Fareed Zakaria (Harvard Ph.D ’93) is "the most influential foreign policy advisor of his generation." I am enlightened by his frequent Facebook links and updates. His
much-cited Newsweek cover story in October 2001, “Why Do They Hate Us?” changed the post-9/11 discourse in America for the better. By incorporating modern Middle Eastern history into its causality narrative, Zakaria argued that Islamic extremism did not come from envy, resentment, or essential evil but rather increasing state corruption and incompetence in the Middle East and regional public perception of the United States’s role in this process. It is a deft and compelling argument. Moreover, Zakaria showed true courage of conviction in voicing it in such a sensitive environment. -- Harvard Crimson editorial.
Zakaria's award-winning 2001 Newsweek essay is an intelligent response to the Islamophobia that is still present in certain parts of the US, as manifested by anti-Sharia campaigns in Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee, and Arizona. (The UAE newspaper, The National, had a great in-depth piece on that campaign. The legality of a Sharia ban will likely be decided by the US Supreme Court.) Zakaria's piece is essential reading to understanding the Middle East. Excerpts:
"To understand the roots of anti-American rage in the Middle East, we need to plumb not the past 300 years of history but the past 30," Zakaria wrote in 2001. Prior to 1973, he pointed out, the US was viewed mostly favorably in Arab nations...
"Most Americans think that Arabs should be grateful for our role in the gulf war, for we saved Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Most Arabs think that we saved the Kuwaiti and Saudiroyal families. Big difference...
"Regimes that might have seemed promising in the 1960s (have been) exposed as tired, corrupt kleptocracies, deeply unpopular and thoroughly illegitimate. One has to add that many of them are close American allies...America thinks of modernity as all good--and it has been almost all good for America....Americans are so comfortable with global capitalism and consumer culture that we cannot fathom just how revolutionary these forces are....
"But for the Arab world, modernity has been one failure after another. Each path followed--socialism, secularism, nationalism--has turned into a dead end...It turns out that modernization takes more than strongmen and oil money. Importing foreign stuff--Cadillacs, Gulfstreams and McDonald's--is easy. Importing the inner stuffings of modern society--a free market, political parties, accountability and the rule of law--is difficult and dangerous...
"As the regimes of the Middle East grew more distant and oppressive and hollow in the decades following Nasser, fundamentalism's appeal grew. It flourished because the Muslim Brotherhood and organizations like it at least tried to give people a sense of meaning and purpose in a changing world, something no leader in the Middle East tried to do."
Arabs have long felt betrayed by European colonialism and what they view as its extension -- America's almost blind support for an aggressive Israel and its iron-fisted rule over the Palestinian territories, Zakaria wrote. "Israel treats its 1 million Arab citizens as second-class citizens, a disgrace to its democracy," he pointed out. "Elsewhere, (Muslims) look at American policy in the region as cynically geared to America's oil interests, supporting thugs and tyrants without any hesitation."
Though Zakaria's piece was written before America's almost unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq, I might add that to the Arab world, that war, which caused the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, seemed especially inhumane. The war was waged under false pretenses -- Saddam harbored no weapons of mass destruction.
Yet Zakaria was emphatic in 2001: despite the disenchantment with America, Islamic fundamentalism has never spoken for a majority of the Muslim people. Every Muslim nation denounced the 9/11 attacks.
Ten years on, there are reasons to be much more optimistic than Zakaria was in 2001. Al Qaeda is almost completely crushed. American involvement in Iraq ends on December 31, 2011. The peoples of the Arab world are pushing their governments toward modernity and democracy, mostly with the support of the United States.
And technology has helped. Before the rise of the Internet, political culture in the Middle East was little more than a spectator sport. You weren't allowed to PARTICIPATE openly. As Zakaria noted, religious fundamentalism had an appeal because it invited people to participate, and it offered meaning to everyday life. But the Internet has now made it possible for thousands of young people to share their frustrations with the political status quo and to MOBILIZE into what has become the Arab Spring. It is now far easier to build civil societies and civic organizations that offer a counter-weight to the cultural stagnation of totalitarian regimes. Now the question is whether or how that will be done in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and other parts of the Arab world.