Second part of “The Power of Nightmares”

Yesterday the BBC aired the second part of its drama The Power of Nightmares, in which they followed the history of the Islamist movements and the neo-Conservatives during the period of their collaboration in Afghanistan. I have some criticism of this programme, as well as of some of the criticism in both the right and left-wing media. The programme showed how the Reagan administration supplied funding to the Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan, which had among them extremists like Osama bin Laden, who refused to pray behind the leader of the Mujahideen Abdullah Azzam, who was later assassinated in mysterious circumstances, despite accepting him as an amir. The neo-cons like to boast, they say, that their activities in Afghanistan are what brought the USSR down, when in fact, it fell apart from within because of its own inadequacies. The programme failed to mention that the USA put pressure on the Arab oil states to reduce their prices, in order to make the US less dependent on Russian oil, which obviously hit the Soviet Union where it hurt. The USA (both in that and in Afghanistan) may well have had a role in bringing down the USSR; why can’t people accept that the USSR collapsed because of all of these factors?

The programme also featured the takfeer ideology of the extremists among the Mujahideen - that some elements alleged that all those who failed to support them were infidels who could thus be killed, sometimes in large numbers. This had the worst effect in Algeria, where the security forces infiltrated the “Islamist” rebels and encouraged them to go to extremes in this takfeer ideology - producing a massive popular backlash against the Islamists.

I’d also like to say a few words about the critics of this programme, which come as you might expect from the right-wing media and columnists like David Aaronovitch. In the Guardian (19 Oct), he wrote this:

I admire Curtis greatly, but this time his argument is as subtle as a house-brick. It is, essentially, that everything in American politics in the past 25 years from Reaganism, through Christian fundamentalism and anti-Clintonism, to the war on terror, has been got up by Dick Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and others that the programme identifies as conspiring neocons. They have created a “dark illusion” about Islamist terrorism, just as they earlier created one about that tin-pot, ramshackle, essentially harmless old flea-bitten bear, the Soviet Union. Curtis’s is a one-stop conspiracy theory to stand alongside those fingering the Illuminati, the Bilderberg group and (vide the Da Vinci Code) Opus Dei.

Now, nobody ever said the Soviet Union was what he described, but the situation was more complicated than the “good” US versus the “evil empire”. Yes, the USA was for most people a vastly better place to live than the USSR, but consider the régimes and organisations the US sponsored in Third World countries, notably Central America - they were often just as brutal, if not more so, than those sponsored by the USSR. One thinks of what happened in Angola and Mozambique - wars lasting more than a decade after the Portuguese pulled out. The US talked of freedom, but in fact were only concerned about US corporate interests, and dire poverty has never liberated anyone.

There was also a piece in yesterday’s Evening Standard entitled “Myths of the Feelbad Films”, which alleged that the Nightmares programme made the neo-cons look “far more dangerous than the preachers of terror”, which I would say they were, because they have the control of the biggest army in the world, while al-Qa’ida have a membership in three or four figures at most, with considerably more scant resources, able to launch sporadic attacks but not, unlike the neo-cons, real wars. So far the current US administration have invaded two countries, and left them in chaos, for their own interests - and if they get another four years in power, they might yet conduct more campaigns of a similar nature. And they do not really tackle the accusations that the tactic most feared of al-Qa’ida, the “dirty bomb”, may well not cost nearly as many lives as people are being led to think.

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