The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear

The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear

I watched this documentary last night. Like most documentaries most of the information is true but framed in a way which persuades viewers to come to a certain conclusion. The documentary’s thesis (if you want to call it that) argues that for the last 60 or so years two groups have come to relatively the same conclusion: modern liberalism, which emphasizes individualism and self-interest, has corrupted society to the core and is a disease which needs to be wiped from the earth. Who are these groups? Fundamentalist Islam and the American Neo-Conservatives.

The documentary begins with the philosophies of Sayyid Qutob and Leo Strauss who are the originators of a particular type of Islamic and Conservative philosophies, respectively. In the 3-hour long documentary they take the audience through the rise of each group. Essentially, the Neo-Cons, armed with Strauss’s teachings, set out to “create” great enemies – such as the Soviet Union and then Terrorist Networks – in order to control and unify the public, thus preserving society and keeping individualism in check. Along the way the Neo-Cons try to destroy realist (or pragmatist) thinkers like Henry Kissinger and liberal leaders like Bill Clinton who are getting in the way of their master plan to preserve society. The Neo-Cons accused the Soviets of sponsoring terrorist networks all around the world, using them as agents of conquest. All the while the Neo-Cons have hijacked the CIA with “Team B” so they can fabricate their claims by literally making up wild stories about how the failure to find evidence actually means that the Soviets are doing things that we cannot see – what really matters is Soviet “intentions”. They wanted us to believe that Detente was a failure because the Soviets were building weapons arsenals that we could not find (because they were new) and that they were sponsoring terrorist networks in their expansionist efforts.

While the Neo-Cons are creating fake enemies, the Islamist group is trying to overthrow Middle Eastern dictators which value Western ideals (especially in Egypt and Algeria). Eventually, the fundamentalists come to the conclusion (after many attempts to assassinate leaders in order to get the masses to rise up) that anyone that values Western Ideals (including the masses at this point) should be killed and the killing is justified because anyone who isn’t “with them is against the Koran”.

Eventually, these two groups meet in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and both use the Soviet threat in Afghanistan as the epitome of the fabled enemy that threatens their society (the Fundamentalists also hate communism). When the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan both groups claim credit (although the documentary argues that is was really the American Neo-Cons and the money they spent which forced victory) for the win. However, with the threat gone the Neo-Cons need a new “monster” and the Fundamentalists need a new strategy.

At first the Neo-Cons turn to dictators like Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War, but President Bush thwarted their plans when he wound’t invade Iraq – he was also a pragmatist thinker that didn’t understand the need to preserve society. The Neo-Cons then single handily mobilize the religious right in order to bring morals back into politics to keep society in check – they really don’t care about religion but they are using it to preserve society, just as Strauss taught them. However, this backfires and traditional Republicans stray from the Republican party and vote for Clinton. So the Neo-Cons have to attack Clinton and remove the evil liberal threat – get ready for Whitewater, sexual harassment claims, Vince Foster’s Death (the Neo-Cons claimed it was murder), and of course Monica Lewinsky.

Meanwhile, the Islamist need a new strategy. They decide to attack the source of the threatening values directly; this meant a massive attack on the U.S. (i.e. 9/11). At this point Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (a student of Sayyid Qutob) are acting alone with a small group of volunteers to plan 9/11. There is no Al Qaeda or terrorist network.

After 9/11 the Neo-Cons, which now surround George W. Bush, seize the opportunity and “create” the threat of a transnational terrorist organization to again scare the people and preserve society. They use this threat to erode Civil Liberties so that they can directly attack sources of societal threats in the U.S. – not to catch domestic sleeper cells. The U.S. and now the UK build up the imaginary threat of Al Qaeda. While they are doing this the Islamic threat begins to gain some power specifically due to the U.S. inflating their existence. There are no sleeper cells, there is no real terrorist threat and in reality 9/11 was an isolated incident carried out by a handful of people. Nevertheless, the Neo-Cons used it to Invade Iraq and Afghanistan and create a politics of fear to keep society and liberal ideals in check. The most important part is the adoption of the precautionary principle which argues that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. Thus, the Neo-Cons can arrest whoever they want (including American citizens) if they think a threat is possible and invade countries if they believe them to be a threat in the future. All of this can happen without any evidence whatsoever. And that is the current state of the world, as argued by the Politics of Fear.

That is the entire documentary in a nutshell. I think it gives way to much credit to the Neo-Conservatives. It was interesting, but definitively a piece of propaganda against the Bush Administration – I think it was done in 2004 or 2005. I wonder what the Neo-Cons are plotting next? 🙂