History has taught us that no society is immune to propaganda. In the BBCdocumentary The Power of Nightmares (2004), by Adam Curtis, this thesis is tested to the extreme. Curtis concludes that Al-Qaeda as a global terrorist network has never existed, and that it is a product of the fertile imagination of the neoconservatives, inspired by the ideology of Leo Strauss, who believed the elite had the right to lead the ignorant masses in the right direction even it meant deceiving them. So the picture is quite simple if we are to believe Curtis: after the Soviet Union broke down, there was a desperate need to create a new external enemy which could unite America behind their policies – and the answer was to be found in the figures of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda – not too far removed from the character Emmanuel Goldstein in the novel 1984, by George Orwell.


Curtis presents this as a bad joke at our expense or a public secret that Western politicians have scarcely attempted to hide in the first place.

 «Leo Strauss believed the elite had the right to lead the ignorant masses in the right direction even it meant deceiving them»

And he attempts to show how it represents a whole new level of cynicism and indifference, where leading politicians do not regard empirical facts as a necessary basis on which to run countries. The questions Curtis addresses in his documentary have not yet died away. We still do not have access to many hard facts about Osama Bin Laden’s role as the leader of Al-Qaeda, even two months after he was surprised by commando soldiers in his villa in Abbottabad, close to a huge Pakistani military base. There he was shot unarmed, identified by DNA analysed in Afghanistan and airlifted to a US navy ship were his body was buried at sea, according to Islamic custom – so we are told.
During this raid the US probably broke an unspoken number of international laws and did not consider it necessary to document how it all happened. And on top of it all, The White House also added to the public confusion by constantly revising what happened during Operation Geronimo, as the raid was called.

Bin Laden

Bin Laden was for example not armed, one of his wives was not killed together with him and he did not resist, as first claimed. With information of such an uncertain quality circulating in the world press, it is perhaps not quite so unexpected that a You Gov poll among Pakistani citizens revealed that 66 percent do not believe Bin Laden was killed during the commando raid. The unreliability of the information made the government and media critic Glenn Greenwald doubt if we could rely on the mass media to sift out the facts: “This process continuously produces highly and deliberately misleading accounts of the most significant news items – falsehoods which endure no matter how decisively they are debunked in subsequent days.” So if nobody can provide documentation about how Osama Bin Laden was killed, can we at least know for certain what he did while he was alive?

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