11th Hour

20 10 2008

Thursday, October 23rd in the TA ( HCL 8 )

6:00 PM to 7:30 PM – 11th Hour

The 11th Hour is a 2007 feature film documentary, created, produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, on the state of the natural environment. With contributions from over 50 politicians, scientists, and environmental activists, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, physicist Stephen Hawking, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, and journalist Paul Hawken, the film documents the grave problems facing the planet’s life systems. Global warming, deforestation, mass species extinction, and depletion of the oceans’ habitats are all addressed. The film’s premise is that the future of humanity is in jeopardy.

The film proposes potential solutions to these problems by calling for restorative action by the reshaping and rethinking of global human activity through technology, social responsibility and conservation. Scientists and environmental advocates such as David Orr, David Suzuki, Paul Stamets, and Gloria Flora paint a portrait for a radically new and different future in which it is not humanity’s intent to dominate the planet’s life systems, but to mimic and coexist with them.

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The Power of Nightmares

14 04 2007

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Tuesday, April 17th in HCL 4

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.

8:00 PM – 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. 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, 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.

9:00 PM – 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.

10:00 PM – 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 attacks.





Pickaxe and Breaking The Spell

3 04 2007

Tuesday April 3rd in HCL 4 

8:00 PM – Pickaxe

Activists take a stand to protect an old growth forest from logging at Warner Creek in the Willamette National Forest of Oregon. The blockades that the activists built to block loggers begins to develop into a community known as Cascadia Free State. This film was shot by the activists themselves.

9:45 PM – Breaking The Spell

A film about the 1999 Seattle WTO protests. Filmed in the thick of the action, it has been called ‘protest porn’. It includes footage that aired nationally on 60 Minutes.