Fareed Zakaria, acclaimed global affairs journalist, has long influenced me. But there’s something more than simply his liberal political outlook (which has of course, struck a chord with me) that has made me a bigger fan: that I admire him even when I am also critical of his positions.
I first read his essay, “The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?” in Newsweek several years after he wrote it in October 2001. In the essay, he explained that political stagnation in the Arab World, where he remarked that many Gulf countries had even fewer freedoms than they did in 1951, and a phenomenon that had become the root cause of terrorism. Political leadership had failed to curb religion, and soon, religion became the only language of political opposition. From this grew religion fundamentalism.
Fareed Zakaria followed this influential piece up after 9/11 with a 2014 essay entitled “Why they still hate us, 13 years later” (Washington Post, September 4, 2014), in the context of emboldened religious fundamentalism and the rise of notorious terrorist group, the Islamic State. In this piece, he explored where he went wrong earlier. He wrote that he had not understood how tough nation building could be in the lack of any real civil society. To explain this revision, I turned to another essay that Zakaria wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1997 on the rise of illiberal democracy. In this essay, he made an important distinction between democracy and freedom, or liberalism. He argued that a democratic country is one where popular participation, expressed in our right to vote, is key. Such a country, however, may or may not guarantee other individual rights. A liberal democratic country is one where individual rights govern and shape public life. Illiberalism, by this virtue, means a greater restraint on the press, oppression of minorities, and rampant corruption. In December 2016, Fareed Zakaria once again revisited these thoughts, recently devoting his column at the Washington Post to an essay charging that “America’s democracy has become illiberal” (December 29, 2016).
Fareed Zakaria is a big name in journalism, but has become even more influential through blogging at fareedzakaria.com, where readers like me can sign up to receive alerts about all his work. At 28 years old, after completing his PhD in Harvard University, he was appointed the managing editor of Foreign Affairs. Since then, he has thrown himself into debates surrounding foreign and international affairs, and worked with Newsweek, TIME, CNN and Washington Post. Today, he is most famously known for CNN’s international affairs program, Fareed Zakaria GPS. He routinely speaks with head of states, and his columns dive further into a topic than the breaking news format of CNN can. He has written best-selling books, and produced documentaries.
A leftist, Zakaria is also not afraid to take risks: I have learned that he was one of the five journalists who were briefed at the White House before the Iraq War, and I felt betrayed to learn that he supported it. However, his columns, as I have already mentioned, provide me with a background and a sense contemporary of history. In addition, I am attracted to his strong knowledge of economics and global affairs. His writing is very clear and simple, and on his blog, he is always careful to point to worthy articles by other journalists. He is always sure to make a case, and defend it well. In December 2015, in the early days of Donald Trump’s candidacy, Zakaria wrote a Washington Post column entitled “I am a Muslim. But Trump’s view appall me because I am an American.” Very recently, another essay about the new president’s attacks on, and misrepresentation of the media, which alerted readers to his support for a Trump initiative on regulations, was called: “Sorry President Trump. I agree with you” (Washington Post, February 2, 2017). I admire him because he is not afraid to write about crucial contemporary issues, serving history by recording it for generations to come.
Roshni Majumdar is a graduate student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism program at the New School for Social Research.