The Shape of the World: Part 1
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MARGARET WARNER: And joining me for this first in our series is Fareed Zakaria, a columnist for Newsweek magazine and the Washington Post, and editor of Newsweek International. Welcome, Fareed. Right after September 11, your very first column, you wrote that historians would look on that week and say, "This was the week America changed." Now, four months later, how has it America changed?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, I think in the short term, there’s no question that the country has unified in an extraordinary way. The administration has prosecuted a smart, effective war. But Margaret, the real change will have to come in institutionalizing and forging some kind of larger purpose; taking this momentary energy and making it last. If you think about truly historic shifts, they usually come from a combination of circumstances that change, but leadership, also. Franklin Roosevelt took the reality of the Great Depression and permanently changed Americans’ understanding of their relationship with government. Harry Truman took a changed our national climate after World War II and permanently changed America’s relationship with the world by the creation of the western alliance. I think we face a similar moment now. The circumstances have changed, there’s no question about that. Will we be able to, as a nation, as a government, take this reality and forge something new and quite bold with it? I think the jury’s still out on that.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you’ve written that you think September 11, and what the U.S. has had to do since then to combat terrorism, demonstrates that engaging in the world cannot be seen any longer, you’ve said, as an act of charity or as voluntary work. What did you mean by that?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, I think Americans generally view foreign policy as an act of charity. We go out there and do things for the world, you know, rebuild Europe, rebuild Japan; most of the time the world is ungrateful. So after a while, we get tired of it and go back home. And I think that during the 1990s, in particular with the end of the Cold War and no real threat that we could see, we thought that we had bought, in effect, enormous insulation from the world. We could cushion ourselves away from the problems of the world. They were all happening out there somewhere. And I think what we’ve realized with September 11 is you can be the most powerful country in the world — we spend more than the next nine great powers put together on defense — and yet, you know, 20 people with three airplanes were able to inflict probably $300 billion of damage on us. And the solution to it is not going to be more defense spending or more insulation. It’s going to be an engagement with the world to deal with this problem.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, a consistent theme in many of your columns is that one thing the U.S. has to do is… In engaging with the world, is to confront what you called "radical political Islam." First of all, explain that term.
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, it’s difficult to get the right word for this kind of thing because, you know, people often don’t like the term Islamic fundamentalism because fundamentalism actually refers to Protestant fundamentalism, which is slightly different. But the idea is to convey that there is an ideology out here, an ideology that uses certain elements of Islam, perverts them, in my view, but then creates a kind of political ideology that is anti-western, anti-American, fundamentally anti-modern, anti-women. And we have to recognize that until we combat this ideology, as an ideology, the way we combated Fascism and Communism, we will not have won the war because, in this one respect, Osama bin Laden is right. If we kill him, in his words, a hundred Osamas will take his place because there is this ideological ferment and hotbed in the Arab world that is producing these people.
MARGARET WARNER: And why?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Mostly as a product of failure and frustration, of failure to… Of failure to accommodate themselves to modernity. The Arab world is paralyzed by the problem that, in order to modernize, you have to westernize. You have to westernize somewhat. You know, Li Kwan Yu once said to me, "Look, if we had not borrowed from the West, meaning Singapore, we would be a backwards society. But we don’t want all of the West. And the great trick for developing countries is to figure out how to take parts of the western model. And I think the Arab world has simply been unable to figure this out, to find the parts of the western model that it can borrow and use to modernize, to raise standards of living, to embrace technology and to find those parts which it doesn’t want because they are anathema to its culture. As a result, it’s turned its back on modernity.
MARGARET WARNER: You, yourself, were raised as Muslim in India. Do you see this clash of civilizations that others write about an inevitable conflict between Islam and the West?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Not really, Margaret. I think what’s happening here is more a clash within a civilization, within the world of Islam, between a small group but influential and important of radical extremists and a sort of moderate majority who simply want to get around with their lives. I think the great danger is that in Islam, the extremists end up defining the agenda, they end up representing Islam to the world. And this is something for the world of Islam to figure out. How do you stop these mullahs from presenting Islam in exclusively radical, anti-modern anti-western ways? How do you get the voice of the Islamic businessman and trader to be equally represented so that people understand that there is diversity within the world of Islam?
