By Fareed Zakaria
Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, which airs Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN. This is the fifth article in a series on America’s identity and image since the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Watching the outpouring of interest and emotion surrounding the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago today, one has to wonder what is it about the man and the moment that so fascinates us.
At one level, the interest is obvious, indeed epic. The story of a young hero, cut down in his prime, has been with us since the age of myths. And Kennedy was a heroic figure – young, handsome, energetic, idealistic. He had a beautiful wife and two lovely children. He has an easy air of charm and grace about him. And then, there he was on the backseat of a car in Dallas, with his head shot off.
Robert Caro, the great historian and biographer, points out that Kennedy’s death was also a unique, cathartic moment for America because of the advent of television. He notes that the Nielsen ratings show that in the four days following the assassination, Americans watched an average of over 8 hours of television a day – all watching the same pooled feed. It became a great national mourning, made all the more so by that elaborate and momentous funeral procession.
But beyond Kennedy and beyond television, I think there is another, deeper reason why this event so captures our attention and interest. It marks a great divide in modern day America, between the world before the assassination and the world after.
By Fareed Zakaria
For partly cultural and historical reasons. Americans have always been suspicious of government. Talented young people don’t dream of becoming great bureaucrats. The New Deal and World War II might have changed that for a while, but over the past 30 years, anti-government attitudes have risen substantially. Two national commissions on public service have detailed the dangers of having too few talented people go into government. The ever-increasing obstacles — disclosure forms, conflict-of-interest concerns, political vetting — dissuade and knock out good candidates.
The problem is bipartisan. On the right, too many people believe that their role in Washington is simply to attack, denigrate and defund the government. This relentless onslaught erodes public trust and robs federal agencies of any sense of mission and ambition. Continual budget cutbacks have limited the government’s ability to take on new challenges. There is no attempt at ambitious thinking and planning, whether in space or in infrastructure. Seemingly every agency is in cost-cutting and damage-control modes. The persistent politicized attacks — whether blocking the confirmation of hundreds of officials or investigating them at every turn — have helped create an atmosphere of caution and risk-aversion.
By Geoffrey West
Editor’s note: Geoffrey West is a Distinguished Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Complex Systems. This essay is adapted from WEF’s new report, Outlook on the Global Agenda. The views expressed are his own.
From global warming to homelessness, from debt crises to energy shortages, from insufficient water to outbreaks of disease, name any problem that concerns humanity and the city is the crucible where you will find it bubbling away.
But cities – and megacities in particular – whose emergence was recognized this week by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils as one of the most significant trends for 2014, also represent our best hope for finding solutions to these enormous challenges since they are the cauldrons of innovation, ideas and wealth creation. Thus, an urgent challenge of the 21st century is to understand cities, and by extension megacities – those urban areas with populations exceeding 15 million.
Looking back over 150 years to megacities of the past, such as London or New York, it is clear they suffered from much the same negative image often associated with megacities of today. Think of the Dickensian image of London: a city pervaded by crime, pollution, disease and destitution. Still, these cities were highly mobile, highly evolving diverse societies, offering huge opportunities ultimately resulting in their modern manifestation as drivers of the world’s economy. Much the same could be speculated about megacities emerging today in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.
By Fahad Nazer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Fahad Nazer is a political analyst at JTG Inc. He was previously a political analyst at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC. The views expressed are his own.
While many observers continue to be perplexed by President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East, one thing at least is clear: the Obama administration is committed to diplomacy. Not only is it trying to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track, but it is engaged in negotiations with Iran about its nuclear energy program despite some serious misgivings about the negotiations in Congress.
While all this has been going on, Secretary of State John Kerry tried last week to mend fences with Saudi Arabia, which has itself expressed its dismay – both privately and publically – about the slow pace of the peace process, the quick pace of the talks with Iran, and what it views as U.S. backtracking on Syria. But an already busy Kerry should add one more item to his to-do list – prodding Saudi Arabia and Iraq into turning the page on their most intense bilateral tensions in years.
Saudi-Iraqi relations have been complicated. A series of military coups in Iraq led to the consolidation of power by the Baathist party in 1968, and although this “secular” military regime was not a natural ally for the conservative Saudi kingdom, the Saudis sided with Saddam Hussein in his eight-year war against the Iranian theocracy of Ayatollah Khomeini.
CNN speaks with Fareed about claims the U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone calls, whether such an approach is justified and how the Obama administration has handled the controversy. This is an edited version of the transcript.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that the U.S. relationship with European nations has been severely shaken. Do you think these reports that continue to come out over U.S. eavesdropping on leaders are really hurting or threatening a relationship with some of our most basic and key allies?
I think it is. Look, some of this is what people are calling the Claude Rains routine – I'm shocked to discover there's gambling going on. And spying is the second oldest profession in the world. But two things have changed. One is just the explosion of technology, big data, the ability to find all this stuff and the United States’ incredible cutting edge on that. And the second was 9/11, which in a sense freed all the constraints that we have typically felt about collecting this kind of information, particularly from spies, because we felt like we need to know everything about everything. Those two forces have, frankly, made us sloppy about this.
