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The Power of Nightmares

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The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, is a BBC series of
documentary films, written and produced by Adam Curtis.

This documentary argues that during the 20th Century politicians lost the power to
inspire the masses, and that the optimistic visions and ideologies they had offered were
perceived to have failed. The film asserts that politicians consequently sought a new role
that would restore their power and authority. Curtis, who also narrates the series, declares
in the film's introduction that “Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to
protect us: from nightmares”. To illustrate this Curtis compares the rise of the American
neoconservatives and radical Islamists, believing that both are closely connected; that
some popular beliefs about these groups are inaccurate; and that both movements have
benefited from exaggerating the scale of the terrorist threat.


• 1 Distribution
• 2 Documentary
o 2.1 Part 1 - Baby It's Cold Outside
o 2.2 Part 2 - The Phantom Victory
o 2.3 Part 3 - The Shadows in the Cave
• 3 Accolades
• 4 Criticism and responses
o 4.1 The programme is, or presents, a conspiracy theory
o 4.2 The programme neglects to analyse the impact of economic interests
o 4.3 The neoconservatives were misrepresented
• 5 Music
o 5.1 Not in order
• 6 Trivia
• 7 See also
o 7.1 Concepts discussed
o 7.2 Media
• 8 References
• 9 Books recommended by Adam Curtis to follow up watching the series
o 9.1 Islamism
o 9.2 The history of Neoconservatism
o 9.3 "The weirdness of the 1990s"
• 10 External links
o 10.1 Video

o 10.2 Reviews

[edit] Distribution
The Power of Nightmares was first broadcast on BBC Two in three, one hour-long parts
on consecutive Wednesday evenings in the autumn of 2004. The series was rebroadcast in
late January 2005 on three consecutive nights, with the final part updated to reflect the
Law Lords ruling from the previous December that detaining foreign terrorist suspects
without trial is illegal.

Although the series has not been shown on U.S. television, its three episodes were shown
in succession on 26 February 2005 as part of the True/False Film Festival in Columbia,
Missouri, USA. After the film, Curtis made a public appearance and led a discussion in
which he expressed pessimism about an eventual American TV airing or DVD release. It
has, however, played in some small independent theaters.

Curtis has also stated: "Something extraordinary has happened to American TV since
September 11. A head of the leading networks who had better remain nameless said to me
that there was no way they could show it. He said, 'Who are you to say this?' and then he
added, 'We would get slaughtered if we put this out.' When I was in New York I took a
DVD to the head of documentaries at HBO. I still haven't heard from him."

An edited two and a half hour version was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May
2005, with Pathé buying up distribution rights to exhibit this version in cinemas

The Power of Nightmares was aired in Canada in April 2005 by CBC Newsworld, and on
16 July 2006 and 17 July 2006, the full three episodes of The Power of Nightmares aired
again in Canada on the CBC Newsworld series, The Passionate Eye.

In Australia, the programme was to be screened on SBS commencing 12 July 2005 [1],
however this screening of the series was cancelled. An e-mail response enquiring as to
this cancellation was worded "SBS Management made the decision that in light of the
recent London bombings it would not be appropriate to screen the series at this time."
SBS rescheduled the series and it was screened over three nights commencing 6
December 2005 [2], and again over three weeks commencing 29 January 2007.

In Denmark it was shown by the national broadcasting coorporation, Danmarks Radio, on

the channel DR2 in March 2007.

Part 1 was included on a bonus disc packaged with the second issue (Summer 2006) of
the quarterly DVD magazine Wholphin, and Part 2 was similarly included with the third
issue (Fall 2006).
The programme has been released for free and legal download on the Internet.

[edit] Documentary
The documentary consisted of three parts.

[edit] Part 1 - Baby It's Cold Outside

In the 1950s Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian civil servant turned revolutionary, and Leo
Strauss, a Jewish-American professor of political philosophy who fled Nazi persecution,
were both in America at the same time. Qutb came to see Western liberalism as corrosive
to morality and to society. Qutb had been sent to the U.S. to learn about its public
education system but was disgusted by what he saw of its society. They each argued that
radical measures (in Strauss's case, deception along the lines of the Plato's Noble Lie, and
in Qutb's case, the creation of an Islamic state) could be justified in an effort to restore
shared moral values to society, and their arguments heavily influenced American neo-
conservatism and radical Islamism, respectively. Senior American civil servants and
politicians influenced by neo-conservatism came to see communism as an evil force
against which the U.S. should be presented as a force for good. This propaganda included
Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney's formation of Team B, which over-estimated Soviet
military technology, and the William Casey-led CIA assertion that various terrorist
organisations were backed by the Soviet Union. The CIA's internal analysts (that Team B
was arguing against), held that most terrorist groups were independent, in part because
the book that laid out the theory of Soviet control of all terrorism, The Terror Network -
The Secret War of International Terrorism (ISBN 0425053407), was full of lies the CIA
had knowingly released as Black Propaganda. Meanwhile, Qutb became influential in the
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and was then jailed after some of its members attempted to
assassinate President Nasser.

