Sunday, May 01, 2005

Once Again, We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself: "The Power of Nightmares"- A New Film Series by Adam Curtis

by Gregg Chadwick

This weekend in San Francisco (May 2005) an important and powerful film series by the British Director Adam Curtis was screened. Jeanne Carstensen from the San Francisco Chronicle explains,"The Power of Nightmares," Curtis' three-part series, broadcast on BBC last fall... asks hard questions about the scope of the global war on terror, such as whether al Qaeda is really as vast and powerful a network of international terrorism as we've been led to believe. But "Nightmares" also digs much deeper, into the roots of neoconservatism and radical Islamism, two conservative movements that have significantly helped shape geopolitical events since the end of World War II. As we near the four-year mark of a war that has no definable end, "Nightmares" asks viewers to consider the idea, and its implications, that politicians and citizens alike are now living in a society driven by fear above all else."

Jeanne Carstensen continues, "In "The Power of Nightmares," the international men of mystery are Leo Strauss, conservative political philosopher from the University of Chicago, and Sayyid Qutb, U.S.-educated Egyptian turned Islamic revolutionary. Both rejected post-World War II American values and believed that Western individualism led to nihilism.

Strauss' students, including Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, went on to build the neoconservative movement based on their mentor's ideas of governing through great unifying myths. Finally in power in Washington, D.C., when Ronald Reagan came into office, they used their influence to convince the White House and the American people that the Soviet Union was extremely dangerous -- an Evil Empire -- a version of reality that contradicted reports from the U.S. intelligence community. In power once again under George W. Bush, after Sept. 11, the neocons have led the charge into a new war against global terror, and, once again, sold the country on the idea that this threat is so vast and unimaginably evil that the most extreme measures are justified.

Qutb, meanwhile, returned home and seeded the already growing Islamist movement that was challenging the secular Egyptian state with a more radical strain. After he was executed, his ideas lived on through Ayman al-Zawahiri, who joined forces with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Curtis' goal isn't so much to compare the neocons and the radical Islamists -- although there are some fearful symmetries -- but to point out how, through the ideas of Strauss and Qutb, they've changed the world, often in ways they themselves didn't intend, and how fear functions in the politics of our era."

Adam Curtis decribes his film in the Chronicle:
"The West does face a deadly threat from groups and individuals inspired by dangerous ideas .... But the film also argues that the true nature of this threat has been completely misunderstood by governments, security services and the international media. It has been distorted and exaggerated to create a vision of a unique threat unlike anything we have faced that justifies extreme countermeasures. This fantasy, which has trapped our leaders and our media, prevents us from comprehending and dealing with the dangers we face."

"The Power of Nightmares" will also be screened this year at the Cannes Film Festival.

For more info:
SF Film Festival
BBC News on Adam Curtis

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