired Soviet empire in order to push a political agenda.
Sure, there is a terrorist threat, the documentary just points that it's probably nowhere near as centralized as Der Dubya would have us think.
Anyway, as long as we're scared shitless, we're good little Americans.
01-13-2005, 01:53 PM
This is a view I've held some interest in since Gore Vidal wrote a blistering perspective on the "eternal war" shortly after 9/11. He refered back to the words of the political genius George Orwell, who wrote in his book 1984 of the perennial struggle against a completely ficticious enemy. There are so many parallels between the struggle of the superpower of Oceania against the phony ememies, that it shows what a keen political mind Orwel had; "The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible". If you read his famous essay, Politics and the English Language, it could well have been written about today's politicians as those of 50 years ago.
I think it is quite probably that Bush and the neocons have blown the danger way out of proporition, because it suits their political interests. It gave them the will of the American people to invade Iraq (could you imagine that without the false beliefs connecting Saddam with this group?), it gave them something for the people to focus on away from economic (and other) troubles and it gave Bush the power to crack down on free-speech and civil liberties in a way that would never have been possible before. It also allowed him tap into a new and powerful base of "us versus them" ideologues, who he could use to keep him in power in spite of his awful record on everything.
01-14-2005, 02:11 AM
Tough question. I hope we'll get to see this documentary, or that it will be released on DVD at least, since the French medias are also incompetent when it comes to hard questions and unconventional thinking (we also like to be fed like cattles, don't we).
06-17-2005, 08:13 AM
Just stumbled across an interview with the journalist who put the documentary together. And somehow I'd missed this post entirely so the whole enterprise was new to me.
The Power of Nightmares is to be turned into a feature film to be screened at the Cannes film festival. It was first screened on BBC Two in Autumn 2004 as a series of three one hour documentaries questioning whether the threat of terrorism to the West is a politically driven fantasy and if al-Qaeda really is an organised network.
The BBC was inundated with correspondence, some critical much of it very positive. Viewers were invited to put their questions to the creator of the series, Adam Curtis. Here he responds to some of those correspondents, chosen to represent a broad selection of your questions.
06-17-2005, 08:32 AM
I think it is quite probably that Bush and the neocons have blown the danger way out of proporition, because it suits their political interests.
I think that deliberate self-interested manipulation among our elected leaders is less of a problem than an overwhelming bias in government toward seeing the enemy as being fundamentally like them: hierarchically-organized with rigid command-and-control structures. That leads to a preference for dealing with state actors (Afghanistan, Iraq), because we know how to do that. We don't know how to deal with the loose networks of extremists that make up the terrorist community. The Americans who think most like Al Quaida aren't in government: they're in our own loose networks of racial and religious extremists.
The same bias shows up in the way the United States guided the construction of government in Iraq. We could have allowed more autonomy for the different regions of the country, but our policy-makers have trouble envisioning a government without centralized power. Such a government necessarily is dominated by Shiites, and its power over the Sunni heartland inflames the insurgency.
06-17-2005, 09:14 AM
I think that a part of your premise is very logical - about the mindsets behind how these sorts of structures operate. The part that doesn't work is that you surely can't be the only one who sees this obvious parallel.
One has to suspect this point of view was put forward by people in positions to influence policy makers. Why was it ignored? Or why weren't such folks in a position to influence this administration's thinking?
I'd say we've got a pretty good papertrail about how certain ideological blocs have deeply mistrusted career intelligence and foreign service professionals. The very same blocs behind the policies this documentary questions.
It's pretty good!
...and yes, I just found the link five minutes ago thanks to this very forum.
06-17-2005, 12:46 PM
I watched the series after reading this thread (I'd missed it in the UK being as I'm out here in Germany). I have to say it is perhaps the best political documentary I have ever seen. A real eye opener and thought provoking. It's much better than F9/11, which is a well made, entertaining exercise in Bush bashing. This documentary covers the whole period of Islamic fundamentalism and neo-conservatism and shows a connection between the two that is cogent, thoroughly researched and very well argued.