This was first broadcast on Wednesday 20 October 2004. Its title is taken from a popular
song which Qutb heard played at a church-organised dance for young people, which he
saw as symptomatic of the immorality of American society.

Watch or download part one.

[edit] Part 2 - The Phantom Victory

In the 1980s the Islamist mujaheddin and the neo-conservative-influenced Reagan

administration temporarily cooperated in fighting a common enemy, the Soviet Union
and the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. Although the Soviet Union was already on
the verge of collapse, both groups came to believe that it was their actions in Afghanistan
that had caused it to fall. However, other attempts by Islamists to incite popular
revolution failed, and the neo-conservatives lost power in the U.S. as the presidency
passed to George H. W. Bush and subsequently to Bill Clinton. Both groups, having
failed to achieve lasting political influence, identified new targets to attack: the
neoconservatives sought to demonise Clinton while the radical Islamists decided that
those who had not aided their cause were legitimate targets for violence.

This was first broadcast on Wednesday 27 October 2004.

[edit] Part 3 - The Shadows in the Cave

In the late 1990s the Taliban set up military training camps in Afghanistan for Islamist
fighters. Most were only interested in fighting in their home countries, but Osama bin
Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and follower of Sayyid
Qutb, paid the Taliban to allow them to recruit volunteers for attacks on the U.S. from
these camps. Prosecutors for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings believed bin Laden
organised them and wanted to convict him in absentia by showing that he headed a
criminal organisation. Jamal al-Fadl, a former associate of bin Laden, conveniently
described just such an organisation to them, which the investigators called al-Qaeda.
While bin Laden apparently aided the attacks he had no organisation through which he
could command and control them; al-Fadl seems to have told investigators what they
wanted to hear in return for money and witness protection. Similarly, while bin Laden
provided funds and volunteers to carry out the September 11, 2001 attacks, they were
actually planned by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Following this attack, the neo-conservatives were able to convince George W. Bush to
begin a War on Terror and to paint al-Qaeda as an international network of terrorists. The
war in Afghanistan removed bin Laden's main source of recruits, but the U.S. military
and the Afghan Northern Alliance also captured and killed many people in the Taliban
camps that had nothing to do with him. The story circulated that bin Laden and the core
of al-Qaeda had retreated to an underground complex in Tora Bora, but an exhaustive
search revealed no sign of this. Al-Qaeda could not be found because it never really
existed; Islamist terrorists are connected only by ideology and not by an organisation that
can be cut off at its root.

The arrests of various groups of suspected terrorists in the U.S. following the September
11 attacks failed to find any substantive evidence, but did show a lot of imagination on
the part of investigators. Many of those arrested in Afghanistan were captured and turned
over to U.S. forces by the Northern Alliance, who claimed that their captives were Al-
Qaeda members. The U.S. forces had nothing but the word of the Northern Alliance to tie
the prisoners to Al-Qaeda. In addition, the Northern Alliance had motives to lie about any
given captive's ties to terrorist organizations, since they received a monetary reward for
every "terrorist" they handed over to the U.S. and could do away with virtually anybody
they wanted to by bringing him to the Americans and labeling him a "terrorist."
Nevertheless, the Alliance's claims were taken at face value and the captives imprisoned
indefinitely in such places as Guantanamo Bay. Similarly, in the U.K., arrests under new
terrorism laws have resulted in only 3 convictions of Islamists, all for fundraising. Much
of the media coverage of potential terrorist attacks is also highly speculative and
sensational. For instance, a terrorist attack using a radiological weapon, referred to by the
media as a dirty bomb, wouldn't kill many people from fallout because the radioactive
material would be spread thinly by any explosion. However, the neo-conservatives had
found they could use the threat of Islamist terrorism, and the claimed possibility of
sponsorship by Iraq, as an enemy against which to unite the U.S., and other politicians
such as Tony Blair claimed an important role in protecting their countries from attack.
Politicians and counter-terrorist agents have decided that they must be proactive in
imagining the worst possible attacks and in stopping those who seem likely to carry out

This was first broadcast on Wednesday 3 November 2004. Its title appears to refer to
Plato's allegory of the cave and to the belief in the complex in Tora Bora.

