Aeneas Wilder: Writings WeAreTheArtists No 3. Update: Trondheim
Greetings from Trondheim. The sleet has now turned to snow and there is a thick white blanket covering the city. Thanks for sending over the taped series "The Power of Nightmares". The students here are fascinated by the conclusions made by Adam Curtis, and it is an astounding piece of historical reportage. It is a classic that the BBC should be rightly proud of. I am sorry that you were unable to watch the programme yourself, but I can easily recap on the main points here. I have made some duplicate copies of the programme so I will return this tape to you and when you have finally fixed that old television of yours you can sit back and enjoy. Basically, a partial transcribed summary of the three programmes goes like this:
In the past, Politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this, but their power and authority came from the optimistic visions that they offered their people. These dreams failed and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Politicians are seen increasingly as managers of public life. But now they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand, and the greatest danger of all is international terrorism, with sleeper cells in countries across the world. This is a threat that needs to be fought by a war on terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, security services and the international media.
At the heart of the story are two groups: The American Neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists. The programme charts the political causes of both groups from their origins in the thinking of both Leo Strauss, an obscure political philosopher who influenced Paul Wolfowitz amongst others, and Said Qutub , whose martyrdom at the hands of the Egyptian authorities back in 1966, inspired the young elitist aristocrat schoolboy Ayman Zuwahari. The programme shows clearly the failings of both fundamentalist organisations to rally the masses to their separate, but linked, causes.
With the collapse of Lyndon Johnson's ideal of a "great society", the philosophical grounds for liberal society had been weekend in the USA. The Neo-conservatives saw, through Straussian principles, that the very basis of the liberal ideal undermined the framework that held society together. The Neo conservatives wanted to give society a shared purpose. They set out to remodel the US society by giving new meaning and purpose to people's lives. Through Struassian principles the USA would be able to overcome the fundamental lack of belief in itself, re-enforcing the myth that the USA needed to save the world from evil.
However, back in the 70's, Henry Kissinger wanted to create a new global interdependence. The Neo conservatives needed to defeat this idea to forward their own mythical agenda. Kissinger started the "detante" process, limiting the production of Soviet and US warheads. With this event we saw the beginning of the end of the cold war. This process was beginning to reduce the causes of fear.
A world without fear was not what the Neo-conservatives wanted. During these years in the mid seventies, Donald Rumsfeld began giving speeches saying that the Russians had been ignoring the treaties signed with the US. These lies were put about to undermine the situation. There were no truths to Rumsfeld's allegations. However, an inquiry set up by Paul Wolfowitz tried to show otherwise. They wanted to get into the CIA to create a much more severe picture of the USSR. Richard Pipes, a member of the Neo Conservative group was appointed the leader of a group known as Team B, an organisation created in order to show that the Russians were trying to overthrow the US. Team B began sieving through all the CIA information that existed on the Soviets. The terrible truth was that the Soviet system was collapsing from within. However Team B wanted to portray a different picture. For example, they could find no evidence that the Soviets had a specialised acoustic system for detecting US nuclear submarines. This meant, in their minds, that the soviets had a new system beyond acoustics. There was no evidence for an advanced non-acoustic system. However, in the minds of the Neo-conservatives, without evidence does not mean that it does not exist, only that you have not found it yet.
Because of the horrific violence throughout the Arab world during the eighties and nineties ,(Egypt, Algeria and else where) Zuwahari and Osama Bin Laden had failed to raise the consciousness of the Islamic world and to make it rise up and seize power in the secular Arab states. The Arab world did not want them. Their ideological belief was that those involved in politics could be legitimately killed because as politicians they had been corrupted. If you believed in elections, so it goes, you reject the Koran. Because the ordinary people did not rise up it proved that they too had been corrupted and so had condemned themselves to death. Tourists were legitimate targets as they put money into the pockets of corrupt regimes. In Algeria, thousands of ordinary people were killed. In turn the generals ruling Algeria convinced infiltrators to push the extremists further, encouraging them to kill further. The Algerian generals thereby kept a hold on the people by extending the fear further and, of course, their hold on power.
In the end, fundamentalists were killing fundamentalists! Zuwahari and Bin Laden were ultimately back in Afghanistan, where they had first met, because they had nowhere else to go.
After these failed uprisings, a new jihad was announced by Zuwahari and Bin Laden. This time the efforts would be focused against Jews, Americans and Christians exclusively. This was a strategy of desperation, born out of failure. They had no revolution at all. They had failed. However what they were about to do would dramatically have an effect on the Neo Conservatives, who had alienated themselves because of their fundamentalist Christian beliefs and extreme moral judgments, amongst other things. By the end of the 90s both groups were failing in their roles and had become marginalized both domestically and internationally.
But with the attacks of September the 11th the situation dramatically changed. After their brief moment of triumph the Islamists were virtually destroyed in a matter of months in Afghanistan, while the Neo conservatives took power in Washington. But then The Neo conservatives began to reconstruct the Islamisists. They created a phantom enemy. And as this nightmare fantasy began to spread, politicians realised the new power it gave them in a deeply disillusioned age.