Rather than setting out to denigrate the two sides, the documentary left me feeling a lot more sympathetic to both Islamicism (not the terrorists obviously) and neo-conservatism. These are two ideologies I previously treated with extreme suspicion and scorn, but understanding the make up and motivations made it much easier to understand their actions, even if I didn't necessarily appreciate the means by which they went about it. For example, although the documentary showed the leading members of the neo-con movement to be shocking liars and manipulators of public opinion, it also showed how they were genuinely motivated to bring about a better America, and with it peace and democracy to the world.
The documentary covers a lot of ground and ties together many disparate threads that I'd not previously considered to be connected, but it was a real eye opener to see neo-cons like Rumsfeldt spouting the exact same propaganda about the Soviets as he did about Iraq. It was eerie. I think that some of the conclusions of the documentary may also prove controversial to many Americans, such as the claim that Reagan didn't bring about the fall of the Soviet Union but that its death knell had already sounded. The documentary shows how the USSR was a paper tiger, blown out of all proportion by neo-cons wanting to create an enemy for America to battle heroically against. You might not like the conclusion, but it is argued extremely well.
Fascinating stuff and a must see for all colours of the political spectrum.
Get it from Kiam's link above.
Good post, Tim.
For example, although the documentary showed the leading members of the neo-con movement to be shocking liars and manipulators of public opinion, it also showed how they were genuinely motivated to bring about a better America, and with it peace and democracy to the world.
This reminds me of that old saying about what the road to hell is paved with...
EDIT: The one-star reviews on that site are priceless.
06-17-2005, 03:12 PM
I watched it when it came out. It's a superbly put together documentary and I'll simply agree with what Tim put.
I was really glad when they announced they were cutting it into a movie-documentary for Cannes as it is well worth watching.
06-17-2005, 08:22 PM
Took me three hours and change to download the first episode on MPEG-2 from the ftp site.
Wow, was that time well spent. This is modern American political history in a whole, spanking, new light. I have to admit I knew alot of the different bits about the neocons but never put together in such a clear way even with neocon leaders themselves explaining their thinking. And the information on the formation of the Jihadi mindset is fantastic - what an eerie parallel this documentary sets up.
Edit: Watched the whole series now. I think there are so many parts to this kaleidoscope that it'd be nigh incomprehensible to cover everything in a single series. But focusing on the neocon and jihadi ideologies, and track records of inventive fantasy, is a very potent if simplistic way to explain just about everything that's going on. This should be on American TV if only to fire up some serious discussions about the direction we're heading in.
However, it's not a complete picture without considering the world energy situation, in particular oil supplies, and the corporate-libertarian conservative ideologies driving privatization in all things (military contracting for example and the need to generate market) or the neocon's very demonstrable ties to Israel or the Project for A New American Century which is in no small part derivative of similar work several of them did for Likud as consultants.
And I'm not sure whether it's so clear that the neocons were using The Religious Right. I think it may well be the other way around. Leaders like Falwell weren't exactly talked into getting politically active. That was the plan and they reached out to Reagan. That the neocons happened to be around helped build a synergy but I don't think they were central to the process or as central as Nightmares suggests.
Still, fantastic stuff. I'm spreading word of it around to friends and relatives.
06-19-2005, 05:29 AM
Here's a rosetta stone of the neocon movement as put together by a former insider. For those of us wanting a bit more context.
06-20-2005, 05:00 PM
I hope the BBC has a vagina, because I'm very excited right now.
A journalistic body that actually does journalism? Oh yes... its only going to take a couple minutes while I close my eyes and think of England.
Does the BBC make house calls? We need something like that over here.
Can we get some comments from the Neocon supporters please? Hopefully Daniel "I've never voted conservative" Morris will make a return for this one.
06-20-2005, 05:10 PM
It's a good thing Sparky doesn't read P&R because I shudder to think what kind of images...
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