Saturday, March 06, 2010

You Say Potato

I got the same chain email from a few people this week; it was a photo of President Obama carrying a book entitled "The Post-American World" by Fareed Zakaria.

In the email, the original sender (whoever he or she is) urged friends to forward the image on to their email lists, intending to "bring the bugger down through the internet".  The email went on to say:

"Post" America means the world After America! Please forward this picture to everyone you know, conservative or liberal. We must expose Obama's radical ideas and his intent to bring down our beloved America! 


Now, I'm a fervent believer in expressing one's opinion--even if I disagree with that opinion.  These individuals have a perfect right to say what they wish about Zakaria's book or the fact that Obama was reading it--back in the summer of '08, by the way--before he was even president.  They even have the right to point out that Zakaria is Muslim, although I find that distinction rather unnecessary and churlish and smacking of bigotry.  However, what I do have a problem with is people expressing opinions based on erroneous assumptions or misinterpretation.

"The Post-American World" is NOT about the world after America has been "brought down".  It is a treatise/thesis on the impact of the United States' in fostering global democracy, and how other countries have taken up the US model in economics, industry, and cultural development as a free society.  It also talks about how America has been the foremost world power for over a century, and how other countries such as China have risen to become powers in their own right in a post-industrialized and more global society.  One day, the United States may be neck-and neck with China in terms of world influence and power; Western civilization, and to a great extent, America, has had a huge impact on that development. What I understood from reading Zakaria's work is that this book is not about the fall of the United States.  It's about the progress and growth of--well, everyone else, and what the US role in a world of equals or near-equals may be. A quote from the book:

The world is moving from anger to indifference, from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism. The fact that new powers are more strongly asserting their interests is the reality of the post-American world. It also raises the political conundrum of how to achieve international objectives in a world of many actors, state and nonstate.
Far from being a book calling for US annihilation, it holds the US as being a primary force for development and stability in the modern era that is being emulated by other countries and societies.  Ultimately, with such growth, it would be optimal for those developing and increasingly influential societies to act in concert to achieve common goals that affect the entire planet.

Zakaria, a Muslim, is a naturalized US citizen of Indian descent. Growing up in India, he had an extremely open and secular upbringing, singing Christian hymns at school as well as celebrating both Hindu and Muslim holidays. (Frankly, it doesn't matter to me if he sang Irish Shanty songs and worshipped the Greek pantheon.) He is a graduate of Yale University with a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University.  He was also editor of Newsweek International and wrote a famous cover essay for the publication after the 9/11 attacks entitled, "Why They Hate Us".  His argument was that Islamic extremism's roots lay in dysfunction and stagnation of the Arab world--people clinging ferociously to the old ways of doing things and smothering their own growth with anger and rage. 

In that article, he defended the US and called for more inter-generational efforts in the Muslim world to create more open, dynamic, and fluid Arab societies--insisting that Islam should be brought into the modern world, and not remain stuck in the fugue of fundamentalist violence begat by antiquated laws, fear of change, and archaic, literal interpretation of the Koran.

If you would like to read that article, try this link:  The Politics of Rage

Other books by Zakaria include:  From Wealth to Power: the Unusual Origins of America's World Role, and  The Future of Freedom. He was co-editor of The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World.  He is a prolific and respected commentator and writer on international relations, trade relations, and American foreign policy. 

The day we become anti-American for reading a book, we're in deep trouble.  And the old adage applies here...don't judge the book by its cover.  Let's at least find out what's between the pages before condemning it.