MARGARET WARNER: So you said the United States has to help in this. How?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, you know, we did it, again, with Fascism and Communism. We confronted both of them militarily, of course; we confronted them politically. But we also fought a great ideological war. We helped our friends, people we believed were in the right. And similarly, there are good people in the Arab world who are fighting this fight. We should make it very clear we support them. People like the rulers of Jordan, to a certain extent the rulers of Morocco, Oman, Qatar, these liberalizing states. There is the great Middle Eastern democracy of Turkey, flawed but truly secular, functioning democracy. We should support it as well. We should also fund, you know, centers of Islam, just as the CIA did during the Cold War. I think there’s a whole package of things we can do to make moderate Islam seem viable, seem attractive, and make extremism seem the voice of disgruntled fanatics like bin Laden.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in that list, you did not mention probably our two major allies in the Islamic world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. What do we do with them, vis-à-vis them?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, that’s the million-dollar question. Saudi Arabia is in many ways the most problematic because it is at the heart of the problem. The Saudi funding– and I should be clear it’s not the government’s funding — but Saudi charities, private individuals’ funding of radical Islam has been, in many ways, at the source of our problem. Almost all the Madrassahs you’ve read about are Saudi-funded around the Islamic world; most of the mosques, you see. If you think about the world of Islam, there isn’t a lot of money outside of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf. So any of these new centers in the 20 years, in the last 20 years that have been funded, are all Saudi-funded. In India, for example, I saw this growing up, almost every new Islamic center would be set up with funds from Saudi Arabia, and with a kind of radical extreme clergy that were trying to propagate their views. The problem is we don’t have a lot of leverage with Saudi Arabia because we don’t give them aid. They’re a rich country. But I think we give them a lot of political support. We do at the end of the day, support and defend the Royal Family, and I think we could do something with that. With Egypt, we have leverage. We do give Egypt $2 billion of aid every year. I think it’s time we start asking for something in return.
MARGARET WARNER: And you’re saying asking them to liberalize their societies, right? But then as you’ve written, they argue back, "ah, but if we open the doors politically, the fundamentalists will sweep in." How do we deal with that?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Yeah, this is the dilemma we face. We have autocratic regimes and illiberal societies. I think what we have to try to make clear is we don’t want democracy tomorrow in Egypt. We understand the problem. You’ll get the Taliban in power, in effect. But we do want liberalization; we do want an opening of political and economic space. That means a freer press, freedom of association, freedom of political organizations, some way in which these countries open themselves up so that people don’t feel so repressed and so denied any voice that all opposition becomes this kind of radical, violent extremism. I think for the Egyptians and the Saudis, it’s important for them to understand this is in their interest because we may be target number one, but they’re targets number two and three.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, how does globalization fit into all this — because we think of globalization as a great force for integration, but you say it can also be something else?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, that’s right. Globalization has focused almost entirely in the 1990s on speed, technology, accessibility. We have thought about it entirely in terms that suggest a kind of integrating of the world into one beautifully oiled, racing car. But in fact, that’s only true for western societies, highly industrialized societies that can take this roller coaster ride. I think for a lot of the other world, what you’re doing is vastly accelerating the pace of change, accelerating it in a way that governments feel they have no control over it, and I think we have to recognize that reality. And that just means building some shock absorbers. Globalization is still the only best answer to poverty, to inequality, to the horrible conditions that most of the world lives in. But I think we have to start focusing on the politics of globalization and not just the economics and technology.
MARGARET WARNER: And so you’re saying we also just can’t wash our hands of the regions of the world that aren’t part of this, or we say, "Oh, well, they’re failed states, come back when you’re ready to put in a McDonald’s." I mean, that these areas are themselves fertile ground for all kinds of terrorism and fundamentalism?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Margaret, in the last ten years, we’ve always thought of these problems as sort of out there in poor, failed societies and never seen any sense of connection between what’s going on here in the United States and what’s going on in Nigeria or Laos. Terrorism is the connective tissue. It now, I think, explains to Americans, to average Americans, to our leaders why it is we need to worry about what’s going on out there. And I think that provides a powerful political raw material from which you could create a sustained American engagement with the world.
MARGARET WARNER: Fareed Zakaria, thanks so much.
FAREED ZAKARIA: Thank you, Margaret.