In January 2001 a trial had begun in a Manhattan courtroom, of four men accused of the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. They had also decided to prosecute Bin Laden in his absence. To do this under American law the prosecutors needed evidence of a criminal organisation, because as with the mafia, this would allow them to prosecute the head of the organisation even if he could not be linked directly to the crime. Evidence of this organisation was provided for them by an ex associate of Bin Laden's, Jamal al Fadel. Al Fadel is taken on by the American prosecution as a key witness in the trial. His account is used to build up a picture of Al Quaeda. The picture that Al Fadel drew for the Americans of Bin Laden was a man at the head of a large terrorist network that had an organised hierarchy of control. He also said that the organisation had a name Al Quaeda. However, the reality was that Bin Laden and Zuwahhiri had become the focus of a loose association of disillusioned Islamist militants who where attracted by their new strategy. But there was no organisation. 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 Quaeda to refer to a group until after 11 th Sept, when he realised this was the term the Americans had given him. In reality Al Fadel was on the run from Bin Laden having stolen money from him. In return for giving evidence the Americans gave him witness protection in the USA and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many lawyers at the trial believe that Al Fadel exaggerated and lied to give the Americans a picture of the terrorist organisation that they needed to prosecute Bin Laden. This made Al Quaeda the new mafia or the new communists. It made it easier to prosecute anyone associated with Bin Laden.
As George W. Bush stated shortly after 11th Sept " Al Quaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime, there are thousands of these terrorists in more that sixty countries".
The attack on America by 19 hijackers shocked the world. It was Ayman Zuwahari 's new strategy implemented in a brutal and spectacular way. But neither he, nor Bin Laden were the originators of what was called "the planes operation". It was the brain child of a Islamist militant called, Kaled Sheik Mohamed, who came to Bin Laden for funding and help in finding volunteers. But in the wake of the panic created, the politicians reached for the model created earlier that year, of a vast international terrorist network, Al Quaeda.
To quote the investigative journalist Jason Burke "There is no Al Quaeda organisation. There is no international network, with a leader with tentacles that stretch out to sleeper cells in America, in Africa, in Europe. That idea of a structured coherent terrorist network with an organised capability simply does not exist". Indeed no one has yet been prosecuted as a member of a sleeper cell of Al Quaeda in the USA or the UK despite the thousands of arrests and many attempts at prosecution.
The attacks had another dramatic effect, they brought the Neo-conservatives back to power in the USA. When George Bush first came to power he had appointed Neo-conservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and their allies such as Donald Rumsfeld .
Now the Neo-conservatives became all powerful, because this "terror network" proved what they had been predicting throughout the 1990s was correct, that America was at threat from terrifying new forces in a hostile world. A small group formed that began to shape America's response to the events of September 11th . They included Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Richard Pearle. The last time these men had been in power together was under Ronald Reagan. Back then they had taken on and, as they saw it, defeated the evil that wanted to take over America, the Soviet empire. Now they saw this struggle in the same epic terms.
But as the programmes show, the Neo-conservatives distorted and exaggerated the soviet threat. They created the image of a hidden web of evil run from Moscow that planned to dominate the world, when in reality the soviets were on their last legs and collapsing from within. Now they did the same with the Islamists. They took a failing movement that had lost mass support and turned it into the image of a powerful network of evil controlled from the centre by Bin Laden from his lair in Afghanistan. They did this because it fitted with America's unique destiny to fight the forces of evil throughout the world.
There are extremist and fanatical groups around the world who have been inspired by the Islamist theories and they are prepared to use the techniques of mass terror to achieve their objectives. The bombings in Madrid show this only to clearly, but this is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the way the American and other governments have transformed this complex and dispirit threat into a simplistic fantasy of an organised web of uniquely powerful terrorist who may strike anywhere and at any moment. But no one questioned this fantasy because increasingly it served the interests of so many people; for the press, television and hundreds of terror experts. The Islamists, by feeding this media fantasy could also become a powerful organisation if only in peoples minds.
As you will be aware Jim, there are plenty of fanatical groups now in Iraq now that their "evildoer" has been removed!
I hope this fills you in Jim, until the tape is returned and your television is up and running once again. As a footnote I have added some info on "dirty bombs" and the "Paradigm of Prevention". Enjoy your Victory Gin this Christmas, and best wishes for the New year, aeneas
The dirty bomb
The media portrayed the dirty bomb as an extraordinary weapon that would kill thousands of people, and in the process they made the hidden enemy even more terrifying. But in reality a dirty bomb is yet another illusion. Its aim is to spread radioactive material through a conventional explosion, but almost all studies of such a possible weapon have concluded that the radiation spread in this way would not kill anyone because the radioactive material would be unsatisfactorily dispersed and provided that the area was cleaned promptly the long-term effects would be negligible. In the past both the American army and the Iraqi military tested such devices, and both concluded that they were completely ineffectual weapons for this very reason. This has been said over and over again in the past and can easily be verified by such experts as Dr Theodore Rockwell, the US Nuclear Scientist and Radiation Risk Expert. In fact the department of energy in the US set up such a test and they measured what happened. The measurements were extremely low. You would only get a large (but not lethal) dose of radiation if you stayed in the same place for one whole year after the device was detonated!
The Paradigm of Prevention
"Under the preventive paradigm, instead of holding people accountable for what you can prove that they have done in the past, you lock them up based on what you think or speculate they might do in the future. How can a person, whom you lock up, based on what you think they might do in the future, disprove you speculation? It is impossible. So what ends up happening is the government has short-circuited all the processes that are designed to distinguish the innocent from the guilty because these processes do not fit the mode of locking people up for what they might do in the future". - David Cole, Professor of Law, Georgetown University, USA.
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