Doesn’t anyone remember ‘The Power of Nightmares’?


The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, written and produced by Adam Curtis, was a BBC documentary film series broadcast in 2004.

The films compare the rise of the American Neo-Conservative movement and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and noting strong similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is in fact a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed charts the similar processes operating in the current instalment of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – the threat of ISIS.  His article (16.11.15), posted on openDemocracy, is an extremely important read given the UK Government’s determination to get involved in the bombing.   As Nafeez warns of the intention behind the latest spate of atrocities which culminated in Paris:

The goal, of course, is to inflict trauma, fear, paranoia, suspicion, panic and terror – but there is a particularly twisted logic as part of this continuum of violence, which is to draw the western world into an apocalyptic civilizational Armageddon with ‘Islam.’

Below, I copy and paste Nafeez’ conclusion to ‘ISIS want to destroy the ‘grey zone’.  Here’s how we defend it’, but I recommend that you read the piece in its entirety:

All this calls for a complete re-think of our approach to terrorism. We require, urgently, an international public inquiry into the colossal failure of the strategies deployed in the ‘war on terror.’

How has over $5 trillion succeeded only in permitting an extremist terror-state, to conquer a third of Iraq and Syria, while carrying out a series of assaults on cities across the region and in the heart of Europe?

The re-assessment must accompany concrete measures, now.

First and foremost, our alliances with terror-sponsoring dictatorships across the Muslim world must end. All the talk of making difficult decisions is meaningless if we would rather sacrifice civil liberties instead of sacrificing profit-oriented investments in brutal autocracies like Saudi Arabia, which have exploited western dependence on its oil resources to export Islamist extremism around the world.

Addressing those alliances means taking decisive action to enforce punitive measures in terms of the financing of Islamist militants, the facilitation of black-market ISIS oil sales, and the export of narrow extremist ideologies. Without this, military experts can give as much lip-service to ‘draining the swamp’ as they like – it means nothing if we think draining it means using a few buckets to fling out the mud while our allies pour gallons back in.

Secondly, in Syria, efforts to find a political resolution to the conflict must ramp up. So far, neither the US nor Russia, driven by their own narrow geopolitical concerns, have done very much to destroy ISIS strongholds. The gung-ho entry of Russia into the conflict has only served to unify the most extreme jihadists and vindicate ISIS’s victim-bating claim to be a ‘David’ fighting the ‘Goliath’ of a homogenous “kafir” (infidel) crusader-axis.

Every military escalation has been followed by a further escalation, because ISIS itself was incubated in the militarized nightmare of occupied Iraq and Assad-bombed Syria.

Thirdly, and relatedly, all military support to all actors in the Syria conflict must end. Western powers can pressurise their Gulf and Turkish state allies to end support to rebel groups, which is now so out of control that there is no longer any prospect of preventing such support from being diverted to ISIS; while Russia and Iran can withdraw their aid to Assad’s bankrupt regime. If Russia and France genuinely wish to avoid further blowback against their own citizens, they would throw their weight behind such measures with a view to force regional actors to come to the negotiating table.

Fourthly, it must be recognized that contrary to the exhortations of fanatics like Douglas Murray, talk of ‘solidarity’ is not merely empty sloganeering. The imperative now is for citizens around the world to work together to safeguard what ISIS calls the “grey zone” – the arena of co-existence where people of all faith and none remain unified on the simple principles of our common humanity. Despite the protestations of extremists, the reality is that the vast majority of secular humanists and religious believers accept and embrace this heritage of mutual acceptance.

But safeguarding the “grey zone” means more than bandying about the word ‘solidarity’ – it means enacting citizen-solidarity by firmly rejecting efforts by both ISIS and the far-right to exploit terrorism as a way to transform our societies into militarized police-states where dissent is demonized, the Other is feared, and mutual paranoia is the name of the game. That, in turn, means working together to advance and innovate the institutions, checks and balances, and accountability necessary to maintain and improve the framework of free, open and diverse societies.

It is not just ISIS that would benefit from a dangerous shift to the contrary.

Incumbent political elites keen to avoid accountability for a decade and a half of failure will use heightened public anxiety to push through more of the same. They will seek to avoid hard questions about past failures, while casting suspicion everywhere except the state itself, with a view to continue business-as-usual. And in similar vein, the military-industrial complex, whose profits have come to depend symbiotically on perpetual war, wants to avoid awkward questions about lack of transparency and corrupt relationships with governments. They would much rather keep the trillion-dollar gravy train flowing out of the public purse.

Milan Kundera — ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’

Let’s not forget that we were swept into the invasion of Iraq on false pretences, with disastrous results for the peoples of the region.  Let’s fight even harder to stop the political elites in their gung-ho desire to bomb.  Let’s argue for the alternatives suggested by Nafeez Ahmed.  Jeremy Corbyn is certainly on board… but it seems that some of the Parliamentary Labour Party, like Mike Gapes and John Woodcock, are minded to vote with David Cameron and the Conservatives.  It is up to the LP membership and all right-minded people to challenge their decision, and so block Cameron’s futile plan to bomb a solution on the Middle East.