We should not be, in my opinion, spying on our closest allies’ heads of government. It's one thing to try to find al Qaeda sleeper cells in Hamburg, but you don't need to tap Angela Merkel's cell phone to figure that out.
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is Director of Global Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
After a remarkable run of economic expansion that has lifted tens of millions out of poverty, the Chinese public is waking up to the side effects of progress. True, much of the growing middle class is pleased to have achieved some degree of material comfort. But that same middle class is increasingly asking tough questions about the costs of economic growth and the fairness of the system that produced it. And the record setting levels of pollution this week in the northeastern city of Harbin, where schools and the airport have been shut, will only intensify scrutiny of President Xi Jinping’s government in the run up to next month’s meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee.
Harbin, a city of 11 million people, was essentially closed Monday and Tuesday as thick smog raised concentrations of PM2.5, the most dangerous airborne particles for health, to more than 30 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization. Air pollution tends to be worse in the winter, and many now fear a repeat of last January’s “airpocalypse,” which brought impenetrable smog and record breaking toxicity levels to Beijing and other major cities.
And air pollution wasn’t the only thing on Chinese minds this year – water pollution generated some grisly headlines throughout the country – and around the world – as thousands of pig carcasses floated down the Huangpu River, through the center of Shanghai, threatening the city’s water supply. Factor in the fact that China has had more than its share of highly publicized food safety issues, including Chinese food producers implicated in scandals involving poisonous infant formula, toxic rice and rat meat disguised as mutton, and it is easy to see why public concern is growing.
By Fareed Zakaria
What’s happening today is quite unlike the “Contract With America” movement of the 1990s. The tea party is a grass-roots movement of people deeply dissatisfied with the United States’ social, cultural and economic evolution over several decades. It’s crucial to understand that they blame both parties for this degeneration. In a recent Gallup survey, an astounding 43 percent of tea party activists had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party; only 55 percent had a favorable view. They see themselves as insurgents within the GOP, not loyal members. The breakdown of party discipline coupled with the rise of an extreme ideology are the twin forces propelling the current crisis.
This explains why the Republican Party has seemed so unresponsive to its traditional power bases, such as big business. Part of the problem is that businesses have been slow to recognize just how extreme the tea party is. (They remain stuck in an older narrative, in which their great fear is Democrats with ties to unions.) But even if big business got its act together, it’s not clear that the radicals in the House of Representatives would care. Their sources of support, funding and media exposure owe little to the Chamber of Commerce.
By Gabrielle Chefitz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Former GPS intern Gabrielle Chefitz speaks with Rafia Zakaria, a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and author of the upcoming ‘The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan’, about the challenges facing Pakistani women, and what life is like in the country. Rafia is not related to Fareed Zakaria.
What is the role of the journalist today? How do you paint a realistic picture of life in Pakistan?
It’s not an easy task, but I think we must be devoted to exploring the ambiguities that exist in all of these societies, and very intentionally looking at stories that question this clash of civilizations idea, these dualisms of Pakistan as backwards and barbaric and the United States as progressive. Rationally, we all know they are generalizations. But at the same time, these generalizations appear again and again in the writing on both sides. So that’s what I see as the role of the author in today’s media environment. Someone that has the responsibility to explore ambiguities.
Some of this is being aware of where, as a journalist, we speak from. Whether we like it or not, the context we speak from informs what we write about. For American authors and journalists I think it’s very difficult to imagine being in a small country in south Asia as opposed to being in New York city, or DC. And I think part of that is to balance in journalistic writing with an aspect of empathy and emotional understanding of the consequences of policy decisions. All the consequences of war, the consequences of intervention – they affect millions of private lives. And that’s a narrative that has to be present.
By Robert P. George, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robert P. George is chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The views expressed are his own.
A dozen years ago today, the 9/11 attacks brutally awakened the American people to the global reality of terrorism – of lethal groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, which manipulate religion in violent pursuit of totalitarian aims.
In the ensuing years, the nation rightly focused on these groups, and especially on the regions of South Asia – including Afghanistan and Pakistan – and the Middle East.
Yet in many ways, an overlooked story of the past few years has been the disturbing rise of like-minded organizations elsewhere, particularly in Africa. As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has documented, the forces of violent religious extremism have gained footholds on the continent, terrorizing populations, violating fundamental rights including religious freedom, and posing a serious security threat to the region and potentially beyond.
In Nigeria, Africa’s largest nation, the longstanding sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians, which has claimed more than 14,000 lives since 1999, has been exacerbated by the rise of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in the northern provinces. According to USCIRF’s Religious Violence Project, Boko Haram has killed hundreds since January 2012 – including Christians, dissenting Muslim clerics, and politicians – and targeted churches, schools, government buildings, newspapers and banks. Its tactics include drive-by shootings, the use of IEDs, and suicide bombings.
In Somalia, the near-complete breakdown of central government authority led to the rise of al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda ally that controlled the country’s central and southern regions between 2008 and 2012. While it since has lost ground to a new central government, it continues to fight a guerrilla war in government-controlled towns and villages, while engaging in suicide attacks and other violence against neighboring Kenya.
