It was the destruction of the World Trade Center that brought Zakaria into the national limelight. Marshaling both his intellectual and his personal experiences, Zakaria wrote a 7,000-word cover story called “Why They Hate Us” that punctured the knee-jerk explanations that simply blamed Islamic religious intolerance. It was the uneven path of globalization, especially in modernizing Arab aristocracies, Zakaria wrote, that stoked the homicidal rage. The Arabs had grasped the wrong end of the global stick, importing the vapidity of Western culture but raising walls against its ennobling influences—a formula for an explosion.
“They see the television shows, the fast foods, and the fizzy drinks,” Zakaria explained. “But they don’t see genuine liberalization in the society, with increased opportunities and greater openness. As a result, the people . . . can look at globalization but for the most part not touch it.”
“Widely read, widely photocopied, widely envied,” says New Yorker editorial director Henry Finder. The essay echoed across the country in unexpected places. Rear admirals at the Pentagon made it recommended reading for the troops. Ted Koppel engaged Zakaria in some high-minded chatter. The onetime academic even found himself conducting tutorials with Joy Behar on the set of The View (“I hope this all doesn’t end up in your next column,” she teased hopefully) and lobbing zingers at Jon Stewart on The Daily Show (he asked if Stewart’s suit was polyester).
“That was the moment,” recalls Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, “Fareed became a rock star.”
During the summer of 2002, NBC and ABC fought to land Zakaria for a regular TV spot. “He’s wired and well-spoken,” says George Stephanopoulos, who scored Zakaria for This Week. “We courted him aggressively.” And the former politico hasn’t been disappointed. “He’s so well versed in politics, and he can’t be pigeonholed. I can’t be sure whenever I turn to him where he’s going to be coming from or what he’s going to say.”
The pressure on Iran is the pressure of modernity. They're fed up with fundamentalism. We're sanctioning them, but we should be overwhelming them with contact and capitalism.
ABC News wants Zakaria to do more, but he’s put them off. Zakaria and his wife, Paula Throckmorton, a Harvard M.B.A. who owns a jewelry-design business, have a baby girl and a 3-year-old son. The couple regularly have journalist friends, including Frum, the Times’ John Tierney, and The New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell, to their Upper West Side apartment to show off their talents with food and wine. “Fareed is one of those people who believe that specialization is for insects,” says Frum. “You need to be able to talk about what should be done in Baghdad while quoting Swinburne over duck that you’ve cooked yourself.”
On Iraq, Zakaria’s dual perspective between West and East—“I’d call it equipoise,” Henry Finder says—could have put him firmly in the antiwar camp. But he does not hesitate to back the president’s war aims. “The place is so dysfunctional,” he says of the Mideast, “any stirring of the pot is good. America’s involvement in the region is for the good. In that way, I’m an immigrant.”
That doesn’t mean he feels beholden to his friends and acquaintances now in power. The week the bombing started, Zakaria let loose a long and pointed Newsweek cover story called “Why America Scares the World.” The essay openly criticized the Bush administration for its failure to conduct diplomacy and attempt—or even pretend to attempt—to build an international consensus for our action in the Gulf. “The point is to scare our enemies,” he admonished in his essay, “not terrify the rest of the world.”
As much as the immigrant admires American values, he’s also taken aback by the provincialism that treats the State Department like an esteemed but underfunded university and allows the $400 billion–a–year Defense Department to formulate foreign policy.
To the feudal lords of the Gulf, Zakaria is like an errant member of the extended family. “You tear your hair out,” he says of a recent encounter with the Saudis at Davos. “They seem proud that I’m up there, but the government spokesmen find it frustrating. With Tom Friedman, they can say he’s just a Jew, which is despicable but effective.”
Not that Zakaria is eager to trade on his religion with Americans or Arabs. “By and large, there is a suspicion that I’m betraying my roots, whatever that means,” Zakaria says. “The only way I can respond is to say I’ve simply never been defined by religious identity, so I can’t be defined by that now just because it has come into the question.”
What he hopes does define him—the ideas expressed in The Future of Freedom—is likely to cause the noble Bedouins no end of aggravation. His book points to the Gulf regimes as the worst examples of rich, authoritarian states that are making no progress toward the kind of meaningful personal liberties that produce lasting economic growth and social stability.
Zakaria’s increased visibility has generated a steady stream of lucrative speaking gigs, the kind most journalists hanker for. But Zakaria seems drawn to the other invitations he gets: town meetings where he can play politics in an unencumbered West Wing–ish way. And he admits that he likes the taste of that.
“He has a wonderful way with a crowd,” says Gideon Rose, who has seen Fareed make stump speeches for the senior Zakaria. But Rose is skeptical of Zakaria’s fitness for contemporary politics: “He’s suited to a politics that can be an organic part of a larger life—not a profession that is dominated by fund-raising and poll taking.”
Could he run for office? One could easily see his column, television work, and whistle-stop speaking as a trial run for an election. And Zakaria has already proved himself capable of making risky career moves. “Precisely when he had his ticket punched in the academic world,” says Whitaker, “he gave that up to come to New York. Precisely when people started to talk about his going into government, he took a job at a mass magazine. Why? There’s a part of him that likes risk, that likes taking a chance.”
If he doesn’t go that route, perhaps he could be someone’s secretary of State, after all. “I would be amazed if he doesn’t wind up in government,” says Kissinger. “But I have found in my life that if you plan too precisely, it never works. He’s adopting the right course—writing thoughtful foreign-policy pieces. In time, he’ll be a candidate for any number of positions.”
In a sense, though, Zakaria is already holding the brass ring. Not long ago, after his first flush of fame, he found himself back in Delhi for Newsweek International, meeting all the important ministers. “A friend of my father’s took me aside,” Zakaria recalls, “and he said,‘I want you to know how proud we all are of you.’ That’s the great thing about India. Success in America isn’t considered selling out. They all think you’ve made it!”