[edit] Accolades
"The Power of Nightmares, a three-hour BBC documentary directed by Adam Curtis, is
arguably the most important film about the "war on terrorism" since the events of
September 11. It is more intellectually engaging, more historically probing and more
provocative than any of its rivals, including Fahrenheit 9/11." The Nation.

[edit] Criticism and responses

Various attacks have been made on the programme, its author, the BBC and the
arguments presented. Curtis has responded to some of the criticism. (Accessed 28 July

[edit] The programme is, or presents, a conspiracy theory

David Aaronovitch has suggested that the programme "is a conspiracy theory".

Curtis replies: "The use of fear in contemporary politics is not the result of a conspiracy,
the politicians have stumbled on it. In a populist, consumerist age where they found their
authority and legitimacy declining dramatically they have simply discovered in the 'war
on terror' a way of restoring their authority by promising to protect us."

[edit] The programme neglects to analyse the impact of economic interests

Critics such as MediaLens, who believe that US government policy is shaped to a large
extent by powerful business interests, point out that Curtis did not address this aspect.

Curtis accepts this criticism as "serious and important". However, "Both the
neoconservatives and the Islamists have become powerful and influential and I chose to
make a series of films that explained the roots of their ideas and how they were taken up,
simplified and distorted. You want me to have made a different series [about] a perfectly
good and very important subject - but different." [3]

[edit] The neoconservatives were misrepresented

Clive Davis in "The Power of Bad Television" at the National Review claims that the
characterisation of neoconservatives' views in the programme is inaccurate. He has also
suggested that the degree to which neoconservatives have been influenced by Leo Strauss
is greatly exaggerated. Further he maintains that this programme suggests that "it is
Strauss, not Osama bin Laden, who is the real evil genius."[citation needed]

[edit] Music
• Title theme: "The Big Ship" on Another Green World by Brian Eno
• Incidental: "Becalmed" and "In Dark Trees" on Another Green World by Brian
• Incidental: Soundtrack from Citizen Kane, film score by Bernard Herrmann,
• Incidental: Soundtrack from The IPCRESS File, by John Barry
• Incidental: Soundtrack from Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, by Ennio
Morricone, 1970
• Part 1 credits: "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer,
1949 version
• Part 2 opening: "Also Sprach Zarathustra"
• "I've Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle" (possibly by Singer-Gene Autry;
Music-Joseph Lilley;Lyrics-Ranke Loesser, c1942)
• Afghan war: "Colours" by Donovan
• Excerpt from Ennio Morricone soundtrack to 1981 John Carpenter film The
Thing, track used is titled Humanity Part II.
• Part 3 credits: "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" by B.J. Thomas

[edit] Not in order

• The theme from the 1987 movie Prince of Darkness - John Carpenter
• The repetitive piano section from Halloween in the haunted house.
• Charles Ives - Symphony number two - 5th movement.
• Putnam's Camp from Three Places in New England.
• Excerpt from Central Park in the Dark
• a piece by Ennio Morricone from the 1980 Gillo Pontecorvo film Ogro
• Shostakovich - Lyric waltz from the Ballet Suite No 1
o excerpt from The Young Lady and the Hooligan
• Soundtrack to The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea by Paul Sawtell and Jerry
• Excerpt from soundtrack to 1968 film Night of the Living Dead
• Excerpt from Ennio Morricone soundtrack to 1982 John Carpenter film The
Thing, track used is titled Humanity Part II. Appears at end of Part 2.
• Ennio Morricone tracks repeatedly appear throughout all three episodes:
Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, The Infernal Trio, and Atto Di
• Some incidental music from The IPCRESS File (1965)
[edit] Trivia
• contains footage of American President Ronald Reagan speaking on March 10
1982 following the signing of the proclamation authorized by Joint Resolution
No. 142. Res. 142 called for the commemoration of March 21st as 'Afghanistan
Day'. Text appearing in documentary is bolded, in context the speech reads:

"Coincidentally, the day after Afghanistan Day, this country plans to launch the third
Columbia space shuttle. Just as the Columbia, we think, represents man's finest
aspirations in the field of science and technology, so too does the struggle of the
Afghan people represent man's highest aspirations for freedom. The fact that freedom
is the strongest force in the world is daily demonstrated by the people of Afghan.
Accordingly, I am dedicating on behalf of the American people the March 22d
launch of the Columbia to the people of Afghanistan." full text of speech

[edit] See also

[edit] Concepts discussed

• Jahiliyyah

[edit] Media

• The Century Of The Self - A documentary series, also by Adam Curtis.

