The Power of Nightmares
Directed by Adam Curtis
Part 1 Baby It’s Cold Outside
This final series of Adam Curtis documentaries is the oldest and, in my view, the best. It has special relevance given the current western crusade against evil incarnate (and CIA creation) ISIS.*
The Power of Nightmares traces the parallel movements of radical Islam and neoconservativism – how both rose to power by inventing terrifying fantasies which they promise to protect us from them.
Curtis begins by tracing the roots of radical Islam, which dates back to 1949 when Egyptian scholar Sayed Qutb attended college briefly in Greely Colorado. Qutb was instantly repelled by the pervasive decay, crassness and vulgarity stemming from America’s fanatical devotion to individualism (an ideology perpetuated by saturation pro-consumption messaging by Edward Bernays’ public relations industry – see The Science of Thought Control).*
The Americans Qutb met were unbelievably selfish and materialistic and lived lonely, sterile lives surrounded by perfectly manicured lawns.
Returning to Egypt in 1950, he was horrified to see that that western individualism, materialism and moral degradation had corrupted his own country, thanks to the invasion of American pop culture.
Believing Islam provided a moral framework to protect Egypt from this selfish individualism, in 1952 he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and supported Gamal Nasser in overthrowing British rule in Egypt.
The CIA Teaches Egypt How to Torture
As Nasser’s vice president, Anwar Sadat (who would become president in 1970) invited the CIA to set up Egypt’s security services and train them how to torture members of the growing Muslim Brotherhood.
As often happens, torture radicalized Qutb. He came to believe that individualism unleashes a barbarous violence and that Muslims infected by materialism cease to be true Muslim. This, in turn, makes them legitimate targets for assassination.
Following Qutb’s execution for treason in 1966, Dr Ayman Zawahari assumed leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. After Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Zawahiri founded the Islamic Jihad (IJ). The treaty was taken as evidence that Sadat was no longer a true Muslim and thus a legitimate assassination target. In 1981, IJ members of his military guard would assassinate him.
Leo Strauss: Father of Neoconservatism
Leo Strauss, German-American political philosopher and Zionist, is considered the father of neoconservatism. Refusing to give interviews or publish articles, Strauss spread his ideas by surrounding himself with a dedicated band of students at the University of Chicago.
Like Qutb, Strauss was horrified by the moral degeneration and social decay he witnessed in the fifties and sixties. He blamed it on liberalism, with its claims hat morality his relative ( i.e. that each individual is entitled to set their own standards of morality). He taught that political leaders had an obligation to set strong moral standards by creating powerful myths for the masses to live by.
In the early seventies, his students, Irving and William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz and Francis Fukyama, would formally launch the neoconservative movement to disseminate the myth that the US is the only force for good in a world full of evil.
According to this world view, any country or individual that opposes US policies is satanic. The neoconservatives were perfectly aware they were deliberately creating a fear-inducing myth. Yet according to their Straussian belief system, this was a necessary myth and a necessary fear for the overall good of society.
The Neocons Target Henry Kissinger
Their initial target in their crusade against evil was Nixon’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger. In 1972, Kissinger was trying to reduce fear and instability through world cooperation, détente with the Soviets and propping up fascist dictators (he called this Realpolitik).
Recruiting Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (Secretary of Defense and Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford) to the neoconservative cause, they blanketed the media with claims that the Russians were cheating on the nuclear test ban treaty. This directly contradicted CIA evidence that Soviet air defenses were on the verge of collapse, owing to the sorry state of the Soviet economy. So the neocons claimed the Soviets had devised methods of cheating the CIA was incapable of detecting.
When Carter assumed the presidency in 1976, they would revive the Committee on the Present Danger to promote their mythology that the Soviet Union posed a growing threat to the US. Ronald Reagan would be their most prominent recruit.
Simultaneously, like the Muslim Brotherhood, the neocons embraced fundamentalist Christianity as a vehicle for enforcing socially redeeming moral values. Fundamentalist pastors had always discouraged their congregations from participating in the political process. Guided by the neocons, they reversed themselves, transforming millions of fundamentalists into popular force to lobby for the neoconservative world view.
In 1980, millions of them voted for the first time for Ronald Reagan.
*See excellent article by British historian Nafeez Ahmed tracing the history of ISIS: How the West Created ISIS
** As I am. What emotionally balanced rational being wouldn’t be repulsed by the empty sterile lives Americans lead?