Even in Mali, once a model for democracy and religious freedom in Africa, a coup against the government last year opened the door in the north to extremist groups such as al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Din, and the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). Only after French military intervention were they dislodged.
The question for the United States and its allies remains how best to counter such forces no matter where they appear. For years, the answer has been to employ a wide array of tools, from intelligence gathering to police work to military action. But if the fight is to succeed, it also must include efforts to promote freedom of religion or belief. This is a battle of ideas as much as brawn, and environments that promote freedom of thought and belief empower moderate ideas and voices to denounce extremist hatred and violence.
Central to this effort is understanding two things. First, extremist groups seek to capitalize on the fact that religion plays a critical role in the lives of billions. Nearly 84 percent of the world’s population has some religious affiliation. In many areas of the world, including the African continent, religion matters greatly.
Second, people across Africa (and elsewhere), Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are rejecting the hijacking of religion by these extremists. For some, this rejection has come from bitter personal experience. Wherever violent religious extremist groups have held sway, be it central Somalia or elsewhere, they have penetrated every nook and cranny of human endeavor, imposing their will on families and communities in horrific ways. In many instances, they have banned routine activities such as listening to music and watching television. They have crushed all forms of religious expression other than their own, even seeking to destroy historic Islamic religious sites. They have imposed barbaric punishments on dissenters, from floggings and stonings to beheadings and amputations.
As a result, especially in places where these forces operate, people want an alternative: They want the right to honor their own beliefs and act peacefully on them. And as a number of scholars in recent years have shown, societies where this right to religious freedom is recognized and protected are more peaceful, prosperous, and free of destabilizing terror.
Countries plagued by violent religious extremist forces have options which, while difficult, can be taken. In Somalia, a stronger central government can better stem the anarchy that triggers religious freedom violations, while its constitution also must protect freedom of religion for all, including minority voices. Other nations, like Nigeria, need a government that is more willing and able specifically to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the sectarian violence, as well as groups like Boko Haram through a range of actions that includes, but is not limited to, the use of military force.
In other words, in a world where religion matters, a key answer to violent religious extremism in the post-9/11 era is for governments to act in such ways to affirm and protect freedom of religion. It is not only a moral imperative – it is a practical necessity, empowering people everywhere to choose a better way.
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
On GPS Sunday: What does the future hold for Egypt, and what can Washington do to help? The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens debates the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart.
Then, is America over-regulated? Fareed puts that to President Barack Obama’s former “regulation czar” Cass Sunstein.
In our What in the World segment, some good news for America: Commonsense is kicking in on prison reform.
And, the Middle East's other revolution: how the region is becoming a hot-bed of innovation and tech startups. Fareed speaks with entrepreneur and venture capitalist Chris Schroeder, author of the new new book Start Uprising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East.
Also, do we have too much choice? Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, and Boston College law professor Kent Greenfield, author of The Myth of Choice, discuss the issue. (For more on the issue, visit Columbia Business School's GLeaM).
By Salil Shetty, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Salil Shetty is secretary general of Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
The fields of sugar cane and soy beans stretch as far as the eye can see, broken only intermittently by small patches of forest. This part of Mato Grosso do Sul, a state in the west of Brazil, used to be covered by rich, incredibly diverse forest that is home to many of Brazil’s 700,000 indigenous people. But for at least a quarter of a century these people have been pushed off their land, sometimes violently, in increasing numbers. It is time that Brazil’s government make good on its promises.
For a quarter of a century, Brazil’s indigenous people have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its commitment to protect and restore lands used by indigenous communities. The current constitution, passed in 1988, enshrined indigenous tribes’ right to have their lands returned to them. Yet during this time the expansion of sugar cane and soy bean farming has taken a terrible toll – on individuals and on communities – as little progress is made on meeting these legal obligations.
Fareed speaks with Malcolm Gladwell, longtime ‘New Yorker’ staff writer and best-selling author of ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Outliers’ about American college football. In the first part, Gladwell makes the argument that college football is little different from dog fighting. Watch the video for the full exchange. For more GPS interviews, visit iTunes to download the full show.
You compare football to dog fighting. Why?
Yes, I did a piece for The New Yorker a couple of years ago where I said it. This was at the time when, remember, Michael Vick, was convicted of dog fighting. And to me, that was such a kind of, and the whole world got up in arms about this. How could he use dogs in a violent manner, in a way that compromised their health and integrity?
And I was just struck at the time by the unbelievable hypocrisy of people in football, for goodness sake, getting up in arms about someone who chose to fight dogs, to pit one dog against each other.
In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?
Well, what's football? We take young boys, essentially, and we have them repeatedly, over the course of the season, smash each other in the head, with known neurological consequences.
And why do they do that? Out of an allegiance to their owners and their coaches and a feeling they're participating in some grand American spectacle.
They're the same thing. And the idea that as a culture we would be absolutely quick and sure about coming to the moral boiling point over the notion that you would do this to dogs and yet completely blind to the notion you would do this to young men is, to my mind, astonishing.
I mean there's a certain point where I just said, you know, we have to say enough is enough.