• Pandora's Box - A documentary series, also by Adam Curtis.

[edit] References
• The Power of Nightmares transcripts.

[edit] Books recommended by Adam Curtis to follow up

watching the series
[edit] Islamism

• Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam ISBN 0-674-01090-6 by Gilles Kepel and his
earlier book, The Prophet and the Pharaoh ISBN 0-520-08543-4
o His latest book is The War for Muslim Minds ISBN 0-674-01575-4, but
this was not mentioned by Curtis.
• The best insight into the ideas behind all this are in the writings of Sayyid Qutb -
in particular Milestones (also translated as Signposts Along the Road) ISBN 0-
• The Failure of Political Islam by Olivier Roy translated by Carol Volk ISBN 0-
674-29141-7 and
• Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah by Olivier Roy ISBN 0-231-
• Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam by Jason Burke ISBN 1-85043-666-5
• "By far the best book on Afghanistan" The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State
Formation and Collapse in the International System, Second Edition by Barnett
Rubin ISBN 0-300-09519-8
o and his follow up called The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From
Buffer State to Failed State ISBN 0-300-06376-8
• "And Zawahiri's own account of the struggle which is actually very revealing - it
is translated as Knights under the Prophet's Banner," says Curtis. "I think you can
still find it on the internet." Excerpts are here, translation here

[edit] The history of Neoconservatism

• The Rise of the Counterestablishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political

Power by Sidney Blumenthal ISBN 0-06-097140-1
• Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea by Irving Kristol ISBN 0-02-
• Leo Strauss and the American Right by Shadia Drury ISBN 0-312-21783-8
• The Anatomy of Antiliberalism by Stephen Holmes ISBN 0-674-03185-7
(Antiliberalism by the same author?)
• Recasting Conservatism by Robert devigne ISBN 0-300-05594-3 [4]
• The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom ISBN 0-671-65715-1

[edit] "The weirdness of the 1990s"

• Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative by David Brock

ISBN 0-8129-3099-1
• The Gang of Five: The Leaders at the Centre of the Conservative
Crusade/Ascendancy (title depends on edition) by Nina Easton ISBN 0-7432-
0320-8 (paid download as PDF file)

[edit] External links

• Part 1 official page
• Part 2 official page
• Part 3 official page
• "The Power of Nightmares" revisited
• BBC News article on Cannes premiere
• Power of Nightmares re-awakened - Questions from BBC viewers answered by
• CBC News — The Passionate Eye — "The Power of Nightmares"
• The Power of Nightmares at the Internet Movie Database
• Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, 12 May 2005, "The film US TV networks dare not
show" - interview with Adam Curtis
• Interview with Adam Curtis at Cinema Scope
• Interview with Adam Curtis at GreenCine
• Creating Islamist phantoms, Adam Curtis writes for the Guardian, 30 August
• "Adam Curtis talks with Errol Morris"

[edit] Video

• Download DVD from

• Download lower quality video from (64Kbps MPEG4, 256 Kbps
MPEG4, 256 Kbps MPEG2)
• View at the Documentary Film Network
• Argument of "The Power of Nightmares" summarized

[edit] Reviews

• The Nation: Beware the Holy War: The Power of Nightmares

• The Guardian: The making of the terror myth and Al-Qaida is no dark illusion
(the latter by David Aaronovitch)
• Christian Science Monitor: Politics of 'fear over vision' explored on British
• National Review: Clive Davis - The Power of Bad Television
• Robert Scheer: Is Al Qaeda Just a Bush Boogeyman? printed in The Nation[5]
and the Los Angeles Times[6]
• Crooked timber: "The Power of Nightmares"
• Nighmares about Nightmares
• Common dreams news center
• dadablog Power of Nightmares
• IMDB: The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004) (TV)
• Common Dreams: Hyping Terror For Fun, Profit - And Power
• The Village Voice: The Phantom Menace
• The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear
• Electric Current: The Power of Nightmares: Film-maker Adam Curtis Uncovers
the Truth (and Lies) About Terrorism

Retrieved from ""

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