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Films that rewrite history

In the West, we tend to assume that the greatest threats to democracy and liberty come from outside. We think of the totalitarian systems of the last century or fundamentalist terrorism today, but we fail to recognise the viral strain that has developed out of our own entertainment industries.

Over the past dozen or so years, television and movie-makers have managed to blur the border between fact and fiction to an unprecedented degree. They pretend increasingly that their film is based on a true story. Every device possible, from computer-generated imagery to place names and dates thrown onto the screen seek to suspend the disbelief of historically illiterate audiences. Alarmingly, the new technology has coincided with a dramatic growth in conspiracy theories.

The author Damian Thompson has labelled the phenomenon “counterknowledge”. This includes the propagation of totally false legends. They may well stem from a completely unbalanced person who genuinely believes in a conspiracy — usually a government one — and who, through the internet, makes it sound plausible to tens of thousands, even to millions of others who also have grievances and are eager to believe the worst. This is done by seizing upon one or two minor discrepancies in a government report, then joining up all the wrong dots to create a monstrous fable that runs completely counter to the facts.

Examples of counterknowledge include the notion that Aids was created in a CIA laboratory, that Princess Diana was murdered by the Secret Intelligence Service, and that the 9/11 attack on New York was orchestrated by the Bush administration. The dramatic decline of traditional moderate forms of religion has resulted in a spiritual void and thus a desperate need to believe intensely in something. This has accompanied the “Wikipedia age”. A populist notion has developed that any individual has the right to correct or change the truth according to their own beliefs. It is, of course, the democratic ideal taken to its most grotesque extreme. But in reality it is the opposite of democratic. It is the easiest way for the demagogue to exploit gullibility and ignorance.

The home-produced movie Loose Change takes the ultimate conspiracy-theory approach to 9/11. It is now said to have been seen by more than 100m people on the internet. A few weeks ago, a leading Russian TV channel broadcast Loose Change to mark the anniversary of 9/11. The film was accepted as completely true by the presenters and the studio audience, who debated it in a three-hour prime-time programme.

Studies of internet sites reveal an unholy alliance between left-wing 9/11 conspiracy theorists, right-wing Holocaust deniers and Islamic fundamentalists. Many Muslims throughout the world now believe that no Arabs were involved in 9/11. Significantly, Islamic websites have also been learning from American creationists and have eagerly embraced their theory of intelligent design, which attributes the origin of life to a higher power and opposes theories of natural selection.

In a post-literate society where the image is king, the scope for mischief is almost without limit. I suspect that it will not be long before we see a Holocaust-denial movie. It could take the form of a Da Vinci Code-style thriller, and be packaged as straightforward entertainment.

The commercial potential for such a project is huge, above all in the Middle and Far East. If it were banned under Holocaust-denial legislation in some European countries, this would only convince conspiracy theorists that the Holocaust is a Zionist exaggeration or even invention. Already in British schools, many teachers have stopped mentioning the Holocaust to avoid offending Muslim students. This is because, according to one survey, only 29% of Muslims in Britain accept that the Holocaust took place as western history books describe it.

Political correctness is so easy to exploit. Universities in the United States, supposedly the guardians of intellectual rigour and scientific proof, have been cowed into accepting courses that clearly reject normal standards of evidence. This is perhaps the logical extreme of the anti-hierarchical revolution begun in the 1960s and now taken to a ridiculous and dangerous degree.

It may sound alarmist when one talks of these attempts to fragment proven reality. Yet the effects of counterknowledge and pseudo-history might develop a bigger threat to liberal democracy than the authoritarian onslaughts of Stalin and Hitler. This new insidious power to produce intellectual and scientific chaos is easy to underestimate.

It should be the duty of not just every scientist and historian, but also of every writer, publisher, movie-maker, TV producer and ordinary citizen to fight all attempts to exploit the ignorance and gullibility of audiences. Today’s silly conspiracy theory in the West can easily become tomorrow’s article of faith in the world at large. Quite simply, we play with facts at our peril. From selling fiction as truth in movies to peddling the big lies of counter-knowledge is not such a very big step after all.

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This is a prescient and powerful comment on a disturbing trend to entertainment destroying history.

