Help with historical context in documentary
August 21, 2006 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I need help determining fact-from-fiction in a BBC documentary called "The Power of Nightmares".

I was just clued into a BBC documentary called "The Power of Nightmares,"(parts 1, 2, and 3) which explores the political emergence of two ideologies -- Muslim jihadists and the U.S. neoconservatives. Having watched all three parts, I'm finding it to be a very disturbing look at the future of my country.

Does anyone know enough about the history of the relevant events to help me understand how much of the documentary is confusing causation with correlation? Alternatively, does anyone have any links to reputable sources that contradict the information presented in the program?

Note that I have basic familiarity with the group called Project for the New American Century.

posted by parilous to Religion & Philosophy (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FYI, the series is also available for download via
posted by popcassady at 12:46 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

My primary beef with the documentary is its suggestion that al Qa'ida doesn't exist. It certainly doesn't exist as a hierarchical organization; it's primarily a rhizome network (see They find a lack of its evidence as a hierarchical organization, and conclude from that, that it doesn't exist. Sheesh.

Other than that, I found the first two episodes to be very much on target. The third, not so much.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2006

You may want to check through the various program titles at Dave Emory's FTR particularly The Safari Club. but not if you want to sleep peaceably.
posted by hortense at 2:11 PM on August 21, 2006

I just watched the first half of the first program (but am planning to watch the whole thing—thanks for the links!), and it looked OK to me. Obviously any TV documentary is going to involve oversimplification, but this seems like acceptable oversimplification. For instance, they give the impression that Sayyid Qutb invented takfir (the practice of treating fellow Muslims as infidels), but he was just carrying on a tradition that went all the way back to the first caliph. That doesn't really matter, though, because the essential thing is to understand the pattern of thinking. And yes, it's parallel to the pattern of thinking of the neoconservatives, but both are just twigs on the ancient tree of... what to call it? Conservative/reactionary thinking? The mode of thought that says the people are sheep who have to be led by the enlightened few and deceived for their own good. Again, that goes all the way back, doubtless to Sumer and beyond, but the main point is that these particular twigs have become tremendously influential in their respective parts of the world.

And man, choosing between Kissinger and Rumsfeld is like choosing between Mephistopheles and Satan...
posted by languagehat at 4:22 PM on August 21, 2006

I don't think it confuses correlation with causation, but it does simply focus on a limited set of key actors, ignoring the causes that are outside that set, and expecting the viewer to be aware that they are doing this.

Eg, the way it plays, at face value it might sound like Strauss single-handedly changed the course of American politics, but the unspoken assumption is that the viewer knows Strauss was one influence among many, and knows that those other influences are not being covered because they are not the focus of the story, but that they are not being covered doesn't mean they didn't play a role.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:40 AM on August 22, 2006

jefgodesky: I don't think it's accurate to say it presents a conclusion that Al Qaeda doesn't exist, the suggestion was that the real-world thing that was labeled Al Qaeda was a completely different animal to the Al Qaeda that was feared by the American man-on-the-street, ie that that particular concept of Al Qaeda was largely a construct that doesn't exist. Also, that this is in the past tense, because the modern legend of Al Qaeda can become somewhat self-fulfilling.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:52 AM on August 22, 2006

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