“The story starts just after the Second World War, when political philosopher Leo Strauss begins to formulate his ideas: freedom and liberalism lead to decadence, therefore a politician must promote strong myths to counter that liberalism. Such myths can be religion, patriotism or the threat of an outside enemy. It doesn’t matter that a leader believes in them himself (in fact, it is preferable he doesn’t), they are important to unite an otherwise uncontrollable populace. In the next decades some of his followers like Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft or William Kristol set about putting his ideas into practice, first during the cold war and now during the Bush-era.
Curtis draws parallels between the ideas of Strauss and those of Sayyid Qutb, who can be considered the godfather of radical Islamist thought: he too considered freedom dangerous and he too promoted the use of religion and fear to accomplish his objectives: to overthrow the corrupt regimes of the Middle East and replace them with Islamist societies.
Both groups would develop independently, meet when fighting a common enemy in Afghanistan and diverge again until September 11, 2001. The final part shows how, since the the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Neo-cons have kept the threat of Al Quaeda alive through misinformation, outright lies and spurious arrests of ‘sleeper cells’ (all of which later turned out to be innocent). As was evident on November 2, their tactics have paid off.
Watching The Power of Nightmares we’re reminded that we’re living in a world of fantasy and deception, lead by politicians who have little respect for truth, decency or human lives. There isn’t much to be optimistic about, but as long as documentaries like this can be made and broadcast on national television, there’s a dim ray of hope for democracy after all.”