Posted by Dr. Michael Widlanski, Jerusalem on 2009-02-26 20:04:54 GMT

There are two points I need to add to this debate. (1) The distortion of reality is not new and on reflection, I should not have earlier confined myself to things Jewish. If we look at the depiction of American Indians or Blacks say in pre-1950 US films, we see these groups caricatured, ridiculed and denigrated. If we look at films of groups in conflict, "our" side is noble, courageous, good humoured and good looking, while "their" side is the very opposite. This can extend to other media. The problems are (a) the speed and ease of disseminating all sorts of ideas both good and bad and (b) the political correctness of Western civilised nations and its tolerance of barbarian lies and prejudice under the rubric of freedom of speech. Jews have too frequently been the objects of contempt and hate in the media and this is reinforced by Israeli "reality" cinema and left wing self hating media.(2) I am as likely to take up Aqeel"s invitation to visit the sites he recommends as I am to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to learn about the "real" Jewish agenda. Anyone dissimulating about the culpability of Osama bin Laden insults our intelligence and invites incredulity, much as Australia"s current Mufti, Sheikh Fahmi does. Osama"s guilt comes from his mouth on tapes and videos and from the mouth of his "brain", Ayman Zawahiri. I have better things to do than to play games with conspiracy theorists. This exchange with Aqeel is closed.

Posted by paul2 on 2009-02-24 09:51:33 GMT

Dear Fran, In a generation where films have even romantisized the holocaust,we must screen and scan every one for historical and political authenticity. This is our responsibility.

Posted by Sari Brott on 2009-02-23 23:52:48 GMT

First of all Paul2, 1. Did you bother watching the things I showed you? Because if you"re not going to bother watching them and seeing the evidence provided and then rebutting it then please don"t try and say what I posted is nonsense.. Secondly, I never stated that I doubt Osama was involved. However the FBI doesn"t have enough evidence to prove it was him, the video confessions are also disputable. Osama needs to be caught and put to trial so those who were really behind 9/11 including him can be held responsible. But don"t let the facts get in the way of your Islam hating, I wouldn"t want to spoil your bigoted fun.

Posted by Aqeel on 2009-02-23 21:18:04 GMT

So, what is new? The passion plays which incited Jew hatred or the Nazi Germany film Jew Süss all were based on myth and even the film 80 Days at Masa Dagh did that against the Turks. And this gets to the problem of people who want to believe the messages of hate and the prejudice reinforcing answers provided by conspiracies. An example of this is Aqeel\"s long-winded misinformation nonsense below; only a fool disregards Osama bin Laden\"s boast of his terrorist act and al Qaeda"s threat against the West. But that of course would confront Mohammedan apologists with the fact of Islamic terror and don\"t we all know that Islam is a religion of peace?

Posted by Paul2 on 2009-02-23 21:09:00 GMT

Well actually.. In terms of 9/11 the Muslim world generally believes Osama bin Laden was responsible (even though the FBI doesn"t have enough evidence for this, that is why he"s not listed as being involved in the 9/11 attacks on the FBI"s Most Wanted website at But we certainly don"t believe that he was doing it for Islam. Everything he has done has contradicted Islam. It"s documented fact that the US funded and trained Al Qaeda and in particular provided huge sums of money and training to Osama, during this time his codname in the CIA was Tim Osman. There is a documentary that delves into the connection between the CIA and Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the 9/11 Highjackers. It goes quite in depth. The documentary is called "Fabled Enemies" and can be seen for free online at There is also many questions left unanswered about the 9/11 tragedy that need to be addressed. If you haven"t seen the "Loose Change" documentary I suggest you see it also at The reason why people believe the Bush administration was involved in the 9/11 attacks is because the connections between Bush"s family and Osama"s family. The contradictions in his statements, the money trail behind the attacks that they refuse to investigate, the fact that some of the highjackers were trained by the US military. The mysterious collapse of building 7 which wasn"t hit by an aircraft and MANY others. This incident did not benefit Muslims, it didn"t benefit Americans, it didn"t benefit Jews it only benefited those who stood to gain from taking the rights from the people and from war. The Military Industrial Complex. It"s not the first time the US government has staged or planned to stage attacks against itself as a means to justify war. The Vietnam war started after the Gulf of Tonkin incident where the administration claimed the US navy was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats when in fact this was false, the US attacked the NV patrol boats. This has been admitted and is all fact, go check it for yourself. Or let"s look at how the Bush administration was going to paint a US aircraft in UN colors and fly it into Iraq in an attempt to get Saddam to attack them and start the war, or how Cheyney was reported to have suggested US Navy SEALS to dress up as Iranians and attack US ships to justify a war with Iran. If you want a history on this type of behavior just check this documentary out called "Terrorstorm" Which shows how the US government and many others have used terrorism and other false flag operations as a means to justify war on an innocent party. You can see it free online at I"m not asking you to believe me, but I am asking you to watch the documentaries before you pass judgment and then go and check the facts for yourself. The whole 9/11 tragedy stinks of conspiracy.. What has the US Government got to hide in answering the questions?

Posted by Aqeel on 2009-02-23 09:56:58 GMT