Last night I saw the first part of the award-winning BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear
on CBC Newsworld's The Passionate Eye.
The documentary explores the rise of fundamentalist Islamist thought in the Middle East and the neo-conservative movement in the west, with particular attention paid to the similarities and interconnections between the two. The starting premise of the documentary is that these two movements are, at the core, both reactions to the failure of liberalism. As it traces the growth of both movements, it also highlights some of the ways in which they have influenced each other, used each other and developed in response to each other.
Because I've done a moderate amount of reading in the last few years on the growth of fundamentalist Islamic thought, much of the historical background addressing this aspect of the film was familiar to me - what really hit me was the recounting of things I had either forgotten about or never known about neocon politics in the US in the 70s and 80s. Though I must admit, I remember sitting with friends - some of whom were ex-pat Americans - on the night Reagan was elected and feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was the beginning of a long nightmare... and finding that everyone agreed with me. I don't think we really could have realised just how much of a nightmare it would be, and just how long it would last.
Some of the material in the film that discusses neocon politics of the Ford and Reagan eras with respect to US policy concerning the Soviet Union seemed eerily and unpleasantly familiar. And why shouldn't it? It is, after all, many of the same men who railed about the threat from the Evil Empire in the 80s who brought us yellowcake, chemical factories on wheels and the Axis of Evil in 2003.
One sequence of a profound deja vu nature outlines the way that neocons Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearle et al (as part of the Ford and Reagan governments) set out in the late 70s and 80s to prove that the USSR was secretly building up its armaments to threatening levels and preparing to attack the US. Does this sound at all familiar:DONALD RUMSFELD, US Secretary of Defense, Speaking in 1976: The Soviet Union has been busy. They’ve been busy in terms of their level of effort; they’ve been busy in terms of the actual weapons they’ve been producing; they’ve been busy in terms of expanding production rates; they’ve been busy in terms of expanding their institutional capability to produce additional weapons at additional rates; they’ve been busy in terms of expanding their capability to increasingly improve the sophistication of those weapons. Year after year after year, they’ve been demonstrating that they have steadiness of purpose. They’re purposeful about what they’re doing. Now, your question is, what ought one to be doing about that?
[quoted from transcript available online].
According to the documentary, when informed by the CIA that there was simply no credible intelligence to support this allegation, the neocons argued that the fact that there was no evidence merely proved that the Soviets had to be doing it, but keeping it secret.
While profoundly critical of the neocon movement, the documentary isn't pulling any punches about the Islamist movement either - the leaders of both are shown as, on the one hand, idealists who want to save their people and their worlds from what they believe to be a profound moral and spiritual disease, and on the other hand, cynical manipulators who, believing that their end is so important to the survival of what they cherish that any and all means are justified, start out by creating The Big Lie and end up at least half believing it themselves.
For Canadians and anyone else with access to CBC Newsworld, the documentary concludes tonight - check your local listings for the time.
For anyone else - this documentary is not currently available on DVD due to problems with clearing rights for archival footage, but a transcript
- which I skimmed and which appears to be accurate - is available on the Net.