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Cutting Edge Terrorism Special:

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Three part series commencing Tuesday, December 6 at 8.30pm and continuing at the same time on Wednesday and Thursday

Three part series commencing Tuesday, December 13 at 8.30pm and continuing at the same time on Wednesday and Thursday

In The Power Of Nightmares, screening on three consecutive nights from December 6, documentary-maker Adam Curtis asks just how frightened we should be of the threat of terrorism. He claims that the idea we are threatened by an organised terrorist network is an illusion. The program argues that once our politicians offered us dreams of a better world but that now their role is to protect us from nightmares. When shown in Britain this series provoked intense debate.

It is followed by The New Al-Qaeda, also screening on three consecutive nights from from December 13, which by contrast contends that the threat of terrorist attack is all too real, and to be ignored or underestimated at our peril.


Episode one, Tuesday December 6 at 8.30pm – Baby It’s Cold Outside

This episode begins to background the series central claim that the idea of a hidden and organised worldwide terrorist network is a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media. It looks at the two groups, radical Islamists and American neoconservatives, which THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES asserts have together created our current nightmare vision of a world stalked by terrorism.

Radical Islamists
The program traces the evolution of the political beliefs of the Egyptian activist Sayed Qutb whose disillusionment with American society in the 1940s led him to call for a vanguard to lead the masses back to a pure state of living. Later he stated that Islam was being threatened by barbarism and that the elite should in fact overthrow Egypt’s leaders. Qutb was executed for treason in 1966 but his ideas lived on, including in the person of Ayman Zawahiri who later became a mentor to Osama Bin Laden. Zawahiri further radicalised Qutb’s vision to state that a regime of fear and terror was necessary to shock ordinary Muslims into seeing the truth of their lives.

American Neoconservatives
During the chaotic and often violent social revolution of 1960s America students of the political philosopher Leo Strauss came together in a group. They embraced Strauss’ view that the liberal ideal of individual freedom undermined society’s moral framework and created conflict. Strauss believed that powerful myths – based on religion or nationhood – could be used to give people a shared sense of purpose. These neoconservative ‘Straussians’ set out to recreate the myth of America battling against evil - in this instance represented by the Soviet Union.

Episode two, Tuesday December 7 at 8.30pm – The Phantom Victory

In the 1980s a small group within the White House promoted the Reagan doctrine – the vision that America could bring freedom to the world. When, after the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan became a key battleground of the Cold War these neoconservatives and Islamic Mujahideen fighters found common cause. When Soviet troops left Afghanistan, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, the Americans and the Islamists believed they had won against an evil empire.

Melvin Goodman, ex- Head of the Office of Soviet Affairs for the CIA, comments, “The greatest myth in American political discourse is that the actions of the American government were responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed like a house of cards because it was a house of cards. It rotted from within.”

In the early 1990s America neoconservatives launched the ‘Culture Wars’ - putting religion and morality at the centre of political life. For neoconservatives religion was a ‘Straussian’ myth but for the religious right it was a genuine attempt to renew American society. The moralism that was meant to unite the nation saw many mainstream Republicans frightened by its harshness and instead choosing to vote for Bill Clinton. Now Clinton’s moral character became the new ideological battleground but the neoconservatives failed again when Clinton was not impeached over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Meanwhile when Islamic political parties failed to win power in Egypt and Afghanistan radical Islamists set out to create violent revolutions. In the early 90s both countries were torn apart by Islamist terror as not only politicians but ordinary people were targeted.

The horrified public condemned the mass violence and by 1997 this Islamist revolution was fading. In the same year Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri returned to Afghanistan where they met ten years earlier. In 1998 they announced a new jihad – against America.

Episode Three, Thursday December 8 at 8.30pm – The Shadows in the Cave

Bin Laden entered public consciousness in 1998 when he was linked to terrorist attacks which killed more than two hundred people in Africa. However this episode states that Bin Laden did not have an organization until America invented one for him in the process of trying to prosecute him. It states that Bin Laden gave funding and assistance to Islamic militants but they mostly planned their own operations and Bin Laden was never their commander. Similarly he funded but did not mastermind the September 11 attacks.

