Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Politics of Fear: The Power of Nightmares and Hijacking Catastrophe

Robert Scheer, a Los Angels Times columnist, raises an important question: "Is it conceivable that Al Qaeda, as defined by President Bush as the center of a vast and well-organized international terrorist conspiracy, does not exist?" (emphasis added, Robert Scheer, "Is Al Qaeda Just a Bush Boogeyman?" Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2005).
Terrorism is deeply threatening, but it appears to be a much more fragmented and complex phenomenon than the octopus-network image of Al Qaeda, with Bin Laden as its head, would suggest.

While the BBC documentary acknowledges that the threat of terrorism is both real and growing, it disagrees that the threat is centralized:

"There are dangerous and fanatical individuals and groups around the world who have been inspired by extreme Islamist ideas and who will use the techniques of mass terror -- the attacks on America and Madrid make this only too clear. But the nightmare vision of a uniquely powerful hidden organization waiting to strike our societies is an illusion. Wherever one looks for this Al Qaeda organization, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the 'sleeper cells' in America, the British and Americans are chasing a phantom enemy." (emphasis added, Scheer, January 11, 2005)
The BBC documentary that Scheer mentions is The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear: Part 1 "Baby It's Cold Outside" (October 20, 2004); Part 2 "The Phantom Victory" (October 27, 2004); and Part 3 "The Shadows in The Cave" (November 3, 2004).
The Power of Nightmares, Part 1
The documentary (as well as its transcript) is made available online by the Information Clearing House: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Like Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire (Dirs. Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally, 2004), The Power of Nightmares should be a useful tool for activists organizing public forums and house parties.
Hijacking Catastrophe
During the otherwise stupefying presidential election campaigns in 2004, there were a couple of truthful moments: both George W. Bush and John Kerry admitted that the "war on terror" cannot be won.
  • "Asked on NBC television whether America could win its 'war on terror', the president had replied: 'I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the -- those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world'" (Julian Borger, "President Admits War on Terror Cannot Be Won," The Guardian, August 31, 2004).

  • "When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. 'We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,' Kerry said. 'As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life'" (Matt Bai, "Kerry's Undeclared War," New York Times, October 10, 2004).
The reason we cannot win the "war on terror" is that there is no single organization that we can defeat and make the world free from terrorism. Terrorism, like drug use, can only be managed -- as long as we live in the kind of profit-driven world that gives the ruling class of the richest nations the power to exploit the rest of us. Bush and Kerry, in rare moments of candor, conceded the first point, though they never would recognize the second point.

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