In a time when the media is filled with talk of action, political analyst and “Newsweek” editor Fareed Zakaria focused on the causes of current political strife. Zakaria spoke to a crowded Palestra Saturday as part of Meliora Weekend. His accessible, even-handed presentation of some of the root causes of current conflicts in the Middle East was described by professor of political science Gerald Gamm as “helping Americans understand this new world.”
Zakaria focused his speech on historical developments that have led to the United States’ current international conflicts, and cited its relationship with the Middle East as the central threat to national security. Since the U.S. is the largest and most powerful nation in history, Zakaria argues that it is unavoidable for it to have an international impact, which can lead other nations to resent it.
“It is not so much because we are free, but because we are the most powerful nation in the world. Because we are number one, we are also target number one,” Zakaria said.
Zakaria said that a main source of conflict in the Middle East is a “youth bulge” in that region. He described a youth bulge as a period of time when young people make up an unusually high percentage of the nation’s population. 75 percent of Saudia Arabia’s population is under the age of 25, and 65 percent of the population of the entire Middle East is under the age of 25.
Historically, youth bulges have been an indicator of political change. The French Revolution was preceded by a youth bulge and the largest youth bulge in U.S. history was in 1967, a year of much political and social upheaval.
The youth bulge creates turmoil in the Middle East because it means that there is a large population of young men who are dissatisfied with their political and economic conditions, and are searching for some way to change their situations. Zakaria said that an important aspect of easing tensions in the Middle East is being able to “stop a 25 year old man from becoming so disgusted with life that he is willing to hurt you and kill himself in the process.”
Zakaria argued that the prevalence of oil in the Middle East has prevented nations from diversifying their economies, and leaders’ economic security has created negative political ramifications. Zakaria said that these governments do not need to tax their citizens to create revenue, but this also means that the government does not need to be accountable to them. The nation’s citizens face “no taxation, but there’s no representation either,” he said.
According to Zakaria, the dependence on a single product, such as oil, results in a restrictive political and economic climate. People living in these nations have limited options for advancement and little freedom of expression and Zakaria believes that this is why many turn to religion as an outlet for their frustration.
“That is why Islam has become the language of political rage ? it is the only permissible language,” Zakaria said. Their anger is directed at the U.S. because citizens in the Middle East view the U.S. as supporting the oppressive regimes under which they live. He also said that the combination of political and religious rage is a hard one to protect against. “Religion is all about absolutes, but politics is all about compromise,” Zakaria said.
Zakaria said that he believes that some military action will have to take place in Iraq, but that there are other tasks that must be accomplished in order to ensure our national security. He believes that the larger goal of interactions with the Middle East should be to instill democratic thought and help modernize the area.
He said that there is a moment after a military struggle has been won where the winning nation can take the opportunity to help rebuild the defeated nation, and have a positive impact on its reconstruction. Zakaria believes the U.S. missed that moment in Afghanistan, and that it must take advantage of this moment in any fight with Iraq. “If we do it right and show a broader purpose, democracy could have a positive progressive impact,” he said.
While he does believe it is important that the U.S. be an active participant in shaping the future of the Middle East, Zakaria does not believe that the culture of the Middle East should be lost or ignored. He argued that the U.S. needs to trust nations to integrate modernity and their own culture.
“Democracy is a medicine that has to be given in increasing doses ? otherwise it will kill the patient,” he said.
Additional reporting by Karen Taylor.
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