The September 11 attacks saw the neoconservatives return to power in America. Now, the program states, they did for the Islamist movement what they had done for the Soviet Union – distorting and overstating the level of threat it posed to America. Instead they took a failing movement which had lost mass support and reconstructed it into a powerful network of evil controlled from the centre by Bin Laden.

When Afghanistan was invaded most of those arrested were radical nationalists who wanted to create Islamic societies in their own countries. When they were killed or imprisoned Islamism as an organised movement for changing the Muslim world almost obliterated and replaced by “extravagant fantasies about the power and reach of the Islamic networks.” The program argues that this perception of a terrifying threat suits everyone – the politicians, the media and Islamists themselves who realised they could be a powerful organization “even if only in people’s imaginations.”


Journalist Peter Taylor begins his series by commenting: “There is a view in some quarters that the threat from Al-Qaeda is a nightmare dreamt up by politicians to hold electorates in their thrall. Having spent 30 years reporting terrorism, almost three studying Al Qaeda and months investigating the carnage at Madrid’s main railway station it is not a view that I share.”

This series, which took a year to make, was filmed in America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Episode one, Tuesday December 13 at 8.30pm – jihad.com

The first episode of this series looks at how the threat from Al-Qaeda is made possible by the power of the internet. According to Taylor, Al-Qaeda has changed from being an organisation with a fixed structure to a loose network of groups linked by the internet and dedicated to holy war. In fact the internet has allowed Al-Qaeda to

become a global brand using websites and email as its most powerful resource which allows it to recruit, train, fundraise and mobilise.

According to Lieutenant General John Abizaid, from US Central Command, “The only safe haven that remains for Al-Qaeda is the virtual realm. It is the one we should all be worried about…(the) ability to pass messages through endless series of hubs and connectors – presents an opportunity that has never been equalled by a terrorist organisation before.”

The program speaks to Mohammed Al-Massari who runs a website from his home in London. Material from Iraq included on his site includes video footage of three British soldiers being killed by a suicide bomber, the beheading of an American hostage and a manual with information on weaponry.

The program looks at the war being waged against cyberterrorism by British and American security agencies but also includes an interview with an American magistrate, Shannen Rossmiller who, by passing herself off as an Islamic radical on the internet has already been responsible for the life sentencing of an American soldier prepared to pass information to Al-Qaeda.

Episode Two, Wednesday December 14 at 8.30pm – The Drug Dealer, The Estate Agent and the Telephone Man

The Madrid train bombings in March last year killed 191 people, making it one of the most devastating terrorist attacks ever carried out in Europe. It was the bloody calling card of the new Al-Qaeda, locally recruited and acting independently of Osama Bin Laden. A British Intelligence source comments, “The point is not that Madrid was Al-Qaeda as we know it but that it wasn’t.”

Another feature of the new Al-Qaeda is the recruitment of criminals, including drug dealers, into its cells. These men are being chosen because they know how to organise criminal activity and avoid the police. Many of these men are ‘takfiris’ – Muslims who embrace a Western lifestyle so they can escape detection by intelligence agencies. Two of three key members of the Madrid cell – a drug dealer, an estate agent and a ‘telephone man’ – were takfiris.

For the first time all the key figures hunting both the Madrid bombers and those behind the Casablanca bombings (the two events had direct connections) speak to Peter Taylor.

Episode Three Wednesday, December 15 at 8.30pm – Frontline Pakistan

This episode looks at how Pakistani authorities, caught between American pressure and Islamic opposition, are involved in the struggle against the new Al-Qaeda. Pakistan has been at the centre of both the activities of Al-Qaeda and the struggle against it. Thousands of soldiers have been deployed in the remote mountain borders with Afghanistan while the country’s security services are trawling for intelligence in the cities.

Pakistan has captured more Al-Qaeda suspects, including some of its most senior leaders, than any other country. The head of the country’s Counter-Terrorism Centre speaks for the first time about the interrogations of more than 500 suspects including the man he describes as the third most important Al-Qaeda figure. The unit was set
up immediately after September 11 with a handful of staff. It now has over 400 staff and the world’s largest Al-Qaeda database.

Taylor also interviews President Musharraf who defends his country’s record against allegations that the intelligence agencies helped establish the Taliban and have been reluctant to bring Bin Laden to custody.

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