Further recommended:

Welcome to the 21st century – The Crisis of Civilisation Nafeez Ahmed’s 2011 “Crisis of civilization” film  (80 minutes)

The Power of Nightmares  Adam Curtice’s three part BBC documentary


Here we go again… The War on Terror


By chance (being snow-bound) I re-watched Adam Curtis’s 2004 series ‘The Power of Nightmares’. So it seemed quite normal, when I switched on the news and heard David Cameron’s announcement that the terrorist incident in Mali needed ‘a global response… possibly for decades’!  Only later, did it sink in that this is 2013 not 2002.

Not being able to remember what George Orwell had written in ‘1984’, about the need for governments to ‘always have an enemy’, I turned to Wikipedia and read:

Ministry of Peace (Newspeak: Minipax)

Minipax supports Oceania’s perpetual war.

The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. At present, when few human beings even have enough to eat, this problem is obviously not urgent, and it might not have become so, even if no artificial processes of destruction had been at work.

…which seemed worryingly apposite, given the lack of demand in the global economy and shrinking wages.  A war (that magically this government will be able to fund, even though the UK is supposed to be broke) is the traditional right-wing answer to a recession.

For those who do not remember, or have never seen ‘The Power of Nightmares’, let me summarise:

The thesis is that after 9/11, both the neoconservatives and the fundamentalist jihadists had an investment in building each other up as ‘evil empires’ because both were failing to convince their respective populations to change their ‘immoral, corrupt and liberal’ ways.   Adam Curtis argues persuasively that that the idea of al-Qaeda as a formal organization was primarily an American invention:

“The reality was that bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had become the focus of a loose association of disillusioned Islamist militants who were attracted by the new strategy. But there was no organization. These were militants who mostly planned their own operations and looked to bin Laden for funding and assistance. He was not their commander. There is also no evidence that bin Laden used the term “al-Qaeda” to refer to the name of a group until after September 11 attacks, when he realized that this was the term the Americans had given it.”

It seems that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair also accepted this analysis because he is quoted as saying after the July 7, 2005 London bombings  “Al-Qaeda is not an organization. Al-Qaeda is a way of working …”

However, these caveats are no bar to David Cameron:

The prime minister said the seizure of a Saharan gas facility by a group of international jihadists last week was a stark reminder of the threat from terrorism the world over.

He pledged a global response to what he described as a global threat.

“It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months,”

“What we face is an extremist Islamist violent al-Qaida-linked terrorist group – just as we have to deal with that in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

The major point in Adam Curtis’ film is that the Bush neocons ‘persuaded’ themselves (or simply made up stories) about the global terrorist threat in order to further their own ideological goals and economic policies.  The extremely small group of fundamentalist Jihadists also had an investment in maintaining the US mythologies about their power.  Both were united in their belief that frightening populations (the power of nightmares) would create the societies that they wanted.

That the Coalition is in need of a distraction from the economy is obvious .. but perhaps David Cameron is also remembering how the Falklands turned Margaret Thatcher’s electoral prospects around.  He may well think that a bit of ‘frightening’ would not go amiss.

However, the reality is… notwithstanding a proud history… Mali is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. It is also the third largest producer of gold in the African continent which may be relevant… but probably most significantly, ‘Mali is one of the main transit routes for South American drugs coming to Europe’.

In other words, there are all the conditions for ‘social conflict’, liberation movements, religious fundamentalism, corporate imperative and criminality… but not a global terror threat.

As David Malone writes:

‘The first Crusaders may have been fired by a fervent desire to murder infidels in the name of Christ. But many who followed them did their murdering more for profit than anything else.’

In any event, if David Cameron and the Western powers really wanted to stop ‘terrorism’ in Mali, they would take action against the gun runners, drug smugglers and the banks who are sustaining the armed insurgents.  (They could also try implementing some policies which would do something to alleviate the appalling poverty.  Disastrously, Mali underwent ‘economic reform’ in 1988, as required by the World Bank and IMF!)

David Malone again:

‘And yet our governments have known about this trade and these specific routes for several years now and done very little. Particularly the French have had a good idea what is going on in this reason and what has been going on in its banks. Our governments know that many of the banks of West Africa from Mali down to Togo, and inland from the coast across the Sahel up to Moroco, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria are all handling and laundering this money.’

He concludes by asking:

‘Could it be that there are interests in our countries that are willing to tolerate islamists as long as they stick to the day job of helping us and our preferred African leaders bank the proceeds of the war with drugs.’

Chris Stone makes a similar point:

They started the War on Drugs in the 1970s, and now there’s MORE drugs than there used to be. They started the War on Crime back in the 1930s, and now there’s MORE crime. They started the War on Terrorism in the last decade, and now there’s MORE terrorism.


All of which links to my thinking about another film, ‘The House I live in’ ….  The profitability of the US Penal-Industrial Complex which has an investment in perpetuating drug-taking/pushing.  The film also suggests that the US government benefits by removing unemployed and ‘unwanted’ people from society.  This, in turn, leads to my remembering Chris Grayling’s proposal for a Titan jail housing 2000 inmates and presumably run by G4S or Serco…

And that reminds me of a Franklin D. Rooseveldt quote:

In politics, nothing happens by accident.  If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.

George Osborne says we’re running out of money ..